Recently, my husband and I decided to sell our house. So for the last three months, I have been immersed in cleaning, staging, searching for a rental…oh, did I mention cleaning. So much of my
time and energy has gone into selling our house, that I have not been able to write on my blog in several weeks. By happenstance, I read about another school shooting that occurred a couple of weeks ago. What caught my eye about the story (besides the unfortunate event itself) was the mention of the school counselor knowing about the apparent threat. Now, I don’t know if the counselor knew about the potential violence and may not have reported the information; however, it really got me thinking how often these situations really occur in our schools. So, I decided to take a break from the house nightmare and write a brief post about my thoughts regarding the role of the school counselor in instances of school violence.
According to the Daily News, a friend of the suspect reported that the student handed out notes to his friends in the beginning of the school year, saying he planned to do something “stupid where he gets killed or put in jail.”At least one of the notes had been handed over to a school counselor, the friend said.
No school counselor wants a student to walk into his or her office and hand him or her a note which threatens others, but what if they do? What if other students know about the potential violence and don’t report it? What if the school counselor reports the situation and the administrators or SROs don’t take it seriously? What if you call the school counselor contacts the parents and they blow him or her off? Man, you can really go insane thinking about all the what if’s. The most important thing that we, as school counselors, can do is to be prepared in case it becomes our turn. This very situation happened to a middle school counselor in Tennessee who used her super counseling skills to talk a student out of acting in violence. Here is a snippet from her experience with the student.
Because we never know about when or where violence will occur, we need to be prepared for its potential, I cannot overstate the importance of the role of the school counselor in school crisis. According to ASCA, the school counselor has specific roles and responsibilities when preventing, intervening, and responding to school violence. Here are some recommendations from ASCA.
- individual and group counseling
- advocacy for student safety
- interventions for students at risk of dropping out or harming self or others
- peer mediation training, conflict resolution programs and anti-bullying programs
- support of student initiated programs such as Students Against Violence Everywhere
- family, faculty and staff education programs
- facilitation of open communication between students and caring adults
- defusing critical incidents and providing related stress debriefing
- district and school response team planning and practices
- partnering with community resources
If you would like to be more prepared, here are some best practices for school counselors that you may be interested in applying in your school.
Paolini has several recommendations for school counselor in mitigating school violence.
1. Coordinating psychosocial groups on topics such as bullying, grief and loss, conflict resolution, coping skills, anger, and social skills.
2. Breaking down codes of silence among students who may be aware of potential violence.
3. Educating students on the importance of not participating in bystander behavior and teach upstanding skills.
4. Consultation with staff members concerning students’ social, emotional, and behavioral needs.
5. Incorporate interventions when students display concerning behaviors. Some examples include: providing leadership roles to struggling students, reward systems, and behavioral modification plans.
6. Incorporate programs that strengthen the school climate and assist students with emotional concerns.
7. Conduct mental health screenings to identify students who are at-risk for mental illness and educate families on services and resources for those students.
8. Adopt a threat assessment to identify potential violence in the school.
9. Encourage families to monitor their students’ social media accounts for potential violence.
In Counseling Today Magazine, Bethany Bray gives additional prevention guidelines for counselors to prevent potential violence.
1. Make connections and build rapport with students of concern. This could include a weekly check in with students who are marginalized, bullied, or isolated.
2. Reach out to at-risk students. At-risk students include students who are struggling in their classes, truant, and lack social skills. Some techniques include lunch bunch groups, coordinating a peer mediation program for students to learn to solve their own issues, and incorporating a peer helping program.
3. Foster a safe environment by finding out from students the real issues that are often overlooked by school staff through a student needs assessment.
4. Continue to participate in trainings in school crisis and identifying at-risk students.
5. Become active in your district’s crisis planning.
Need additional resources? Here is a list…
ASCA Crisis book
ASCA Crisis Resources for School Counselors
Lessons Learned from Columbine
Trauma Resources from SAMSHA
Trauma and Mental Health Resources from National Association of School Psychologists
Disaster and Trauma Responses in Children from ACA
Talking to Your Students Following a School Shooting
The Role of the School Counselor in Crisis Planning and Intervention
Psychological First Aid
Want to know more about school shooters? Read my article from attending a session at the 2014 ASCA conference.