School Security: A Serious, and Comprehensive Issue

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I want to start out by expressing my sincere condolences to the community of Parkland, Florida. This tragedy has not only impacted the community of Parkland, Florida but also all of us who work in schools in the United States.

This post, however, is not about the politics, mental health or gun debates that are currently filling up social media networks as well as local, state, and national news. This post is about the seriousness of school security and the reality of being a principal having to deal with it.

No where in my Principal training was there a class or certification for school security. We discussed ideas, argued about the difference between being managers or leaders, and developed a leadership platform. We learned about school finance, researched best practices for curriculum and instruction, and wrote papers about the schools of the future. Honestly, this is what what should have been doing as aspiring school leaders.

However, throughout my experience as a teacher and guidance counselor, vice principal and Principal we have spent a lot of time discussing school security in professional development. I have learned from some of the best local law enforcement officials about how to keep a school safe and how to deal with tragedy. I’ve read countless articles on how to make a school safe and proactive approaches needed to ensure school security.

For some reason, schools are a target and we are required to act accordingly. None of us wants to do the security drills but we do because we are committed to keeping kids safe. We take this aspect of our job very seriously.

Security drills are nothing new to education. In some form or fashion we have been doing fire drills, bus evacuation drills, safety drills, nuclear war drills, and depending on the region there are countless weather related drills. After the Columbine School Shooting, schools began implementing active shooter drills, shelter in place, lock downs and evacuation drills. No matter the drill, teachers and students take these exercises seriously even as they may occur at any time. It has become part of what we do.

As I watched the news reports from the most recent incident in Florida, I felt a deep emotion for those involved. I couldn’t help but to ask myself the question, “What if that happened at my school?” Honestly, if you work in a school in the United States, you asked yourself that question. The answers, I am sure, would vary. It made me think about an incident that hit close to home.

Prior to the Winter Break, our school had a “shooting threat” that turned out to be a vicious rumor fueled by misinformation, judgement and hysteria. We went through our protocols, included the local police, did thorough and extensive interviews only to find out there was nothing…  no threatening posts on social media, no guns at the student’s house, no written accounts, not even a confirmed one on one conversation. We informed the teachers when were allowed to and we informed the parents when we were allowed to. Honestly, as I reflect back on this experience, all I think about are the parents and community members who rushed to judgement, pointed the finger at us and insinuated that we were not doing our jobs. The feeling I felt was that people actually thought it was our fault and that we were not doing enough. That hurt the most.

As a parent and an educator I understand the emotions behind this entire debate. No one wants to send their children to a war zone, they want their kids to learn to read and write. This is why we practice drills. This is why we take threats seriously. This is why we investigate. This is why we involve law enforcement. This is why we are constantly being trained, and re-trained on crisis management. This is why we work together.

When it comes to school security we take this very seriously.

Spike C. Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two book through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

 

 

Visibility and Vulnerability

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As a leader do you struggle with being visible? Is it difficult to be everywhere at the same time? Frustrated that the cloning software hasn’t kicked in yet? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, we are in the same boat!

I am fortunate to be teaching a graduate class at Rowan University this semester titled Education Organization and Leadership. One of our recent assignments was for the students to interview an administrator about the management of the building. The students wrote such compelling accounts from their interviews and inspired me to reflect on my own practice. I am so grateful for their inspiration!

Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen. Brene Brown

In my first Principal position I rarely was concerned with my visibility. I was the only administrator in a building with 320 kids and about 40 full time staff during the day. There were 3 floors and about 22 classrooms. The front office and my office was connected by a sliding door. Moving throughout the building was relatively easy, and I was able to check in with staff on a daily basis. This was my life for 5 years. Believe me, there were difficult times and I am sure that amnesia has kicked in regarding my perception of visibility, but for the most part this was my world.

Fast forward to now as I get closer to my two year anniversary at Lakeside Middle School. I struggle with visibility. I am the building Principal with 3 vice principals, 120 staff during the day and 1,100 students with over 75 classrooms, two floors and 10 hallways. One hallway is literally a 1/4 of a mile. It is an exciting building to work in and there is never a dull moment.

What does the data say?

We use the McREL Walkthrough system and I was able to go back through to see how many walkthroughs I have completed in the past two years. I have done 205 classroom walkthroughs.

In that same time, I have formally observed about 75 staff with an average of forty minutes (some with pre-conferences and all with post conferences). I have attended about 25 PLC sessions. We have had monthly staff meetings, subcommittee meetings, department meetings, and about 10 Professional Development days.  In addition, I have done about 160 cafeteria duties (very few this yer) and have been out for countless class changes. I spend almost every morning and afternoon in the front of the school directing traffic and directing students.

According to my SAMs data, since October of 2016, I have worked about 2,300 hours. In 2016-17, I spent 53% in “instructional” time as compared to this year where I have spent only 40%. In both years I have spent about 30% of the time in “management” and about 3% in personal time (I rarely take lunches). Each year I average about 17% in “unscheduled” time which is basically me having difficulty recalling what I actually did.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change. Brene Brown

So what is the problem? 

Looking at the data above it appears that I am very active in the school building, but I have to admit that I have had staff members say the following to me:

  • “You still work here?”
  • “I haven’t seen you in ___ days”
  • “Well, at least you aren’t as bad as one of our previous principals, I didn’t see that person for 39 straight days one year. “
  • “Thanks for stopping by”

Honestly, the people who have said these things are not saying them in a mean or attacking way, but as someone who is constantly reflecting, it bothers me…. alot!

So now what? 

Since this has been bothering me for quite some time I have already begun to address the problem. Honestly, no one cares about the data I shared above. It doesn’t matter how big or small the building is, or how many walkthroughs or observations have been accomplished, if I don’t feel visible, the staff surely feels the same way.

Here is my game plan:

  • Being vulnerable and writing this post!
  • Use the SAMs program to it’s fullest. Adhere to the schedule even if it says “monitor class switches” or “visit staff and students”
  • Save email for later. Yes I get between 80-90 emails a day, but again, who cares? Schedule uninterrupted time to complete the email tasks when the building is less occupied.
  • Reduce meeting time by 20%. I have a lot of meetings in my office that can range from 45 minutes to an hour. I need to streamline these meetings to allow more time out of my office.
  • Try a “no office” day each month. This is something I could easily do with technology and wifi. My office can literally be anywhere for a day. There are 5 months left in the school year so I should easily be able to have 5 “no office days.”
  • Continue with the feedback cards. I started this on January 15 and I have been able to distribute about 30 cards. It has forced me to respond to staff about what I saw, what I wonder, and to acknowledge the great work going on in their classroooms!
  • Connect with staff and students beyond the walkthroughs and observations. Ask questions, listen, be present!
  • Be where the staff is (at sign in, sign out, common areas, etc)

Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection. Brene Brown

I am excited about addressing these issues and more importantly sharing them with you. What advice do you have? What are some struggles you would want to share? Be sure to comment so we can get better, together.

Spike C. Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two book through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.