This article was adapted from the podcast episode Navigating Lockdowns from an Administrator’s Perspective with Dr. Becky Bailey and Certified Instructor Diane Phelan, a middle school administrator. Read more about how to manage lockdowns in Dr. Becky Bailey’s article, Navigating Lockdowns: How to Reduce Anxiety and Restore Safety.
Today, school violence leaves administrators with unique challenges in providing for the physical and emotional safety of their students and staff.
Although lockdown drills are essential for student safety, they do come with serious side effects. These situations can be triggering or even traumatizing for students and teachers. They can cause anxiety, uncertainty, stress and difficulty learning.
As an administrator, how can you prepare students for these dangerous situations in a way that is not traumatizing?
#1 Ensure that all teachers know your lockdown procedures.
At the beginning of the year, review lockdown procedures with your teachers. It’s a good idea to revisit procedures at key times throughout the year, such as after breaks or at the start of a new grading period.
When new teachers come on board, be sure to thoroughly teach them the lockdown procedures as well. Administrator Diane Phelan notes, “If you don’t tell teachers what to do, you’ll create anxiety for the teachers that will trickle down to the children.”
#2 Emphasize to teachers that they set the tone.
Like anxiety, a calm demeanor from teachers can also spread to students. In times of crisis, students look to the teacher to determine how they should respond. They pay attention to facial expressions and nonverbal cues. The teacher’s state dictates the students’ state.
Remind your teachers that their response to the lockdown sets the tone for how their class will respond. Teachers must be aware of their triggers and have a plan for how they will calm themselves if needed. For instance, teachers may take deep breaths and tell themselves, “I’m safe. I can handle this.”
Coach teachers to remain calm, assertive and empathetic. Rather than barking orders at children, they should calmly explain, “This a drill. We’re safe. Here’s what we need to do.”
#3 Have teachers and counselors available who have connections with the kids.
Some children may be especially triggered during a lockdown. Often, these are children who have previously experienced trauma in their lives.
If possible, allow these children to meet with counselors or teachers who they’ve formed a connection with. For scheduled lockdown drills, be sure to hold them when counselors are on campus and available to the students.
Free Printable: Download the Guide to Navigating Lockdowns for step-by-step directions on how to establish safety and reduce anxiety before, during and after lockdown drills. Share with your teachers as a helpful reminder.
#4 Transition back to learning.
After lockdowns at Diane Phelan’s school, she announces over the intercom, “You did a fantastic job with that drill. We hope we never have to use that, but we tell you every day that it’s our job to keep you safe. We have to practice that drill for your safety.”
Teachers then transition back to learning with a connection piece, a Brain Smart Start, deep breathing and discussion, or other activities. Create a similar transition at your school instead of jumping immediately back into learning. Children need time and assistance to return to the executive state, the optimal brain state for learning and problem-solving.
Navigating lockdowns can be scary and challenging, but ensuring that your teachers are well-prepared, calm and connected with your students makes a world of difference.