Once again, this week, I was asked by my family and friends if I feel safe as I work from school to school in the United States. I know that the tragic incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida causes this week’s reflection. I know it brings this awareness to all of us in schools every day; teachers, administrators support staff, students, and of course, the parents of the children who say good-bye to them every morning. We value the law enforcement team assigned to protect schools, and the first responders, who time and time again, are being called in to the most difficult of situations. Seventeen people were killed and many more were injured in the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. As I write this, several other people are still in critical condition. It is the deadliest shooting at a USA school since 2012. With a heavy heart and sincere grief for everyone who has been impacted by this shooting, I write this week’s blog.
I have called southern Florida home for the past several years. It is my happy place and my winter escape. But, this state has not been left out of the tragedies over the past couple of years. What can I say that hasn’t been said this week? What would make sense today? As I reflect on my feelings and the conversations that have been had with others who work in schools, I know one thing to be true. It is not the situation that anyone wants. I remember in 1999 when we had two school tragic events, one in Taber, Alberta, Canada and the other at Columbine High in Colorado. Little did we know, that this would become a pattern of our discussions, our concerns about school safety. Since 1999, school districts and communities have taken many steps to increase protocols, training and systems to make our schools safe for both adults and children. Despite these efforts, the pattern continues. And, as we know, schools are not the only target.
As a teacher, how do you get up every day and go to work without worrying about your safety? How do you maintain your focus on ensuring high levels of learning despite the distractions? How do school leaders go to bed every night not thinking about every single incident, suspension, discipline conversation or referral to counselling, mental health services, etc. and whether the right action is being taken? As a parent and as a student, what comfort can you take in the work that is being done by your school and your community to do all that can be done to provide a safe learning environment? What questions should be asked? How do we balance all of this without a culture of panic?
I think what has surfaced the most this week, for me, is really about “awareness.”. Paying attention to what has been said, knowing when things look and feel differently in conversation with others, experiences on social media or just trusting our gut feeling when things are not ok. Asking questions, making sure others know when we see something different and understanding our surroundings. Sitting here, right now, I do not believe that I have the power, or any of the people I work with in school, truly has the power to prevent this pattern from continuing. However, we never know when we might be able to impact it. I do know that we have to pay attention and at the same time, we have to keep working on the real work of schools, making learning better for students.
In every school this week, another reset button was pushed. Administrators and teachers were revisiting safety protocols and having conversations with students about this. Parents silently were praying, as they dropped their children off at school, that today would be a safe day for their child. And our ‘new normal’ continued.
After these tragedies, we hear of the stories of the educators who put their bodies and their lives in front of others to protect. This is not what we go to college to learn to do. To the teachers and administrators in the schools that I am supporting this year, I am thinking about you and knowing that, by now, you are refocused and doing what you do so well… ensuring that students are learning. Everyday, in your actions, you have the power to positively impact the lives of students. This is why you do what you do. Please do not lose this focus in the midst of the sadness and grief that has taken over our thoughts. Have a safe and blessed week. See you next Saturday.