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Safety First - Toxic Stress in Education

 

I work in a small school in a big state.  The local school community had the power shut over the weekend as a preventive action for avoiding fires.  This morning I was told that there would be school without power and to plan to provide services and teach children without power. 

My instinct was - this is not safe!  

So I drove to school.  As I pulled off the highway into the community I noticed that two police officers had pulled two different cars over a couple of blocks apart from each other.  My adrenalin started to pump a little more.  It was already elevated because I knew I was going to work in an unsafe situation, no power for technology, which included communication.  I was not sure why we were having school without power.

I stopped in the office and heard more colleagues expressing their concerns and confusion.  I worked my way back to my dark office where a few other colleagues were trying to figure out how to work without light, were very cold as the temperature was 42 degrees and were concerned about how the students might be feeling about being at school without power after being home without power all weekend.

So one of my colleagues and I thought we would check in with one of the teachers who had several students in her class that were on our caseloads (special education).  We began to walk into the courtyard and were told by our assistant principal as she was briskly walking by, that our campus was on "lock down".  I was shocked.  It was an awful feeling to know that a procedure that was meant to keep us safe was not!  I walked out into an unsafe situation because we had no power and the communication did not happen. 

To make it worse when I looked out the window because I heard young voices I saw a couple of children walking about.  Yikes.  I was concerned and confused.  Were we still in lockdown?  Our radio never asked if we were clear?   

Shortly after my assistant principal came into our room to explain that the "lock down" was done to make sure teachers kept their doors closed to keep in the little heat.  Oh my.  My adrenalin and my mind were so confused.  Was I safe?  Was having a lockdown a solution to make it ok work without power ?

It took me a few minutes to realize that I had a choice.  I could stay in this unsafe environment or leave.  I used all of my problem solving power to let my colleagues know that I was headed home to do paperwork with power until the power came back on.  I did not feel safe working in a school with children without power.  I sent an email to my administration and they did not respond. 

My childhood trauma of "Is this OK?" has been triggered by this incident. The confusion and chaos of being told to stay in an unsafe situation where everything is supposed to go on as usual. 

Why are our educational agencies/leaders allowed to make decisions that are unsafe?  Is this the result of chronic toxic stress?  Is our educational system not considering safety when I, a human being, says they don't feel safe?  Are they considering the stressful impact of teachers and students being without power all day and in fear of fires near by?

I made the decision to leave school.  I made a decision to take myself out of an unsafe situation. 

On my way out a district administrator stopped me and said "but we have to provide services, school is open".  And I replied "I don't feel that this is a safe environment and that it is safe to provide services without power, light and heat. "  

When I told my assistant principal I didn't understand why they had school without power and they were using a lock down as a way to encourage teachers to keep their doors closed, she said "I wish I had a choice!".  

Yes, we do have a choice! 

What if the Administrators told the Superintendent that they did not feel safe opening school without power? 

What if the teachers told the administrators that they did not feel safe coming to school without power? 

What if the parents told the teachers and administrators that they did not feel safe sending their children to school without power?

Then we would begin to end the toxic stress. We would be focused on safety instead of survival.  

Instead teachers are told they "have to" come in and parents are told their student will be "marked absent" if they don't attend.  

What is the purpose of having school without power?

Are we not worthy of working in a safe, clean and efficient environments, with heat and light and working communication systems?

Can't we take this time off and make it up at the end of the year?

Should schools have generators? 

How can we solve this problem without creating more toxic stress?

How can we as adults become more regulated and make safe decisions ?

What are the fears behind this survival based decision making? 

Your responses are welcome here or on my Facebook Page:  Jessie Graham Coach and Consultant, ACES and Education or my website Jessie Graham Coach

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments (8)

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Lena Hoffman posted:

As a resident of the same large state and a city impacted by an ongoing wildfire and power shutoff, I am absolutely horrified at the irresponsible decision-making on the part of your school's and district's administration. Thank you for taking a stand on behalf of the staff, students and families. I feel like a lot of people in positions of authority have been making decisions with the fear-based survival part of their brains that have caused stress levels to be much higher than necessary and could very well have led to more unsafe conditions.  I think this illustrates that although there is a growing community of people in the public sector who are "woke" about the science of ACEs and toxic stress, there are still a great number of people in decision-making positions that need to be made aware of the impacts that ACEs and toxic stress have on our ability to mitigate the impacts of and recover from traumatic events.  We have a lot to unpack about public administration's response to this most recent disaster, and you've raised a lot of important questions to consider as we recover from this disaster and prepare for the next.

