Making our schools safe AND…

Making our schools safe AND…

It is the one year anniversary of the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut where staff and students were senselessly killed. This horrific event captured the emotions of the nation. Everyone grieved with the Newtown community. Since that time, thousands of schools have reflected whether such a shooting event could occur within their community. School leaders and staff have changed safety procedures, invested new resources and in general tightened security. The media now uses the anniversary of this event as a news item to conduct investigations whether our schools are truly safe. I recently saw a broadcast of investigative reporter that walked into schools unchallenged and deemed that school as unsafe since they were not confronted. All of this news reporting and public’s scrutiny about school safety creates a public perception that safety should be the singular focus in schools. It drowns out the conversation that schools should be safe while ignoring characteristics such as welcoming, relevant and engaging. When we sacrifice welcoming, relevant and engaging for safety, we lose a great deal. School procedures need to be safe AND….

We engage in too many conversations about school with a single measure, when schools actually have multiple purposes and a myriad of characteristics that make them successful. We too often judge schools singularly by test scores, a school grade, spending, or by poverty level. Single measures play out well in a two minute news report, but are counterproductive in trying to create better schools.

Welcoming

Effective schools are not created by locking out everyone who in not an employee or student. Schools should be welcoming places within the community where every parent, grandparent and community member is welcome. One of the ways I often judge effective schools is by the number of adults within the school building. Quiet deserted halls with classroom doors locked is not a school. Security guards and metal detectors at the entrance do not create a welcoming environment. We need to increase security AND we need to nurture a welcoming environment where students staff and community are greeted with a smile instead of a stern suspicious stare.

Relevant

A school curriculum and effective instruction does not come solely from a textbook or teachers knowledge. A curriculum is relevant when students can make connections between new knowledge and their own experiences, their community and their perspectives on the future. Learning cannot be achieved in isolation and effective teachers are constantly looking at ways to make relevant connections between what students are learning and their wider community. This involves bringing in community resources and taking students into the community to observe and learn. We need to increase security AND we need to provide multiple connections between the school and the community to ensure a relevant instruction in which students can apply learning into their world.

Engaging

The primary purposes of schools is learning. Teachers and school leaders may create a curriculum and assessments but students have great control over what portion of their experiences becomes lasting learning in their own heads. Schools need to create a strong engaging environment that begins with positive relationships, conveys the impression the teachers care about them and students feel comfortable and stress free. As a result, students are less likely to be engaged within the curriculum, if our safety measures become so institutional in nature that students perceive guards against the ever present threat of danger. If schools look and feel like a prison, students may be physically present, but they are not emotionally or cognitively engaged in the learning. We need to balance security with maintaining a learning environment that engages students.

Summary

When we discuss school safety as a singular objective of schools, we can easily distort school communities from their broader purposes. The primary purpose of schools is not safety. The primary purpose of schools is learning. When we leave off that important proposition of AND, we create the illusion that we only need to focus on safety. We can sacrifice learning and the powerful elements of an effective school. As we collectively grieve about the tragic events in Newtown and we collectively work to improve school security, do not makes school security the sole purpose of education. Think about security AND the characteristics that will not only protect our students but lead them to a positive educated future. A perfectly safe school that is unwelcome, disengaged and irrelevant is not what our students or our nation need.