Monday’s shooting at Sparks Middle School in Nevada ended with the tragic death of a math teacher and the student/shooter, and the injury of two other students. The teacher, Michael Landberry, a Marine and National Guard member who served multiple tours in Afghanistan, reportedly intervened in an effort to get the shooter to put down his gun.
I recently had the opportunity to connect with another teacher, Ryan Heber, who survived an active shooter with a shotgun in his classroom at Taft Union High School in Taft, California, this past January 10th, 2013.
Ryan, who has taught for 10 years following eight years working in the health and wellness industry, teaches high school Earth and Integrated Science class. He also teaches driver’s training.
Ryan shared what happened in his classroom on January 10th:
“Halfway through first period, Brian Oliver (the press has already used his name extensively), who was a student of mine in that first period class, walked in and without saying a word started shooting. His first shot hit one student and his next two shots missed his intended targets. He reloaded and was looking for a specific student to shoot. I was able to help some students out the back door of my room during this time. I engaged Brian in conversation that eventually led to him putting the gun down and the remaining students to be able to exit the room. The campus supervisor showed up while I was talking to Brian and also engaged him in conversation.”
Ryan says there are so many things learned from the incident. His three most important lessons include:
- Have a plan. The first couple of minutes were chaotic but when my senses returned to me I started working things through in my mind. You must think about a lock down situation as not only how to lock your room down, which I had thought about a lot, but also what if the shooter is in your room? A situation that I hadn’t given much thought to.
- Say you are sorry. The student that Brian called out looking for as his next intended victim profusely apologized. It had an effect on the situation and saved his life.
- Build relationships with your students. I was able to draw on the relationship that I had built with Brian to create conversation with him that allowed the situation to end the way that it did. Our relationships with our students are a very powerful tool.”
If Ryan was asked to give a student teacher or new teacher advice about school safety and preparing for a potential gunman, he would tell them:
- “Do everything in your power to create a personal relationship with each of your students.
- Say you are sorry, and start fresh each day with each student.
- Have a plan and practice it.
- Listen to what students are saying….there are always warning signs in hindsight.”
Ryan’s relationships and leadership clearly saved lives that day in his classroom. His reflections serve as great advice for all teachers, principals and school support staff. We pray that they all never have to put this good advice to work in a life-and-death situation like Ryan and others around the nation have been forced to face.