– by Jon Bergmann –
On Valentine’s Day 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz took an Uber to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The Uber driver noticed that he was carrying a duffel bag and a backpack. After he was dropped off, a staff member noted that he was walking purposefully towards building 12. Cruz entered building 12 at 2:19 p.m., a three-story building with 900 students and 30 teachers inside. He opened his duffel bag and pulled out an AR-15 assault rifle. He then activated a fire alarm and began to fire indiscriminately at students and teachers. The rest of the story you probably know, 17 people killed, 14 wounded.
When I first started teaching in 1986, school shootings were not even considered. For me though, it became real on April 20, 1999, when two gunmen killed 13 people at nearby Columbine High School. That day has been forever burned in my memory. Sadly, school shootings have become something that all schools need to be prepared for. Active shooter preparedness training has now become standard across virtually all schools, at least in the US. Our guests today have done something unique to prepare their staff for the unimaginable. Tong Utakrit is currently dean of students at Houston Christian High School, and Christine Metoyer is director of curriculum and instruction at the same school.
Jon: Tong, you guys have done something unique. How did you prepare your school for the unimaginable?
Tong: Well, no one ever likes to think about all that happening, but we knew we didn’t want to take a passive approach to it. I had done a lot of trainings with law enforcement, and looking at best practices as far as what are the recommendations from Homeland Security, as well as FBI, Department of Ed, and so using their plan, we knew that we had to update our response to an active shooter situation. Instead of the passive lockdown, we looked at the best practices. We wanted to give our faculty and staff a hands-on approach.
A friend of mine was a former SWAT team leader, former Marine, and he had a great saying that people don’t rise to the occasion, but they sink to their level of training in a moment of crisis. We didn’t want to just talk about it. We wanted to make sure that we put our people through an actual physical training so that they would be able to have that muscle memory if the unthinkable were to ever happen. To make time for that, we had to get some of the lecture, the classroom instruction out of the way. So using screen capture we were able to get a lot of the upfront information out there including the background, and where the research for our plan came from, so we could build some credibility with our faculty and staff.
We needed them to know that this plan was not something that we thought of, but this was after recommendations from government agencies and law enforcement officials.
Once we were able to present that information to them via video, we used Edpuzzle to make sure that every single teacher was enrolled and they watched the video ahead of time for the faculty meeting. Then we freed up the time for us so that during the faculty meeting after school, we were able to briefly touch on what scenarios we were going to run through, and then we took our teachers through three distinct scenarios. The first scenario was the traditional lockdown, where I split our faculty and staff into two classrooms. They had to go through traditional lockdown procedure where they would close the door, turn off the lights, and huddle in a corner and pray for the best. I had two faculty members that were former military that were our simulated active shooters. They walked into the room and they were immediately within a few seconds able to point out about 20, 30 targets they were able to see and would have been able to harm.
In the second scenario, I gave the opportunity for our teachers to counter. In other words, we don’t want our teachers to go hunt down the active shooter per se, but if the unthinkable were to happen and if the active shooter were to get into the classroom with our students, the last thing we want our faculty and students to do is be just sheep waiting for the slaughter. So we gave them some tennis balls to simulate other objects around the room. In the event of an actual situation we would hope they’d grab chairs, laptops, stapler, whatever they had at hand, and if that active shooter came into the room, they would start throwing and countering attacking to disrupt that shooter. We practiced that with tennis balls, and our two faculty volunteers said that their response was drastically reduced. They were not able to get a clear target on most of our faculty because they were so overwhelmed by what was coming their way.
The third scenario we walked through was a barricade situation. This time, when we called out the active shooter, the faculty and staff had seconds to set up a barricade using desks, chairs, tables, whatever they had, to keep somebody from coming into the room. Even within a matter of seconds, our two faculty volunteers were not able to get into the room.
Our teachers said they really gained a lot of confidence by going through those scenarios during our faculty meeting time.
Jon: That’s amazing. You have flipped the emergency preparedness training. Christine, maybe you can answer this question. What was actually in the flipped video that you had the teachers watch?
Christine: The original video we watched to prep before the actual faculty meeting included quite a few things. Tong gave us a little bit of a background on scenarios and current procedures, current lockdown drills that we do, and the fact that we were going to update, and the reason behind the information in the video. He also gave us some statistics about the different scenarios and history of active shooters, psychological profile, things like that, so just basic background information, facts, things that we could read and understand, and then just apply when we got to the actual meeting.
