Walk Out or Walk Up: Quit the Divisive Rhetoric and Celebrate the Students

As I’m sure you’re all aware, many students across the nation participated in a Walk Out on March 14th in order to protest government inaction regarding gun control. I’ve seen news coverage of the story across the U.S. I got the chills when I heard some of the student activists speak on the matter. Overall, I was impressed by the demeanor with which many students approached this highly controversial, yet extremely timely and important topic.

Then, I noticed another budding movement on Twitter. I first saw a picture on my feed advertising a “Walk Up.” I immediately became intrigued and conducted further research. This “Walk Up” focused on walking up to other students and being kind in an effort to create better/safer school environments. To me, this completely made sense. The way I see it, in all honesty, regardless of any protests held on a myriad of school-related issues/policies, there will always be students who are ostracized or cast out or alone in every school. Thus, I really gravitated toward this movement, as it seemed to focus more on an issue over which we in education actually have control: being kind and reintegrating students who may be lost or ostracized.

Unfortunately, in regards to both movements, a politically motivated, dichotomous dynamic has presented itself. It seems that adults have successfully oversimplified and debased both ideas/movements to either gun control related or mental health related. People have declared that Walking Out won’t help because it won’t address the heart of the problem: poor school environments and students feeling isolated. People have decried that Walking Up won’t help because it won’t address the heart of the problem: guns. The debate has raged on in the Twitterverse for over a week now.

Whether Walking Out or Walking Up, I think it’s important that as adults, we celebrate the students’ courage, leadership, determination, organization, social awareness, creativity, passion, fortitude, and unity (among other qualities). Granted, some adults are celebrating these efforts. But, I think it’s important to remember: rather than distracting from the students’ achievements by hijacking the foci of these movements, we should acknowledge that Walking Out or Walking Up requires strength and perseverance. I truly believe these students, whether they Walk Out or Walk Up, are striving to make changes in a world where, unfortunately, children have been dying in the one place where they should be the safest.

Also, I mean, does it really have to be so two-sided? Honestly, can’t schools/students engage in both a Walk Out AND a Walk Up? Obviously, the national Walk Out was held March 14th. The Walk Up sounds like an ongoing endeavor.

Let me know what you think!

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School Safety: In Active Shooter Situations, What Do We As Educators Have The Most Control Over?

I’m sure you’ve seen/heard the vociferous debate raging throughout the nation regarding school safety. One side seems to embrace a focus on enhanced gun control and regulations while the other seems to emphasize a focus on better mental health care. The debate is quite controversial, contentious, in depth, and currently divided.

Over the weekend, I was dialoguing with a friend concerning the horrific events in Florida. While listening, I couldn’t help but think, “Sure, this side/that side makes sense. Both sides have valid opinions. Yet, how quickly can any of these types of changes truly be actualized?” During the conversation, I found myself focusing on a bigger, (and in my opinion) more important question… In active shooter situations, what do we as educators have the most control over?

The field of education has been notoriously slow in accepting and implementing new change initiatives (example – the U.S. Department of Labor has decried the current and future shortage of trained STEM workers entering the field. Yet, the field of education hasn’t been successful in addressing this issue because of rampant budget cuts and an accountability movement that forces narrowing of the curriculum). I’m not saying we can’t be the change agents this country needs. Students are gathering and organizing all over the country. But, I just read today that, much to their dismay, students in the Florida capital witnessed legislators vote down gun control legislation while simultaneously choosing to highlight the negative health effects of pornography. These kinds of legislative changes, whether they focus on gun control or mental health support, require extensive amounts of time and excessive levels of consensus and support that may take too long. Because this is an emergency and lives are literally at risk, I think we must focus on what we can do NOW as schools/principals/teachers/students/community members/etc.

Thus, through my research, I’ve found the ALICE Training Institute, which focuses on “options-based” responses for individuals facing violent situations like an active shooter crisis in a school. Traditionally, local law enforcement agencies have advised that schools utilize “lockdown” procedures that instruct teachers and students to do a number of things in an active shooter “lockdown,” such as move to the corner of the classroom, lock the door, huddle in a classroom closet or bathroom, stay away from the windows, STAY PUT, etc. In contrast, the ALICE Institute focuses on empowering individuals to participate in their own survival in the critical time between the start of a violent event and the arrival of law enforcement. I found that many districts are moving in this direction. I know of school districts in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan making these kinds of changes to their school safety policies. In fact, according to ALICE, if a school district still employs a “Lockdown” response to active shooter situations, the district is at odds with the U.S. Department of Education.

Again, I’m not advocating one side over the other (gun control vs. mental health). I’m saying that we in the field of education should focus on the things over which we have the most control. I want to focus on all that we can do NOW, as opposed to waiting for legislators to make a decision. We should look at adjusting current school safety policies in order to maximize safety and survival for all. Based on my current understanding (which is admittedly limited), an options-based approach that empowers individuals to participate in their own survival sounds more logical and potentially beneficial (in addition to being more in line with what the U.S. Department of Education wants) as opposed to a “lockdown” approach.

What do you think? Share your thoughts with me!

