Note: Because of the comprehensive nature of this activity, it cannot be completed in one small block of time. You will be reviewing your school safety plan in several iterations, so prepare to spend a total of three to four hours to complete all of the reviews and simulations in this activity. If time is limited, the complete activity may be accomplished in one or more meetings.
Keeping everyone safe at school is a principal’s most important job. It is also the most difficult. As any principal knows, no two days are ever the same and on any given day, a safety challenge can present itself. Good principals also know they cannot be everywhere, nor can they deal with the magnitude of challenges by themselves; they must rely on others in such instances. Being prepared by having effective plans and well-trained staff and students is the key to responding, mitigating, and/or preventing issues that impact school safety. This activity will assist you as you evaluate and test your existing school safety plan. First, you will learn from practitioners who have dealt with serious safety concerns in their schools. Then you will practice test your school safety plan by participating in a realistic simulation, and finally, you will refine your existing plan by utilizing data collected by the school safety team and comprehensive information from the U.S. Department of Education on research-based, proven practices that have assisted schools across the country as they strive to maintain a safe, productive environment that is conducive to learning.
- Webinar: Challenges That Test Your School Safety Plan, NASSP, Reston, VA, October 6, 2016.
- Reading: “Conducting Crisis Exercises & Drills: Guidelines for Schools,” National Association of School Psychologists, last modified 2013.
- Reading: “Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans,” Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2013. https://rems.ed.gov/docs/REMS_K-12_Guide_508.pdf
- Copies of your School’s Existing Safety Plan
- Computer with internet connection
- Chart Paper
- Viewing Station(s) with Internet capability
- Tabletop Scenario Exercise
- Safety Plan Discussion Matrix Template
- Distribute links to the webinar and ask your safety team members to view the webinar and complete the Discussion Prompt matrix independently before the meeting. Each of the schools in the webinar experienced an event with a unique challenge to their school safety plan. The matrix encourages you to reflect on what may or may not work well in your plan based on the experiences and outcomes of the events in the webinar.
- Prior to the meeting, prepare and post in the meeting room, 4 stations with markers and chart paper with the following titles:
- Chart #1: New Learnings
- Chart # 2: Actions in our School Plan similar to those “Effective” in the Webinar
- Chart # 3: Actions in our School Plan similar to those “Ineffective” in the Webinar
- Chart # 4: Changes Recommended to our Existing School Safety Plan
- Convene a meeting of the safety team. Ask each member to record answers from their completed Safety Plan Discussion Matrix on each of the four appropriate charts. Members should write responses at each of the four stations. Have a facilitator review the responses on a chart and begin a conversation that identifies how the webinar information impacts protocols and procedures in your safety plan. Depending on the number of members on your team or the time limitations, you may divide the group into teams or have one group discuss and debrief all charts. Appoint a recorder to make any additions or corrections to chart paper during the conversations. The discussion should include the new learnings and the extent of background knowledge of the existing school safety plan; effective, ineffective and missing protocols needed in the school plan as well as possible revisions needed to your existing school safety plan.
- Review the data you have collected from this discussion. First, recognize the background knowledge of the team. Next, review the information from each station. Explain that learning from colleagues who have dealt with safety challenges can help enhance your plan. Keep this recorded information and use it as you continue to the next activity.
- Have each member of the team receive a copy of or an online link to the Reading: “Conducting Crisis Exercises & Drills: Guidelines for Schools.” This article should be closely read prior to the next meeting. Each team member should also review the copy of their School Safety Plan prior to the meeting.
- After you have reviewed information on your current level of preparation, reconvene the Safety Team for a simulation exercise intended to “test” your safety plan against a hypothetical scenario. Each member should receive the Tabletop Scenario Exercise. As you work through the situation, you will once again identify strengths and weaknesses of your plan.
- Assign an individual who will facilitate the drill. Ideally, this person should have some experience with this kind of activity. Asking a school resource officer or someone from the district safety and security team may be beneficial. Have another person record each step the team suggests. Have another be responsible for facilitating an evaluative discussion covering what the team did well and what areas are in need of improvement. You may need to meet with this group prior to this exercise to prepare them for this activity.
- Team members should reference their copy of the School Safety Plan as they work through the scenario below. Continue to refer them back to the school safety plan as they discuss their actions and what would need to happen should such an event take place. Allow for ample time to process this scenario. In order to do an in-depth study of the scenario, it could take more than an hour to evaluate actions and options recommended by the safety plan.
- Once you have worked through the scenario, the individual assigned to facilitate the team discussion should guide the team through the process of determining strengths and weaknesses of the existing school safety plan.
- As the team is discussing, have the recorder take notes of strengths and areas where you will need to enhance your practice and thus the plan. Develop a report format or use the Discussion Prompt matrix or chart paper stations that you used in the first iteration of the plan to capture reflections and discussions.
- Compile and summarize notes and distribute copies to all team members. Ask them to review the notes for another scheduled meeting of the team. As team members process the activity, they may think of other items that were not discussed at the initial debrief; encourage them to add those strengths and weaknesses to the notes for additional member discussions.
Extend and Apply
- Prepare work stations with computers and online access to the internet.
- Reconvene the safety team in order to review the Tabletop Scenario. Ask for any additions team members may have made in relation to the tabletop exercise. Make sure all additions are recorded.
- Direct team members to the Reading: “Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans.” Explain that the intent is to further refine your school safety plan by gathering information on effective school safety plans from the reading. The team should consider revisions from two different vantage points, the overall organization of the plan, and the specific actions in the plan. Have them identify those pieces that may be missing from your current plan by highlighting anything mentioned in the reading that they feel is missing or needs enhancement in your current plan.
In order to facilitate this work, divide the group in half.
- Group I will look at your existing school safety plan from the Basic Plan Content (pp. 23-28). Ask them to begin their study at the section entitled Content of Operations. This group will be looking at the plan as a whole. The team should be looking for how the existing school plan is organized and prepared to respond to any emergency. Ask the team to read each section and pay particular attention to the recommendation bullets that are outlined in each section.
- Group II will read the information outlined in the Functional Annexes Content (pp. 28-36). They will be looking for the protocols and actions recommended in the school plan. The team will be examining the various procedures in detail, looking for any areas where the existing school safety plan might need to be enhanced. Ask the team to read each section and pay particular attention to the recommendations.
If the size of the groups is large, they may choose to divide into smaller subgroups and assign portions of the sections they are reading. Ask each group to record and highlight new information, expanding on the data from the previous two iterations.
- Debrief in discussions using the information from the tabletop exercise and the recommendations from the Reading. Record effective, ineffective and missing protocols needed in the school plan. Note recommendations for possible revisions needed to your existing school safety plan.
- Using the recommendations recorded by both groups, ask the Safety Team to identify revisions to the school safety plan. The Safety Team may want to develop a communication plan of the changes using the Discussion Guide Planning Templates. Review the communication plan with the administrative team and as recommendations are approved, changes in the school safety plan can be implemented.