The growing mental health crisis continues to expand and draws upon our educational resources to serve as mental health clinics and no longer simply as institutions of knowledge. An expanding body of research estimates that between 20-30% of 13 to 18 year olds exhibit symptoms of mental health disorders that will cause significant impairment across their lifetime. This trend only makes it more apparent that clinicians and administrators must find a way to be proactive rather than reactive.

In the modern day where hard lockdowns, soft lockdowns, and school threats seem like a daily affair, crises happen! Make the development of your crisis plan a team process, practice response, and include multiple stakeholder lenses. Schools with resource officers should be sure to include them in the process so that your plan includes best practices and is consistent with local municipality best-practices and policies. They will lend a professional lens that will be invaluable in the crisis plan creation. If you have a plan in place, review that with the resource officer to get high quality feedback.

A holistic social-emotional student services curriculum can help to identify potential threats before they become crises. Regularly audit your program and services to identify areas of need. Find moments for growth and opportunities to leverage services to identify students in need. Holistic student services programming can provide structure, feedback, and proactive services.

Here are three steps we recommend to help you be ready for the unexpected.

Know the Plan

I recently heard an apt analogy for the kind of behavior an educator should model in order to maintain calm and order over a crisis or, really, over any stressful situation. Consider the reaction you want to see on a flight attendant’s face when you experience turbulence on an airplane. If the flight attendant appears unruffled, you are more likely to remain calm and clear-headed. If the flight attendant appears distraught, you are more likely to panic, break into a sweat, or potentially become irrational. Your students watch your face as if you are the flight attendant for a given leg of their journey through a school day. They trust that you know and can implement a sound plan, even if you yourself have never faced a serious crisis situation. When I was a high school teacher and administrator, I would regularly run through crisis scenarios in my mind even though we also practiced them as a school community. This kept me alert and confident. Be sure you and your students know the crisis plan so that you can be the unruffled “flight attendant” for your students in a moment of crisis. — Patricia Gagnon, Senior VP, Programs & Practice

Communicate

Make sure the whole team is aware of the crisis plan and that the plan is reviewed annually to make necessary changes. In addition to the paper copy, have a digital copy. We all have access to mobile electronic devices and this can be the perfect tool to access your crisis plan on the go. Review your crisis plan as a team immediately after the crisis and make the necessary changes to address areas where your plan can be improved. Often times, we want to put the crisis plan away and not look at it, but immediately afterward is the perfect time to make edits. Pay special attention to communication plans and find ways to streamline and provide transparency while respecting confidentiality. Communication is key to successful crisis management. — Matthew Liberatore, Senior Advisor

Breathe and Stay Calm

Crisis can change at any moment, but following instructions given by the school or community helps reduce the other events that can increase a sense of panic or fear. Every school should share their crisis plan with the PTA. Practicing or role playing different scenarios with a member of the PTA involved can help show how the school is prepared. There are professionals who train schools and communities on how to handle crisis, the details in handling different situations and the importance of the impact of the emotions in a time of confusion. Students need to feel safe and the school should always build a culture in which students feel open to discuss any concerns. — Deborah Hardy, Ed.D., Senior Advisor

Our passion at Intellispark is to bring understanding and knowledge to all stakeholders, and not just within the walls of the school. We are building Intellispark Pulse to engage the school, parents, and community in the success of every student.

Matthew Liberatore

Matthew Liberatore

Matt Liberatore is the director of professional learning and student services for Township High School District 214, president-elect of the Illinois School Counselor Association, and senior advisor to Intellispark.