As more and more potentially life threatening events impact the day-to-day operations of schools around our country, we at The CP Journal are often asked by school leaders what steps they can take to improve the overall sense of security for their staff, students, and parents. While there are many things that schools can do to improve the overall safety of their facilities, the work that we do at The CP Journal primarily focuses on teaching people how to improve their overall sense of situational awareness and gain skills in recognizing the signs of potentially threatening human behavior. Bear in mind that once a person with violent intentions enters a school building, your time to prevent a harmful situation is significantly reduced. Because of that, we often work with schools to build processes to observe people much further left of bang to identify actions that warrant further attention. “Bang” in this context serves as any harming incident that you are working to prevent on school grounds, and we want people to be able to get as far left of bang as possible. Here are a few steps to consider when you are building your internal processes of observation and threat recognition in order to get there.

The first step that school leaders can take is to define your complete team that can and should be included in the observational process. Many times we sit down with school administrators to discuss training programs and they only want to include their school principal and a select group of teachers in the conversations. While this is a positive first step, we often challenge them to think more about the complete team. Who are the members of your complete team that can help your school stay left of bang by being active observers of other people on a daily basis? Here are some ideas about who should be included in your observational process:

  • Superintendent
  • Administrators
  • School Security Teams
  • School Resource Officers
  • Local Police
  • School Committee Members
  • Teachers
  • Parents
  • Student Leaders
  • Students
  • Custodial Staff
  • Transportation Coordinators
  • Former Students (Alumni)
  • Athletic Coaches
  • Main Office First Point of Contact

The role of keeping students safe in schools cannot be the sole responsibility of the school security team. This is especially true if you are in a smaller school district where there is a smaller number of professionals tasked with security. By including every potential set of eyes involved in the lives of your school’s students, you will increase the potential opportunity to recognize future threatening events.

After you have defined your complete team you will need to then actually teach them how to observe. Here at The CP Journal, we teach a specific observational process called Baseline + Anomaly = Decision. We would argue that this process is broad enough in scope, but specific enough in action, to provide most schools with a clear process of observation that your team can put to work. If you have another observational process that you like better, that’s fine, but the key step is making sure that everyone on your team has a common observation method and process for making decisions.

Once you have built the team and trained them on the observational process you have to ensure that there are clear lines of communication to articulate what everyone is seeing. If a student sees an anomaly, do they feel comfortable telling a teacher about it? If a teacher is not present, would the student tell their bus driver about it? If they do tell someone about it, do they know what to say and how to say it? In turn, does the person that they tell completely understand what they saw? Some basic questions to ask yourself while thinking about the process are:

  • Who are you going to tell?
  • What are you going to say?
  • How are you going to say it?

In some instances with clients, we find that leaders assume there are clear lines of communication amongst their teams, but, in fact, there are clearly distinguished silos and people are often apprehensive about talking to each other. By breaking down these walls and building a culture of communication, you will help your team feel more comfortable about sharing their observations, include more eyes in the process, and help reduce the risk of threatening events being carried out by getting left of bang before they become a serious problem.

Threat prevention is not easy and it involves a lot of moving parts. There can also be a lot of ambiguity during the process, and sometimes there are very few things that can be done to stop something from happening. By clearly defining your team, building a process around observation, and opening lines of communication, you can greatly increase the odds of recognizing threats before they act. This process will help you improve overall communication and awareness in your school district and let everyone, from civic leaders to parents, know that you are taking steps to make human behavior recognition a crucial component to your overall security plan.