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Archive for May, 2013

Guidelines for classroom safety outside of the institutional setting

May 1st, 2013

I have been a corrections professional for about two decades. My tenure as an Adjunct Instructor is shorter, at thirteen and a half years. So, my experience in the prison has impacted my time teaching criminal justice and corrections concepts to community college students.

It is an understatement to say that the clientele in a maximum security setting are likely to be different than that of a classroom in a community college. Still, danger can come from within and from outside a classroom. I have applied some of the safety techniques from inside the walls to the classroom in the open society.

Note: If your institution of higher learning has provided operating procedures for safety, please review them and discuss expectations and responsibilities with your supervisor. What follows are my opinions and not necessarily those of my employer.

In your classroom, you set the tone and adjust the pace. For a few hours at a time, you foster interaction and create a unique learning experience. In many ways, it is your domain. Still, there are possible dangers over which you have no control. The mention of Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Newtown buttress this point.

The good news is that disaster is not inevitable. Of course, safety for your students, your colleagues, and yourself is as fundamental as a syllabus. Yet, it need not be complicated or overly regimented. You do not have to fall victim to procedural paralysis. Below are ten basic guidelines for classroom safety.

1. Take five – Devote five minutes of your first class to basic safety. Show students the map of the escape routes, the fire extinguishers, and the AED.
2. Enlighten, don’t frighten – You could spend a semester outlining the possible hazards that could spill into a classroom. Be realistic about what could happen, but do not obsess about it.
3. Who is the boss? – If you are not in charge, who is? There is power in the presence of an instructor. Lead students during emergencies. Even if you are panicking inside, do not let it show. Your confidence and leadership are necessary in stressful times. Inform students that though they are not obligated for any action, they can step up if the instructor is incapacitated.
4. Know yourself – For you, is it fight or flight? Will you turn off the lights and hide or confront danger head on? Either could work. You know yourself best. You may have to apply a tactic in the blink of an eye.
5. Be aware of your surroundings – Become familiar with the flow of people and the times that they traverse the hallways. Feel the rhythm of the day.
6. Be a friendly presence – If someone seems lost or somehow out of place, you can offer help. It is most likely that this is not some vengeful or psychotic person looking to spread mayhem. In the unlikely event that the person is ‘casing the joint’, your friendly and assertive presence may dissuade an ugly event.
7. Your phone is your pal – In the event of danger, don’t forget your phone as a way to summon help. This may seem obvious. However, events move quickly and your cell phone may be an overlooked safety tool. If your classroom has a panic button, use it when necessary.
8. Avoid the hair trigger mentality – While it is important to react to events, balance is necessary. Do not whip your students into a paranoid, violent frenzy. It is more likely that a person roaming the halls is waiting for someone than plotting pandemonium. Assess the situation before you start throwing chairs in self-defense.
9. Keep it simple – Do not forget that the explanation for most things is generally a simple thing. Complex conspiracies are rare. It is true that emergencies happen. However, most people dressed in dark colors are not ninjas.
10. Share information – If something seems unusual, share it with colleagues and inform office staff. Be as specific as possible. It may be nothing, but a written record may be useful later.

One of Douglas Adams’ famous phrases in his book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is “Don’t Panic”. Perhaps this is easier said than done. However, these two words have merit. Classroom violence is possible, but is not inevitable. Be aware, but not afraid.

Naturally, not all corrections staff will agree with the list. We must account for different experiences and varied styles. Also, the tip about the telephone may not seem to apply in a specific sense. Still, radios and Personal Protection Devices could serve as substitutes to telephones to summon help while inside the walls. These are tips for classrooms outside of correctional facilities. The tips were developed with corrections fundamentals in mind but superimposed on classrooms outside of prison. Please refer to specific operating procedures and policy directives as provided by your employer.

joebouchard Security