Jon: What was the total time of that pre-work that you had the teachers participate in?
Christine: I think it was about six to seven minutes.
Jon: This is fascinating. You’re saying that a six to seven-minute video on active shooter situations then opened up an entire series of scenarios that you could run through with your faculty?
Christine: Yes. Exactly. Tong created those scenarios along with the leadership team here at Houston Christian. He’s looking toward setting the same model up for additional practices that we need to go through. We feel like the actual active movement during the faculty meeting and the practicing of it is so much more beneficial than just going over the information when we’re at the meeting.
Jon: Tong, how long do you think it would have taken you to present that material in that six or seven-minute video if you had done it in the old-fashioned way?
Tong: I would assume that it would take up a majority of our faculty meeting. That’s because pausing for questions. People would have concerns. They would want to say what they needed to say. So the video allowed us to present all of the information. Then used Edpuzzle to enable staff to either ask questions or state their concerns. Before we set up the scenarios during the faculty meeting, I was directly able to just line up all the questions that we had, and address all of them at once instead of being interrupted during the lesson. With this process, I addressed all concerns at the very beginning of our faculty meeting before we set up the scenarios.
Jon: I was intrigued by something else that you said, Tong. You said that the military guys who were playing the role of the active shooters, they were overwhelmed by something. Talk to me about that.
Tong: In a lot of the research I did with law enforcement, they talk about this concept of the OODA loop, the O-O-D-A loop, which is observe, orient, decide, and act. They talk about how we as human beings go through millions of these OODA loops a day as we make decisions, and so the purpose of a response in an active shooter situation is to interrupt the OODA loop for the active shooter by providing a distraction. The shooters have this narrative in their heads that they’re going to be able to come into a soft target and inflict as much harm as they can.
Anything that we can do to interrupt that narrative in their head pauses and slows them down, and so as these faculty members, these volunteers, as they came into the classroom, they had a lot of tennis balls thrown their way. They had a lot of things coming their way, and so their natural human instinct, even though they knew it was just tennis balls and they knew it was coming, they put their hands up to protect their face, and they were not able to effectively get on target and engage any of our teachers at that point.
Jon: Fascinating. Just the science of how the human brain works, and it’s interrupting the flow, the horrible flow, of the active shooter.
Jon: How did teachers and staff respond?
Christine: The teachers gave a very positive response. I was excited about that. They felt like going through the motions of the drill instead of reading about the drill and being prepared mentally in their mind for it was so much more beneficial. It also gave them a chance to see how they would act in a situation. You can’t predict that until you’re going through the motions, and so some of them said, “You know, I thought I would do this, but I did this instead,” and so they felt empowered to really take action and know what to do in this situation.
Jon: Are there any plans to train your students in a similar fashion?
Tong: Yes, absolutely. Since we’re getting so close to the end of the school year, we went with the traditional method this time of having the teachers present the information to students, and then we did a full-on active shooter lockdown drill just a few weeks ago with great response, but yes, in the future what we’re hoping to do, we want to provide resources to not only students, but parents as well. We want to do that for a couple of reasons, A) because we want to recapture that time so that instead of teachers having to stand in front of a class and explain what to do in the event of an emergency, we can ensure that every student has heard the exact same information since they’ll be watching the same video, but then it also gives us that opportunity to run through these scenarios with our students instead of doubling that instructional time.
The second reason really to brief parents to give them that peace of mind of knowing that we’re staying on top of this. As you said, I don’t think when we started in our careers, in our professions, did we ever think that we would have to think about this, but unfortunately, this is where we are right now in our culture, and we want to make sure that we’re presenting an image that we will protect these kids at all costs. We’re not going to be a soft target.
Jon: That’s a great point. What response have you guys gotten from parents?
Tong: The parents on our parent council have just been grateful that we have been able to really take an active stance on this. You know, in the wake of Parkland and all these other things that have happened, we’ve gotten the questions. Our principal fielded two phone calls the day that we did the training from parents that were just so grateful. They know that the school is going to take care of their kid.
Tong: Multiple parents have even asked for more resources, which is why the next phase of the rollout for us is not just the video for the students, but for the parents. We want our parents to know what we’re training our students to do, so they don’t just hear it from their student at home, but they can hear it directly from us. This is how this school is going to respond.
