In the wake of the Parkland, Florida high school shooting, at a town hall meeting, one student asked a public official what he was going to do for her to feel safe when she returned to school when the campus was reopened again for classes. She was simply told she would be safe and protected. From a trauma standpoint, the response she received was woefully inadequate.
And now, Sante Fe, Texas, where a student remarked she just knew it would eventually happen at her school. Seems it’s easy for students and teachers alike to generalize what has become all too familiar on our school campuses.
Parkland, Florida and now a small community south of Houston, Texas are reeling from deadly school shootings. Teachers, what can I say to you who make your living in what has become a vulnerable workspace? What can you say to your students who have had an element of innocence and sense of safety violently ripped away from their being?
Although well-intended, the public official’s response to the terrified survivor was woefully inadequate. He said there would be law enforcement there to guarantee her safety. What he did not say was how he was going to calm her “off-the-chart” fears.
Yes, there would be extra law enforcement around as she returns to class. How long that will last usually depends on funding and when the publicity wanes and school attempts to find a new normal, the visible presence of protection will wane. Even this most recent school tragedy has been overshadowed by coverage of the Royal Wedding.
What we can tell you is the problem is that a sense of safety comes from within a person. The students, educators, personnel and community of the Parkland, Florida neighborhood and now Santa Fe, Texas, have all been traumatized by this horrific event. When trauma occurs, the body stores that memory and feelings associated with it in their bodies, often effecting symptoms of somatic dis-ease. No one can promise any of us with certainty we will be safe in the aftermath of such an unfathomable traumatic experience. Even with an army of protection surrounding a campus, no one can erase in a short period of time the internalized fear that is becoming rampant across our country in our schools.
We want to offer some suggestions for nurturing the necessary rebuilding and strengthening of a personal sense of safety for you and your students in the schools all across our country who may be thinking: “Will we be next? Am I safe on my campus?”
The following recommendations are for YOU, our beloved teachers. They are also for you to share with your students.
(1) IT TAKES TIME: First and foremost, you and your students need to know that this yearned for sense of safety and security will not come quickly. Regardless of what anyone says or wishes, the return of a sense of safety and security takes time. This is only natural.
(2) PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR FEELINGS OF INSECURITY: They are speaking to you. Your body, your mind, your whole being are on total alert, always interpreting their constant radar feedback with, “Am I safe?” A near death experience will rightly amp up your fear. Lean into those feelings and let them deliver their message to you. As you listen, you will receive current information that will appropriately lower your sense of threat. Not listening to your feelings will tamp down the feelings and they will only accumulate and ferment so much so that you sense you are stuck in the immediate throes of the past trauma or your fear of such an event happening to you.
(3) STRENGTHEN YOUR RESILIENCE: Talk to trusted friends, colleagues, or professionals. Write about your feelings daily in a journal. This needs to be no more than 15 minutes on a given day. And move. Traumatic feelings or anticipations of trauma become stored in the body. Walking, exercise, sports, bicycle riding, and yoga are readily available activities to minimize the impact of feelings and begin to dissipate fears, replacing them with hormones and neurotransmitters that provide a sense of confidence and well-being.
(4) ACCESS THE SPIRITUAL DIMENSION OF YOUR BEING AS A HUMAN: This involves hoping which has the capacity to help you transcend the immediate feelings and fears and access a source of security, compassion, and meaning in the midst of life’s many crises. Mindfulness meditation, prayer, contemplation, and service are spiritual practices that ground you in the present moment, keeping the past from haunting you and the future possibilities from frightening you.
These are our thoughts and words of encouragement. Tell us what you think. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com.