Many principals struggle to muster up the courage to publicly call out their colleagues by name when staff drop the ball on the job. But in school safety, one dropped ball can equate to many lost lives.
High School Principal Effectively Uses By-Name Accountability for Lockdown Drill
A veteran school security director friend shared a debriefing document put out by a high school principal in his district. The principal highlighted several positive aspects of an unannounced lockdown drill, including many teachers taking control, moving to their areas swiftly, and being prepared. He also commended the communication from the office for being calm and not producing panic.
But the principal gave an overall rating for the drill of “terrible” and indicated casualities, if the incident had been real, would have been “very high.” He itemized 11 reasons for high casualities by naming each teacher or staff member responsible for the area in question, and specifically what went wrong. A sample of items included:
- Too much talking among students in room. Could be heard from hallway. Intruder very aware that the room is occupied. Entire room dead.
- Not serious about the drill Opens door when knocked on the first time by intruder. Shot on site. Minute later when knocked on door again spoke through the door. Dead 2x.
- Teacher sitting on desk. Kids still sitting around the room. Little to no response to the drill. All dead. Corrected by officer and adult still did not correct the situation. All dead. This is terrible and will not happen again.
The debriefing document goes on to express the principal’s displeasure with the results, his expectations for excellence in safety just like in academics, and that another unannounced drill will be held to assess responses.
A subsequent unannounced drill showed marked results: Only three problem areas, down from 11 in the first drill, were listed in the debrief. It is clear that by-name accountability worked to improve this school’s emergency preparedness drill and planning.
How to Debrief School Lockdown Drills
Principals and their crisis teams can and should debrief every drill, whether it is a fire drill, lockdown, or other drill. The purpose of a drill is to learn what worked well and what areas need to be improved. Otherwise, why have a drill?
Steps to consider in developing an approach to debriefing include:
- Support your principal and crisis team for having the political courage to insist upon by-name accountability. When I share the full debriefing example above in my workshops, too many principals drop their heads and a number openly admit they would be afraid to call out staff members by-name for their unsafe actions. School safety, like academic improvement, requires leadership.
- Make sure drills are unannounced to staff. This includes fire drills, as well as lockdown and other drills. Real emergencies do not occur based on a predetermined schedule with advance notice. Neither should drills.
- Assign specific responsibilities to specific administrators and crisis team members. Make sure all areas of the building are covered for inspection, including support service areas such as cafeterias, custodial work areas, office areas, etc.
- Identify areas to inspect in a lockdown drill such as:
- Are classroom doors closed?
- Are lights off (if required as part of the lockdown procedure)?
- Are students and/or staff visible through a door window to the person in the hallway?
- Is there noise coming from the room?
- Do staff members (or students, for that matter) answer the door if the stranger outside knocks on the door or attempts to open it?
- What is the start-to-end time for the entire drill?
- Communications procedures for activating lockdown and providing all clear notice upon completion, including any areas where messages could not be heard.
- Ability of staff to communicate emergency information to school leaders during the lockdown itself.
- Unique actions that worked well or issues needing special attention.
- Other items to be evaluated as determined by crisis team responsible for the debriefing.
- List by-name, by-room or area specific deficiencies with details so people understand exactly what was improperly done and who did not perform. (Note: This can and should be done in a professional manner. By-name does not mean personal attacks, but simply naming specific people, locations, and inappropriate behaviors.)
- Identify those things that worked well. By-name accountability can be applied here, too, to highlight the positives.
- Identify specific corrective actions expected.
- Inform staff of what is next, i.e., that there will be subsequent unannounced drills with by-name debriefs, etc.
- Maintain these written debriefing records, evaluate them in crisis team meetings, and have the school’s leadership team review the entire year of debriefings annually to detect patterns of improvement, ongoing concerns, areas for diversifying and improving future drills, etc.
School Safety Is a Leadership Issue
School safety requires leadership. The principal referenced above demonstrated real-life leadership. This means sometimes telling people what they don’t want to hear, but still need to hear.
Are your school administrators and crisis teams exercising real-life leadership on school safety, including with by-name accountability in debriefing of emergency drills?
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