Hi Lena,  It is pretty challenging right now.  Every single day I have conversations with people about the impact of ACES.  Everyday I try to connect with as many students as I can to help them feel seen and heard.  It's time to change, I am very impatient and ready to support systems who are ready to shift. Please join me on Face Book and together we can make understanding ACES the norm and basis for making decisions for the wellbeing of our SOCIETY!  

Please take good care during this challenging time... 

Lois Hall posted:

also - seeing others' replies - and in the midst of current wildfires in CA - perhaps you should show them the new ACE diagram - from ACEs Connections - at least where I saw it - of the three areas of ACES - Home, Community and Environment...  I LOVE that graphic... showing exactly this -that the things that happen in our environment - floods, fires, tornadoes, etc... DO cause ACEs for our kids...  

Thank you Lois, The graphic is wonderful and I haven't seen it before.  I think the biggest impact is the toxic stress and collective trauma in some schools.   It is so challenging to be in a school and be aware of what can be done and what isn't being done and how harmful it is.

Today our principal sent an email:  " please make sure you have your substitute plans for days when the power is out! "  Can you believe it?  And he said that teaching while the power is out would likely be the status quo!  Who has the best connection to CA DOE? Please message me!  I am going to pay a visit! 

also - seeing others' replies - and in the midst of current wildfires in CA - perhaps you should show them the new ACE diagram - from ACEs Connections - at least where I saw it - of the three areas of ACES - Home, Community and Environment...  I LOVE that graphic... showing exactly this -that the things that happen in our environment - floods, fires, tornadoes, etc... DO cause ACEs for our kids...  

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  • ACES w environment-climate effects 100219

“Is this ok?” 

These words have been floating in my head on loop continuously since I read them 36 hours ago. 

There are so many things about which I wonder “Is this ok?” 

I wish everyone felt safe asking questions, all the questions.   What happened to “There are no silly questions?”   When people get locked down, shut up, we never make the best decisions. 

Not being able to question reminds me of dysfunctional family systems; those places where first people hide how they feel and their ideas and then who they are and after hiding has been happening for so long, it seems there is no way back to before it all started and we never get to know who we are or who we could have been anymore. 

I’m so sorry you had this experience. 

Last edited by Former Member

As a resident of the same large state and a city impacted by an ongoing wildfire and power shutoff, I am absolutely horrified at the irresponsible decision-making on the part of your school's and district's administration. Thank you for taking a stand on behalf of the staff, students and families. I feel like a lot of people in positions of authority have been making decisions with the fear-based survival part of their brains that have caused stress levels to be much higher than necessary and could very well have led to more unsafe conditions.  I think this illustrates that although there is a growing community of people in the public sector who are "woke" about the science of ACEs and toxic stress, there are still a great number of people in decision-making positions that need to be made aware of the impacts that ACEs and toxic stress have on our ability to mitigate the impacts of and recover from traumatic events.  We have a lot to unpack about public administration's response to this most recent disaster, and you've raised a lot of important questions to consider as we recover from this disaster and prepare for the next.

First of all let me say this.. I am so sorry you are even having to make a decision like this.. to stay at school where there is no power, heat etc. I agree with you, school should not be in session if it isn't safe to do so.  Power and heat are something that is essential to be successful in the school day.  Some of those students come to school every day to feel safe, to have heat (they may not have power consistently or heat at home) and then they show up only to find that their school is without the essentials as well.  I have lost power where I teach before and we did what we could to get through the day (thunderstorm took out the power) but that was a temporary problem and one that was corrected in a few hours and kids stayed here.  If we were going to be without power admin had plans to send students home.  

I applaud you for walking out and going home. If you don't feel safe how can you make your students feel safe. You have to take care of yourself first to be able to help others. 

Good luck and from Nebraska we say we care! 

 

unbelievable... as I continued to read your piece, I kept thinking - this was a dream, they'll wake up, it's just an example of the stupid things people do....  but no - apparently this is a true story - and yet - still UNBELIEVABLE!  and ridiculous...  you did the right thing - no one should have been there.  And yes, there should be contingency plans if this needs to happen again, could the school move to another location - a church or community building in a different area - with power, and out of danger?  just for a few days... or longer if needed?  unbelievable.... 

 

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