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School Safety Panel: Learn How Teachers Can Build a Culture of Safety

May 10, 2023

On May 4th, 2023, the Master of Science in Education Program held a panel discussion about violence prevention in schools. Three panelists from local school districts spoke about their approaches to safety and supporting students during and after crises. The panelists included Jadine Chou, Chief of Safety and Security for Chicago Public Schools, Mary Kalou, Assistant Superintendent for Maine Township School District, and Angelica Schab, Director of Family Services for East Maine School District. The conversation was moderated by Dr. Timothy Dohrer, Director of Teacher Leadership and former principal.

When it comes to school safety, Mary Kalou told the panel that she categorizes violence prevention into two “strands”: the “human strand” which emphasizes putting students first, and the "physical strand," which involves building design and security measures. The panelists discussed at length their active shooter protocols and training methods. However, all three panelists emphasized that safety begins with the “human strand” - promoting a culture of safety and student support. Jadine Chou commented: “In terms of the conversations we have with teachers…we look at it from the point of view of a family…everyone is in this together…and it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure the school is safe. It can’t just fall on the security officer…[or the] principal, we all play a role.” She went on to say that “sometimes people take safety for granted” and cautioned against propping doors, for example. “That one minute that you’re propping the door to run to your car, something could happen.”

The role that Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) has played in violence prevention was discussed in great detail. “In terms of prevention,” Angelica Schab said, “we have SEL that’s embedded into our curriculum, and we’re recently transitioning to the RULER model, to weave SEL throughout everything we do.” “Safety is about relationships” Chou asserted, “…We believe strongly that if every student has at least one trusted adult that they have a relationship with, it will be so much better for everyone…safety is holistic…It’s not just physical safety, it’s also emotional safety, as well as relational trust. If you’re doing all of those three things, you go a long way to making sure that you’re preventing situations from happening.” Similarly, Kalou mentioned that her district has adopted an advisory program to connect every student to an adult in the building. Additionally, following a crisis, Kalou stated that the teachers will attempt to connect directly with their kids. Still, sometimes they don’t have a deep enough connection with an individual student. In that case, they ask the student who they feel most connected with in the building. “Sometimes that adult they’re connected with is the custodian, or it’s the choir teacher, or it’s somebody else. So we’ll pull that [person into the conversation].”

When asked what teachers can do to support their students, it came down to honesty and authenticity. “Keep an open conversation going in the classroom…” Schab explained, “be authentic. A lot of the time, children might show concern or anxiety, and sometimes adults have a tendency to [invalidate] or brush off…Recognize those emotions in the students, recognize them in yourself, and have an open conversation that’s developmentally appropriate.”

Finally, our panelists emphasized the importance of self-care for our teachers. “We really want teachers to reassure kids, sometimes that’s hard…” Kalou stressed, “[teachers have] trauma of their own.” Chou reaffirmed  “If [a teacher] is experiencing their own trauma…we want to know about that so we can work through that [and help the person]. A lot of this is about mental health and well-being…this is such a cliche…but put your oxygen mask on first before you help someone else. It’s so real.”

Click here to view the whole panel.