I have a handful of thoughts about the episode of violence that we experienced in Rochester, this week. While I don’t have one perfect thought about this situation for a more organized blog post, it didn’t seem right to skip over this issue, and I don’t think it can wait. I hope this collection of thoughts might get you thinking about your own thoughts on issues of violence that relate to schools.
A little background…
For those of you who don’t know, on Wednesday, a Rochester man shot three people near some of the Rochester City Schools, one of whom ended up at School 25 on North Goodman Street. While the shooter was not at any RCSD schools, the district briefly placed all schools on lockout, meaning that all doors are locked and no one is allowed in or out of the building, as a precaution.
While all students remained safe, I have heard that some students felt the impacts of this incident in very real and potentially damaging ways. While I understand the purpose of a lockout and am grateful for the quick action of administrators and teachers in the RCSD, I have concerns about lockouts. And while our students are tenacious, dedicated, and strong, I am worried about how stress and violence affects our students’ abilities to learn and grow.
Learning under stress
Before this week, I had a conversation with my cooperating teacher about teachers who think that being firm with their students is the same thing as being mean to them. We both think that students don’t respond well to a teacher being mean to them probably in part because of a “fight or flight”-type response. When a learner starts viewing their teacher as a threat, they can’t possibly continue learning from that person.
When the shooting happened and I realized the emotional stress students were under as a result of it, I wondered if that “fight or flight” response that they might feel would impact their learning in a similar way. Maybe it’s less about where the stress is coming from (though that is important), and it’s more about the fact that stress exists. I did a little bit of research and found this video, the first half of which talks about the relationships between stress, fear, and learning in this way:
And if you’re not a video person, here’s a really great article about the topic.
- What are the affects of prolonged exposure to stress, fear, and pressure?
- How is everyday violence in Rochester contributing to stress, fear, and pressure for students in RCSD?
- How does the fear of violence in a school contribute?
I don’t want to challenge the idea of a lockout too much. There are reasons for this protocol. And actually, there are a bunch of different protocols in our schools for different situations, each of which has been considered very carefully. But I have some questions about these situations:
- What do we do about a student who was off campus during a free period and is knocking on the front door of the school wanting to come inside? (To my understanding, protocol says no one comes in or goes out.)
- What if that student is in danger?
- How many of us would break protocol?
- What is the right thing to do?
After the school shooting in Parkland, The Guardian published an article about teachers who broke protocol to save students. One of the teachers, Melissa Falkowski said,
“You’re faced with an impossible choice. Do I hold the door open, and put the kids that I have in here at risk, or do I close it and leave those kids out in the cold?”
I don’t know.
I asked a lot of questions in this post that I don’t know the answer to, and I don’t know that they have definitive answers. I’m starting to think about these questions (or at least the ones related to learning under stress) through the lens of relationship-building: if we build trusting relationships with our students, we’ll be better equipped to help them deal with all of the thousands of things they deal with outside of the context of content. But regardless, these problems never go away. How can we keep thinking about them and talking about them in productive ways? Thanks for any ideas or thoughts you have!