Jon: Christine, talk some more about the flip model you just referred to. Why do you think that this model particularly made this so much more engaging and ultimately safe for your school, your students, your faculty?
Christine: Well, just to reiterate a little bit, the first piece being that with the flip model, you know that your entire population is getting the exact same message. Instead of disseminating information in 50 different classrooms with 50 different voices, or something like that, you know that you’re getting the exact same message out. That’s the first piece.
The second one is the time that it frees up, which I think is the goal of the flip model as it is, to create a more active learning environment. With the videos, whether it’s active shooter situations, or other types of lockdown drills, or even benefits in enrollment, things that come through HR. We want to get more on the flip model so that when we get into our meeting situations, people have time for questions, for practice, for hands-on things that they can actually work on. Using the time to actually do the practice, or do the activity, is so much more effective than sitting there and listening.
Jon: I really think what you guys are doing is going to help a lot of schools, because I think a lot of schools haven’t really thought this piece though because they haven’t done the practice. I know when I did the drills at my school, we had the long meeting with the guy who was the expert, a law enforcement guy, but we had virtually no time to practice. So I’m not sure we were very well prepared.
Christine: It’s incredibly unfortunate that we even have to do these kinds of practices, but we do believe that the more active practice that we can get, the better equipped we will be.
Jon: You have adopted the flip model for lots of training, not just this active shooter preparedness. How did you learn to do this, and how to do it well?
Tong: Well, I’ve actually followed the flip model for a while. When I started my teaching career, I taught science. I started out just capturing all of my lectures for my kids that were absent. Now obviously, those were way too long for consumption in hindsight, but that got me started down that path of how can I recapture some of that instructional time and make it beneficial? I followed the education technology space, learning those best practices, followed you a little bit. I looked at your research in the schools that you’ve worked with, and the teachers you’ve worked with, to get what’s working. I asked, what’s the research showing? Whether it’s finding the right kind of tool, the right kind of training. I would say to anybody looking to pursue this, you’ve got to make sure that you’re not going too far in one direction or another. Just capturing a full-on hour lecture is not going to be effective. You’ve got to make sure you hone it down and make sure it’s relevant to the people you’re talking to.
Christine: And the information that you’ve given us has been super beneficial. Right now, we’re in a phase where we’ve got about a fourth of our faculty jumping into a Level-I certification to work on continuing learning about the flip model, and different ways they can use it in their classroom. We were introduced to the two tools through your practice, Jon, the Actively Learn, and the Edpuzzle. We started toying with those and tried out a couple of things, and those were effective, and so Tong started using it for safety and security on campus. Other teachers are using it for different things in their classroom, and we’re really looking forward to getting groups of teachers certified in a rotation over time so that we can have this in our toolbox to free up time in our classrooms to teach other things.
Jon: Is it safe to say that one of your goals is to use flipping meetings, whether it’s a meeting for the unimaginable or any kind of meeting?
Tong: Right. You know, one of the things that we want to do and be intentional about as leadership for this campus makes sure we don’t ask our teachers to do anything that we ourselves are not willing to do. We view modeling as a huge part of that. If we tell our teachers, “Hey, we know that flipped learning works. We know that it helps recapture some instructional time. We know that it gets them to be able to get higher level critical thinking.” We want to showcase that to our teachers, and I couldn’t think of a better way than what we just did, by presenting that information to them ahead of time in a video. Then freeing up that time for them to get out of their seats after they’ve been teaching all day, to be able to move around in order to practice. To me, that was just textbook as to what we would want to see in a classroom, that they would be able to get their kids up, get their kids moving, do something different than just talking to them.
Christine: One piece we didn’t mention to you is that our principal, Darren Price, he also front-loaded the general announcements and all the things we might cover in terms of administrative tasks and logistics at a faculty meeting. He has begun creating the videos to give us that information in advance too so that we’ll have time and occasion during faculty meetings to practice some PD instead of talking about it, but actually get in there and work with teams, and create some things, activities, and whatnot. He’s on board with that as well in kind of a different fashion.
Jon: Sounds like a school I want to teach at. If I ever leave this gig I need to move to Houston and teach at your school.
Well, thanks again, Tong, and Christine. You guys have been amazing. I know this is a topic we don’t like to talk about, but what you have done creatively has hopefully saved some kids’ lives.