I had so much work to do yesterday, but chose instead to sit with my daughter in front of the TV watching as the news unfolded in Blacksburg. We stayed in touch with her boyfriend who was in lock down. Noah kept in touch with his girlfriend who stayed in her apartment off campus as she made calls and IM'd to find a missing engineering sorority sister who had class yesterday morning in the building where the shootings took place. (We found out this morning she was one of the shooting victims, who just didn't receive medical attention in time.) As I hear the news I think, my gosh, this is like soldiers dying in war because medics can't get to them.
As I have been stressing about the deadlines I have looming, I search for the right words to give my students and my own children as they ask questions.
One of my students, a preservice secondary teacher who is knee deep in her student teaching experience asked this question in Tapped In to the electronic mentors who are comprised of educational bloggers many of you know well from the blogosphere:
I know my heart and prayers go out to everyone at VA Tech. On another note, my students seemed to be really affected by this event. Many of my students have older siblings that attend the college, and all of the students know someone who is there. Since we were taking a test today, I allowed them to see the coverage of the incident when everyone had turned the test in. During the coverage that I allowed my students, they were so quiet you could hear a pin drop, and for my last class this is quite a feat.
I know that as a student I appreciated when my teachers let us stay informed. Part of my concern, though, is how much information is too much information? One news station had a former FBI agent on talking about the types of guns that could have been used. I did change the chanel when they kept talking about this because I was uncomfortable with it, but if something like this does happen in the future, is there something else we should do? Should we allow the students to watch the coverage if there is time in our class, or should we keep going with our conent as if nothing happened?
Emily gave a passioned response:
One of the keys to 21st century learning is that it be relevant and have meaning in students' lives. What happened today was an unthinkable tragedy. As educators, we bear the daunting responsibility of finding the teachable moments and helping students make meaning, even when we ourselves don't have answers.
One of the best things you can do for your students is provide a safe space for dialogue - respect that this impacts them and like any other information you expose them to, provide the scaffolding that helps them process, analyze, and think critically about what they are seeing in the media, and be problem-solvers and collaborators as they reflect and respond. Emily blogs more here: http://emilyjk.tigblog.org/post/183737.
I think that is such wise advice. As educators we need to help students make sense of what has happened, why it happened, how to critically process what they are hearing and how it lines up with what really happened, help them understand the grieving process, and help them think about ways to stay safe in this world we live in.
Update: Added after Publishing...
A friend of mine from the school where I use to teach shared the email sent out by my mentor, Greg Anderson, the principal at W.T. Cooke to his teaching staff. I am sharing it here to help other teachers who are wondering how to help their elementary students make sense of everything. I am so in awe of this wise educational leader who has been such a positive force in my life.
Dear Staff Members,
I have long known that our first priority in the school business is to keep children safe and secure. We live in a very complex world with many problems. Please look into the eyes of your students today and realize how important each individual child truly is. Pat the kids on the head and let them know how much you care about them. The events that took place yesterday at Virginia Tech are more than alarming they are reminders to all of us about how fragile life can be and how quickly it can be taken away. Obviously this event has had a profound effect on me as my youngest child is a student at Tech. I know many of you have ties to this wonderful institution. What happened there could unfortunately happen anywhere in our sometimes crazy world. It could have been at Cooke Elementary School.
My message is not to lock
your doors and hide under a desk, but rather to reach out to others and help
make this world a kinder and gentler place. Reassure the people in your life
that you love and care for them. Be a great teacher by building a classroom that
is safe and secure. If the world is going to get kinder and gentler it will
begin in schoolhouses. Never lose sight of the importance of your job and the
difference you can make. Every adult in this building is a teacher and we do
this through our daily interactions and positive approaches to students and
colleagues. It is hard to find good in what happened yesterday, but our calling
is to work to make this place a great one for children to come to each day.
There will be children and adults who will be hurting today. Be patient and mindful of that fact. I would not avoid some discussion in your rooms about the events the kids have seen on the news. Take the opportunity to let the children vent and reassure them that you are here to help them and protect them. If some students or staff are truly overwhelmed I would ask that you to send them to the office. Today will be a tough day in every school in America. Please teach with love and concern. Thanks for your great work.
I listened to how a holocaust survivor, (ironically during holocaust awareness week) Dr. Liviu Librescu, selflessly held the classroom door closed to keep the shooter out long enough for his students to jump out the window before he was killed by bullets peppering the door he was holding. By doing this he allowed all but two of his students to escape and the two who didn't were shot- but not killed. I was moved by the willingness of this teacher to lay his life down for that of his students- Courage- Bravery- Sacrifice- how because of his actions all his students were saved!
I was reminded of the slaughter of so many Jews who didn't rise up against their attackers and I started to wonder- why was the response of the Va Tech kids, the Columbine kids, those on the 911 flights, those in the Holocaust, not to fight back? I wondered why the human response wouldn't have been to tackle the shooter or take him down while he reloaded? I am reaching and hurting and trying to make sense of things, not in judgment but in angst. Please understand I am not judging those that went through this in any way, not the decisions of the security teams or the professors or the students as no one knows what they will do in a situation such as this. Rather, I am wondering what do we need to teach our children who live in such violent times about survival? Am I prepared to make snap decisions in times of emergency to keep my students, my kids safe? What advocate role do I need to play to keep this from happening again? Is that even possible in the 21st Century?
As a child we use to have bomb drills. In the UK they taught children in schools and homes how to put on gas masks and made them available in the classrooms and homes. I wonder, with my own four children, what shall I teach them about how to respond in a situation such as a shooter to help increase their chances of survival. Is self-protection something we should be teaching all our students? Has it come to that?
Andy says...We Need Emergency SMS Broadcasting Tools NOW!
Andy Carvin is thinking about more proactive ways to address issues such as this-
And I know I've said this each time a disaster has happened over the last couple of years, but why the hell don't we have an emergency SMS broadcasting tool that can be used to send warnings to every cell phone in a given area or to a given group? Please don't take this as yet another pitch for people to use Twitter or Jaiku or Mozes, because frankly I don't care what tool people use, as long as it's reliable, easy to manage and secure - and Twitter doesn't exactly meet those needs yet. It's a start, but there's a long way to go.
Back during the Boxing Day Tsunami, the Swedish government was able to get the local phone companies to send an SMS broadcast to every one of their subscribers whose phones had recently sent out a signal emanating from Southeast Asia. While they weren't able to do it in time to save lives, it made a major difference in tracking down who survived and who didn't. If they're able to figure out a way to do that, why can't we figure out a way to allow schools and municipalities here in the US to send out emergency SMS broadcasts? There's no way I can know for sure, of course, but I would surmise that almost every student and faculty member injured or killed today had a cell phone on them when they were attacked. Imagine the difference a single text message could have made.
We can wait and see if some dot-com company can come up with a tool that could be jury-rigged for such purposes. Or we could get off our asses and make the necessary investments to develop an serious SMS broadcasting tool specifically designed for emergencies, both for warning the public and coordinating first responders. How many more disasters will it take before we do take the necessary action? -andy
Go hug your kids. Make every moment with them count.