Looming security threats and increased prevalence of social ailments put schools at greater risk of experiencing a crisis-type situation. These may include gang-related violence, hostage-taking, and drug abuse. All of these issues can cause severe emotional responses like hysteria and PTSD. If left untreated for long, these problems can affect students’ ability to learn and their journey into adulthood.
Therefore school administrators and educators must provide students with a safe and healthy environment that enhances learning outcomes and makes them thrive. How can you, as a school staff member, achieve this? By knowing how to manage a crisis in school.
Crisis management system in schools
In order to deal with a crisis, schools must build a crisis management team. The team’s purpose is to devise practical strategies to prepare for and cope with any emergency that is likely to happen. This may also include natural disasters common to geographic locations along with terrorist attacks. The school’s administration prefers to onboard teachers and professionals trained in crisis and trauma management to ensure the plan is effective. However, educators can also enroll in flexible learning programs, such as an online MSE in Crisis Management, to hone their leadership and critical thinking skills during a crisis. You can also choose to leverage such an opportunity. This program will introduce you to crisis and trauma in children, interventions and counseling techniques, and how to manage the aftershock of an incident.
Moreover, familiarize yourself with the PPRR crisis management model. PPRR stands for Prevention, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery. This model was first introduced by the US State Governor’s Association in 1978 and has then since been used in many settings, including businesses and schools. That said, listed below are some tips that can help you devise a crisis management plan that best suits your school system.
List all possible crises that are likely to happen
The first step you should take is to be ready for any incident that might happen. Every district is different in terms of security and disasters. After the 9/11 incident, schools in the US started preparing their students and staff to deal with possible terrorist attacks. The states in coastal areas issue guides to schools that provide instructions on finding shelters in case of a hurricane. Schools located in shady neighborhoods operate with an increased risk of gang-related violence.
Hence, prepare an emergency binder that provides instructions to get out of emergencies and contains contact numbers for emergency services. Such a binder must be accessible to everyone on campus.
Make plans for worst-case scenarios
Even if you have taken precautionary steps to stage an intervention before the crisis strikes, you should be ready to handle the situation if it fails. At worst, the students and staff would have to evacuate the building.
Sit with your team and plan an exit route with minimum hurdles. You may also have to coordinate with other schools should the crisis happen on a large scale. Assign positions to staff members to lead the students to safety without panicking. Designate a safe place outside the school where students and staff may take temporary refuge.
Provide training and conduct emergency drills
Once your plan is ready and approved, you should take steps to ensure students and staff follow instructions to the T in case of emergency. Therefore, conduct regular drills and training sessions to lead people to safety with the help of your team. Such exercises reduce panic and disorder in a real crisis because everyone knows what to do.
Assess the situation and Improvise
Sometimes, the magnitude of the crisis nullifies the original crisis plan you worked on and trained everyone to follow. You should be able to assess the situation and make split-second improvisions that are in everyone’s best interests. It would also help to draft a contingency plan alongside the primary response strategy.
Be visible and composed
People tend to disappear during times of crisis. The typical mindset in such times is every person for themselves. However, it is crucial to show exceptional leadership skills and impeccable composure to lead students out of a crisis. Ensure you’re visible and accessible to those who need extra help getting through challenging situations.
Effective communication is essential to convey important pointers to deal with and manage an ongoing crisis. Staff and students tend to forget the instructions issued before the incident in a panicked state. To deal with this situation, you need to avoid a harsh and formal tone. The instructions you give during times of crisis should be clear and easy to understand.
Introduce regular therapy sessions
After a crisis, it takes time for things to go back to normal. Students and staff may experience anxiety, panic disorders, or PTSD, depending on how close of an impact the incident had on them. If left untreated, the symptoms can cause more permanent mental diseases that adversely affect their academic and social activities.
Introducing therapy sessions are an excellent step to control the emotional and psychological after-effects of a crisis. Early intervention is essential to prevent long-lasting mental health issues in students.
Dealing with the media
If you are dealing with a school crisis, chances are the media is already on the mission to know more details and sensationalize the event. Miscommunication can cause bad publicity for the school. When dealing with the media, be clear and to the point. Give the media information in a way there’s no room for miscommunication and misinterpretations.
Schools must manage crises properly to resume normal functioning as soon as possible. For this purpose, the National Education Association (NEA) has prepared a guide that outlines a step-by-step crisis management process in schools. Multiple copies of this guide are issued to schools throughout the US and serve as a guideline for crisis management plans. The key to effective crisis management is to be ready for anything. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”