Monday, October 10, 2016

Don't Wait for the Authorities

This morning we had some professional development from our local police department, The training centered around the ALICE method of dealing with an active shooter. What are we supposed to do when there's an active killer in the building?

ALICE focuses on three choices-- run, hide or fight. There were some specifics mixed, including some of the specifics of blockading a classroom door and making the mental and emotional jump to deciding you will actively, aggressively hurt your attacker. We got into some of the specifics of my building and the classrooms in it. We watched some videos. It was mostly pretty disturbing.

I'm not here to critique the methods mentioned in the presentation, nor am I going to write one more piece reflecting on the general awfulness of a world in which this kind of PD session makes sense for public school teachers and staff. I'm focusing on one moment that stood out.

After being presented with various scenarios and some of the ins and outs of how to respond, we were given one other simple message. That message was that while all three of these were options, it would be up to us as classroom teachers to choose the option that seemed best under the circumstances-- what we knew (or didn't) about the killer, our own students, the situation of our room, what seemed best in the moment.

Our police chief sent a clear message-- while he could give us options, it would be up to us to use our judgment.

Granted, this was a far different context than  instructional PD, but I was still struck by hearing a presenter say, "I'm not here to tell you what to do or what to choose. We have to trust you to use your best judgment."

How rare is it for teachers to hear that message? As opposed to the many sessions in which a presenter says, "I am here to tell you How This Must Be Done." A Common Core aligned-style set of instructions would tell us that we must always respond to every active killer situation with the exact same behavior. "It's important to know," experts would tell us, "that whenever an active shooter walks into any building in this country, the students will react exactly the same way."

The chief said something else striking-- he not only underlined the need for us to use our individual judgment in that moment, but he also kept saying that he was giving us permission to.

Now, I didn't take that as him being all high and mighty and suggesting that we had never previously been free to act without his permission. Instead, what I heard was him saying that we needed to worry less about what we were "supposed" to do, needed to worry less about whether we were following some official policy. Teachers really do worry often and much about whether we are behaving as we are "supposed." We are often lousy rebels. The police were telling us that we should go ahead and rebel, that we should worry less about following some set of rules and worry more about doing whatever it takes to save our students.

These evens, we were told, are generally over in ten to fifteen minutes. Sometimes less. It will likely all be over before any authorities to arrive, so don't wait for them. If it's happening where you are, you are on your own. Use your common sense. Make your best judgment.

It was sobering and more than a little bit depressing. But it was also a bit bracing to hear the message that as classroom teachers, we are the ones who are on the scene. We are the ones in the best position to see what needs to be done, and to do it. The modern message in education is that teachers should not be making any of the important decisions, that teachers should be following the rules and guidelines and programs laid out by the Important People. Don't try to come up with anything on your own. Wait for word from the authorities.

I don't expect to ever have to use my judgment in an active shooter situation (though I have some plans for such an occasion). The vast majority of us never will. But the session was reminder that in the classroom, in maters big and small, educational and emergency, we are the boots on the ground, the folks who are on the scene before first responders even hit the streets. It is up to us to choose, to decide, to lead, to teach. We don't need to wait for the authorities, because we are authorities, and we are already here. Anyone who says otherwise simply doesn't understand the situation.

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