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Tragedy strikes; it is inevitable. But how we, as teachers, respond can make all the difference in the world. There are some conversations teachers never want to have with their students, and many of these occur after a tragedy in the country, such as an act of terrorism or a school shooting. These

May 17, 2018

Tragedy strikes; it is inevitable. But how we, as teachers, respond can make all the difference in the world.


There are some conversations teachers never want to have with their students, and many of these occur after a tragedy in the country, such as an act of terrorism or a school shooting. These are, perhaps, the most important times to have discussions to sort out feelings, voice concerns, and review the procedures that keep students safe.

But how do we do this without invoking stress, fear, and anxiety in our students? How do we ensure them that we are doing everything possible to keep them and our communities safe? Here are five ways to help you talk to your students about these events and their safety.

1. Know Your School’s Policies and Procedures

There is nothing more apparent to students — especially at the high school level — than when a teacher or other adult doesn’t know what they are talking about. They know when we are trying to pull the wool over their eyes; any teacher will undoubtedly have a story about a time when a student called them out. So when addressing high-stress topics such as school safety, it is imperative that you know your school’s procedures well.

2. Review, Review, Repeat

Every teacher knows that practicing something and repeating that practice makes our students better at pretty much anything. The same is true for safety protocol and procedures. Fire drills have created situations where our students are robotic; and so are we! But what happens when it’s not a drill and there is real danger? Reviewing in the classroom what the procedures are, in the event of numerous types of emergencies, helps our students know how to handle themselves during a time of real danger.

3. Practice Different Scenarios

When everyone is shut in a classroom and the lockdown drill starts, we sweep the hallway, lock the door, and sit tight until the drill is over. But what about when danger strikes during a passing period, fire drill, or lunchtime? Talking with your administration about conducting drills that are unannounced and during a time of “high traffic” will poke holes in weak spots in either the physical plan or the procedures in place. This is a way to effectively ensure your school’s protocol is constantly under review and those in charge are looking for areas of improvement.

4. Use Concrete Examples

When discussing real-life emergencies in your classroom, be sure to use concrete examples, and where applicable, current events. This is a great way to not just tell but to show students about the dangers and also to draw parallels between danger and how your school or community is addressing these dangers. It is not about scaring them, but about showing them how they are being kept safe.

5. Leave Room for Discussion

Gone are the days when talking about fears in the world is considered faux pas. Leaving room for our students to ask questions, talk things out, and voice concerns allows them the opportunity to process information and use it for the greater good. As teachers, we get this opportunity in faculty meetings and professional development. It is a good thing for our students too; discussions like these remind them that they are the most important part of the educational community and that their thoughts and concerns matter.

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