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How To Prevent A School Shooter

Start with building a caring community

David Soleil | 10/13/2015, 5:29 p.m.
Invest time every day in building strong, caring relationships that will support the community in times of crisis. This strategy ...
In a world where school shootings are becoming increasingly common, there's a lot of work to do in our own homes and communities.

Imagine you are an 8-year old student in elementary school. Your teacher tells you, "Today, we are having a lockdown drill." She talks in cryptic language explaining that if something bad happens at school, she wants everyone to be safe. You practice hiding in the closet with all of the other students and you sit "criss-cross applesauce" while the teacher bars the door. Or maybe you have a special cabinet to hide in. One of my friends told me how proud her daughter was about her hiding space in a cabinet for lockdown. This scenario plays out every day in our schools.

But what are we really teaching our community? We are teaching parents, teachers, and students to live in constant fear for their lives because "the shooter" is coming. Not since the Cold War have we surrounded our children in such an environment of reactive fear where they literally hide in the closet. "Duck and cover" used to be the rallying cry from Bert the Turtle for students to dive under their desks because Russia could drop an atomic bomb on the United States any minute.

School shootings are serious and complex issues. There is no single key that can unlock a solution for our communities. (Can we collectively be done with "silver bullets" please?) As a founder of a K-12 school myself, and a consultant in Nonviolence Leadership, I have some perspectives that could be helpful as schools and communities wrestle with how to address the potential threat of violence.

Let's back up, long before a shooter shows up anywhere, and ask, how is our community caring for each other? How are we taking time to validate the inherent worth and dignity of every person in our learning community? So often, we get caught up in our day-to-day jobs as teachers, parents and administrators that we forget about how important relationships are to our community.

Strong communities are built upon trust, caring and love. These interpersonal relationships are your community safety net when issues come up and they take significant time and attention. It's much like fundraising in the nonprofit world. The wisdom of fundraising says, "If you are going to ask for money one month each year, you must spend the other 11 months building relationships." The same thing is true for community building. Invest time every day in building strong, caring relationships that will support the community in times of crisis. This strategy is not about "shooter management." It is about "shooter prevention" long before anyone picks up a gun.

Martin Luther King Jr. said that "A riot is the language of the unheard." I would say the same thing in this context, that school shootings are the language of the unheard. Many times, school shooters are also students. So let us be intentional that our schools can be "communities that hear." Consider how your school community can open lines of communication. Let's allow students to talk and allow them to feel. Let's allow students to discuss what's going on in our world without having to have a test, a homework assignment, a grade or a learning outcome.