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Technology Restriction and Confiscation: There Are Better Strategies for Teaching About Being Safe in a Connected World

Last year, I attended a Protecting God’s Children workshop at a Catholic parish up north. These workshops are required if you plan to work with children in any capacity through the church or in parish schools. A group of approximately 20 people were in attendance that evening. The age range in this group was quite large. We had some teenagers, middle-aged people, and some elderly folks.

Obviously, we talked about the importance of maintaining appropriate relationships with all children. We watched videos and read articles about the safety of children within our care. We discussed various scenarios and were quizzed on making appropriate choices while interacting with children. Pretty standard stuff for anyone interested in getting into education or working with children (public or private).

Interestingly, when we started talking about inappropriate online relationships and social media, an intriguing conversation commenced over appropriate technology usage. A woman in the group started saying that her own children wouldn’t experience these types of problems because she restricts their usage by confiscating their technology before they go to bed at night. In addition, she had their passwords to all their devices and their accounts (which she checked regularly). What is more, as a punishment, she would also take away their phones if they ever misbehaved. One or two other parents chimed in and stated they followed a similar protocol in their homes.

I tried to remain cool, calm, and collected. I tried to refrain from entering the conversation. I tried focusing on other things (like the new Star Wars movie that would soon be in theaters). But, if you know me, you know I have a really hard time with this. Thus, I engaged.

I started with an easy question. “Excuse me… do your children have any social media accounts?” Of course, they responded, “Absolutely not!” (that they know of, LOL). I figured this would be their response. I then decided to ask some leading questions that would surely help. “Do you have video game systems or a SMART TV in your home?” They all said yes. I stated that, if so inclined, one could use either a video game system or a SMART TV to surf the web. They responded that the TV was password protected and that, like phones and tablets, video games were confiscated at a certain time. “What if your child has a project to do that requires him/her to use technology past the technology curfew?” They responded that they would supervise their children as they completed online work. I saw where this was going. But, I thought I would try one more inquiry. “What about when your child goes on a sleep over to a friend’s house?” They stated that they knew the parents of every single friend their kids had, and that they trusted those parents.

I thought with my leading questions, these parents would soon see that they would not only become exhausted in their efforts to monitor their child’s online usage/presence, it would be almost impossible to fully monitor ABSOLUTELY everything. I thought they would see that if a child really wanted to, he/she would find a way online (where there’s a will, there’s a way). I was wrong. They continued to wholeheartedly believe that technology restriction and confiscation would keep their children safe from the dangers of the online world.

I’m not saying don’t set boundaries with children when it comes to technology. However, I’m proposing that rather than trying to hide children from the realities of the online world, we focus on teaching our children how to safely and successfully navigate those precarious situations. Just a few tips:

  • Keep yourself and your children informed about the internet and its rapid changes.
  • Teach kids about the different types of online dangers that exist and what to do if they come across any of them.
  • Teach kids how to keep personal information safe and private.
  • Teach kids about passwords.
  • Encourage your child to come to you if he/she encounters a problem.

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Safety in Our Schools: A Parent’s Poignant Question Regarding Erin’s Law

Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting Tom Kress. He will be presenting information concerning Erin’s Law to our entire district (parents, students, teachers, administrators, and other community members). His presentation was very informative. In addition, it was certainly geared towards his most important audience members: students.

Last night’s session was intended for parents and community members. Tom presents to parents and community members first in the event that a parent may wish to opt out his/her child from the school-wide presentation. Thankfully, it didn’t seem that any of our parents desired to do so.

After the presentation, Tom opened the floor for a Q & A session. A parent asked a question that rattled me all night and has stayed with me this morning as well. She asked, “Why aren’t training and informational sessions such as this [Erin’s Law training and informational sessions] mandated like other safety drills throughout the district/schools?” The parent was referring to tornado drills, fire drills, lockdown drills, etc. I began to cogitate on her inquiry. We have fire drills. We have tornado drills. We have lockdown drills. We constantly engage in other safety precautions and measures throughout the entire school year. It’s not that these measures aren’t important (especially from a preventative perspective). I’m not saying that these drills are not essential. Of course, anything that has the potential to keep our students safe is pivotal. However, we haven’t had a fire in years. We’ve never had a tornado. We do occasionally have external lockdowns (when something unsafe or potentially unsafe for students occurs within the city or community), but they are always resolved by the community police force. Yet, we have an abundance (unfortunately) of students who are the victims of sexual abuse. As a teacher, I had multiple students confess to me about sexual abuse they experienced. As an administrator, I’ve had teachers bring their concerns to me regarding potential abuse of students in their classrooms. Clearly, as a mandated reporter, I brought these concerns to the proper authorities. But, one can’t help but wonder about this reality.

In the room last night, a parent broke down and admitted to being the victim of sexual abuse as a child. She mentioned knowing others who were also victims of sexual abuse. If we work to keep our students safe at all times from ALL threats, isn’t sexual abuse training just as essential as the tornado drills, fire drills, and lockdown drills, especially considering that many of us teachers and administrators have actually had to navigate situations where children confide in us regarding some of their horrific experiences?

I encourage you to reflect on this parent’s question. Should we mandate and normalize sexual abuse training the same way we’ve mandated and normalized tornado drills, fire drills, and lockdown drills? In addition, should parents be able to opt their children out of training regarding sexual abuse? This is an issue that impacts so many and truly has the potential to alter the trajectory of a child’s/family’s life.

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