Beware of school safety analysts’ double-talk, mixed messages

Posted by on April 7, 2012


School shootings are down, they are nothing new and they are not that common. But please fund my research proposal on school shootings, pay me thousands of dollars to teach you my model for assessing threats of shootings and hire my fellow consultant for a few thousand bucks to show you how many dozen guns he can conceal on his body as he walks into your school.

These are not my statements, but they do sound similar to the messages being sent by some academicians and consultants who opine on school safety.

If this sounds like mixed messages, then you “get it.” Unfortunately, there are many who miss the boat.

Evaluate school safety messages for double-talk

Following the school shootings in the past month in California and Ohio, I have found the news story headlines, news story content, academic guru pontification and consultant chatter to be full of mixed, and sometimes self-serving, messages.

Having spent my professional life being consistently blunt and candid, it did not take long for me to learn that this irritates people. Doing so at presentations and in media interviews is refreshing to those who appreciate a consistent and candid message. It makes some people in our field frustrated and jealous, but the majority of people on the front lines appreciate a dose of consistent truth, even when it is politically incorrect to do so.

I find it intriguing and rather pathetic, though, when I read and hear some academicians and consultants who speak out of both sides of their mouths in order to play to their audience of the day.

In some media interviews, conference presentations and articles, they will proclaim school shootings, bullying and school preparedness measures are sensationalism. But then, the same people turn around to offer workshops, training programs, videos and DVDs, demonstrations, presentations, consulting, academic research proposal requests and other self-serving and self-funding services and products.

It begs one to ask: If you believe school shootings, bullying, schools as potential targets of terrorism, active shooter drills and other school preparedness measures are sensationalized and nothing new, why are you not in another business and/or out seeking government dollars to research, train and work on something you view as a legitimate concern worth addressing?

It sends mixed messages to hear the same academicians and/or consultants say bullying is overstated, and then they turn around and push motivational and “cry-on-command” emotional speeches, programs and products designed to pull the emotional strings of educators and parents as they claim bullying is a terrible epidemic problem.

It sends mixed messages when academicians and/or consultants say the number of school shootings are down more than ever and are sensationalized, but at the same time you need to hire them to evaluate your exercises and drills, to train and evaluate their threat assessment model, or to assess their emergency plans for the very issues they say are grossly misrepresented  and media-hype. And don’t forget they need hundreds of thousands of dollars for academic research so they can study it and come back to tell you they found it is not a problem.

It sends mixed messages when your school security consultant has close financial, promotional and/or other business ties with product vendors (those who sell security equipment) yet your consultant fails to disclose those ties up-front in his or her proposals, before doing assessments for a school district, in presentations and articles, in professional association disclosures and related as a part of public business activities.

Preparedness is good prevention

Many academicians and school safety consultants appear to be trying to reinvent themselves, pitch a new sound bite or repackage their research and products during a time when prevention and preparedness funds are tight. Often this means the messenger tries to speak out of both sides of their mouths or follow the funding trends and political correctness of the day, but it does not mean their message (or messages) and actions are aligned.

Most experienced educators and safety professionals recognize that bullying is the political buzzword and focus of the day, and that by-and-large there is more hysteria around the issue than is warranted. They also know that school shootings are not occurring every day any more than schools are being hit by a tornado or torched by a massive fire each day.

But if your school-community is where the shooting occurs, like the one over a month ago in Chardon, Ohio, the impact is hard and long-lasting. If your school-community suffers the damages caused by a tornado, like those in southern Indiana, the damages to both the physical structures and human psyche will take massive efforts to recover. And if a parent’s daughter is sexually assaulted in her school, both the girl and her parents do not care if statistics show that sexual assaults are “rare occurrences” in schools.

These same educators and safety professionals also recognize that reasonable preparedness is also good prevention. By training and preparing for a continuum of potential school safety issues, we heighten the awareness and conversation around best practices for keeping kids safe.

My colleague, Chuck Hibbert, tells our school district clients that, “We can’t change the climate if we don’t change the conversation.” His message is that if schools are not talking about school safety in an ongoing manner and as a part of their school culture, they are not going to get better at what they are — or should be — doing to create the safest possible learning environment.

We are consistent with that message and most people on the front-lines appreciate candor, bluntness and sometimes political incorrectness in a world that is too often filled with double-talk and mixed messages.

Are you able to distinguish the double-talk from consistent messages about school safety?

Ken Trump

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