Originally posted on Skins of Ill Shaped Fishes.)

By Bjorn Paige

There is a big ax in my office, red handled, heavy, the kind a firefighter might swing. It lies next to a duffle bag of emergency supplies (bandages, rope, flashlights) and reminds me that part of being a site administrator is being ready for anything. I try to imagine myself swinging that ax.

With the exception of our school resource officer, the adults I work with got into teaching, counseling, and working with kids for reasons other than safety. We saw our purpose as changing lives, giving back, and making a difference. Certainly we knew that safety was important; we participated in the twice yearly evacuation and earthquake drills. We learned about how to lock down our classrooms to protect students. We remembered where defibrillators were located on campus. But ultimately ours was the business of igniting learning, not wielding a fire extinguisher.

In my twenty years in education, however, necessity has caused campus safety to become more and more a priority. While school campuses are still some of the safest places on earth, we keep them so through great attention to how we can prevent incident and respond to emergencies. We rehearse scenarios: lock downs, earthquakes, evacuations. Our comprehensive school safety plan, given to every teacher at the start of the year, covers every sort of emergency. Our school safety committee meets monthly. We prepare and prepare and prepare.

Part of that preparation is coordination with our district. They’re the folks who delivered my duffle bag and ax. Our district leadership is quick to provide us with updated information about trends and updated technology to help us make a safer school. This emphasis on safety helps to support a climate where we all know that preparation allows us the peace of mind to focus our day to day attention on teaching and learning.

Another partner in school safety is law enforcement, and at LCC we’re fortunate to have a school resource officer who not only cares about police work, but also really cares about kids. As a site administrator I’ve seen him counsel and comfort, advise and arrest. His work with kids is defined by a kindness and strength seen in great teachers. Should he ever hang up his badge, he’d do well in a classroom.

And the most important part of student safety, beyond barrels of blankets, first aid kits, or maps of gas shut-off valves, is something we have at LCC and continue to cultivate: community.

Secure gates and locking doors are important parts of school safety, but the greatest way for a school to be safe is for it to have a strong school community where students and adults value each other and look out for each other’s well-being. As we connect to one other and to our school, we provide the environment where potential problems don’t have space to arise. We notice anyone who shouldn’t be on campus and tell someone. We see the person who is crying and reach out to help. We connect the person who is struggling to someone who will listen, maybe even us.

Certainly the unexpected happens, and the mindful preparations we make help us be ready for emergencies, but a caring and connected school family does more than anything to create a healthy and safe school.

As we move through our day on campus, I encourage everyone to make a connection, and look for a way to help. How might you support the person, student or adult, who is having a tough day? What might you do to inspire a smile or a feeling of acceptance? How might you erase someone’s insecurity, or provide them with a moment of joy?

Safety begins with caring. As an institution we have a plan; as a school we have community. And if you’re ever trapped behind a door, I have an ax.

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Bjorn Paige is a Principal in Encenitas, CA. He shares his insights on his website, Skins of Ill Shaped Fishes. Follow Bjorn on Twitter at @BjornPaige.