The security and safety of your students and employees are of the utmost importance and should be a top priority. In recent years, school leaders have reevaluated their safety practices in light of school shootings, COVID-19, and increased awareness around sexual misconduct. A safe environment enables the students to focus on their education and fosters healthy social behaviors. Research on the topic has shown that feeling unsafe at school negatively impacts student achievement and increases drop-out rates. When we refer to safety, we are referring to a number of different areas: physical, emotional, social, and cyber.
In the last decade, parental concerns have shifted from educational programming to student safety. While curriculum and achievement are important to parents, they are increasingly concerned about how to keep their children physically, emotionally, psychologically, and electronically safe. Below, we’ll cover the different areas of security and safety within your school.
It is critical to understand your school’s current climate and culture since those are underlying aspects of what drive safe and unsafe school behaviors. Surveying your students and employees is an effective way to have quantitative data around climate and culture. You can use this data to change policies and/or incorporate training that will set expectations and drive positive behavior. You should also examine each aspect of physical, emotional, psychological, and electronic safety, as outlined in the sections below.
Physical safety for students and employees can range from campus culture to environmental safety to greater threats, such as school shootings. The rise of school shootings understandably has many parents concerned about their children’s safety, therefore many schools have made efforts to increase physical safety practices. Understanding the concerns of the faculty, staff, students, and parents will provide a comprehensive understanding of perceived school safety to guide schools as they cater to the specific needs of the community. Therefore, your school should consider working closely with local departments of safety and consider hiring a vetted firm to do a physical risk assessment of your buildings, lighting, walkways, and campus. While these practices may not prevent incidents, they are likely to reduce the risk. Doing this work sends an important message to your community about the school’s commitment to maintaining a safe environment for everyone.
They would be noting things such as, but not limited to: [School Safety and Security 2020: Is My Child Safe at School?]
- Current preparedness training and procedures
- Emergency exits
- Emergency phones
- Identification badges
- Metal detectors
- School security staff
- Security cameras
Your school should record and address incidents such as, but not limited to:
- Sexual misconduct and abuse
- Physical altercations
- Bullying, teasing, or hazing
- Substance abuse
- Threats of natural disaster
While the physical safety of students and employees is essential, these efforts must be coupled with emotional, social, and cyber safety measures to ensure your students are protected from both psychological and physical threats.
Emotional safety for students and employees is critical for a positive learning and work environment. While schools can’t protect against all forms of stress and challenge, they can work hard to address issues of anxiety and stress that negatively impact students and faculty to provide resources and strategies that can improve the emotional wellbeing of the school. A student’s sense of emotional safety within the school environment has been tied to academic and social-emotional success. It is essential for your school to take into account the wide range of emotional needs of the community in order for your students to thrive. Implementing Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculums catered to each age group has been tied to children’s positive academic and social outcomes. Addressing your school’s emotional safety needs will serve students in their long-term social and academic careers, and help foster a culture of trust between school leadership and students.
School staff and policymakers should note things such as, but not limited to:
- Classroom environment
- Classroom expectations
- Current SEL curriculum
- Employee’s understanding of risk factors
- Student stressors
Creating an emotionally safe classroom environment supports the well-being of your students, therefore teachers must have an understanding of their potential impact on the classroom climate. Ensuring that your students have access to the proper tools and resources to thrive academically and emotionally in and out of the classroom should be a priority. Providing students with tools to self-regulate and feel confident in themselves will increase comfort levels in the classroom.
Social Safety focuses on creating an identity-affirming environment for all students that represents and celebrates diversity. Bullying and harassment are disproportionately rooted in issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and identity. Understanding the diversity of experience and background of your student body and creating an environment that they find inclusive and welcoming is essential to eliminate risks of discrimination and exclusion in and out of the classroom.
Potential threats to your school’s social safety include, but are not limited to:
- Bullying and harassment
- Students exhibiting anxiety, fear, and low-self esteem
- Lacking representation of community diversity in the curriculum
- Teaching practices and classroom climates that are unpredictable
School leadership should address both student and employee perceptions of and experiences concerning social safety to obtain a clear understanding of the community as a whole. It is your school’s responsibility to clearly communicate findings and adjust classroom and teaching procedures accordingly.
A socially safe school climate includes, but is not limited to: [How to Help All Students Feel Safe to be Themselves]
- Establishing a safe classroom with a diverse curriculum reflecting student’s backgrounds
- Developing consistent routines and procedures
- Demonstrating empathy, compassion, and respect in the classroom and throughout the school
- Identifying and supporting diverse voices
- Building and maintaining trust between teachers and students
A socially safe school environment will open a range of opportunities for students to learn more about themselves and their peers. It is important for your school to understand the psychological impact of both emotionally and socially unsafe environments on the learning process in addition to potential physical threats.
Despite the wide range of benefits the internet brings to students, your faculty and staff must also have an understanding of the risk factors and threats that may be impacting your students’ well-being. In light of COVID-19, educators have utilized technology more than ever before, uncovering a need for cyber safety education and regulation. Creating and implementing clear cyber safety policies for students and employees will teach students how to access the benefits of the internet while also understanding the dangers. Your school should evaluate existing cybersecurity regulations and work to fill the gaps to protect students from harm.
Threats to your school’s cyber safety include, but are not limited to: [Cyber Safety Considerations for K-12 Schools and School Districts]
- Inappropriate Content
- Sharing of Personal Information
- Online Predation
In line with your school’s emotional and social safety concerns, threats to your school’s cyber safety can have similar impacts on a student’s emotional well-being and learning processes. It is important for educators and parents to be aware of the behaviors that may signal a breach in cyber safety.
Warning signs of cyberbullying or victimization include, but are not limited to: [Cyberbullying Warning Signs]
- Exhibiting negative emotions after internet use
- Isolating from family and friends
- Lacking interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Declining academic performance
- Increasing signs of depression or sadness
- Avoiding and holding anger towards school
Administrators should also assess existing rules and protocols around cyber safety and may lead to adjustments in technology use procedures.
Preparedness and Prevention measures should include but are not limited to: [CyberSecurity Alliance]
- Responsible Use Policies included in the Student and Employee Handbooks
- Content filters and blocks on potentially harmful content
- Digital Citizenship Education
- Updating technology resources regularly
Teaching safe internet practices is more important than ever with the rise of technology use in the classroom and at home. Improving your school’s cyber safety will help protect your students from harm and help them develop tools to use the internet safely and wisely.
Assuring that your school has the essential information and resources for employees and students around creating a healthy learning environment requires you to address details related to physical, emotional, social, and cyber safety. Policies and procedures must be widely available and any changes to them must be communicated to students, staff, and parents to keep the community aware and accountable. This information will also empower the community to speak up when they see or hear about inappropriate behavior. It is critical that your school address all areas of safety and security to ensure that the school is a safe place to learn and grow. Learning Courage recommends involving students in the development of new protocols and procedures because it will provide leadership opportunities and help administrators gain a deeper understanding of the needs of the student body. Engaging students in the process also fosters a culture of trust between the students and teachers, which is essential in maintaining school safety.