There’s a blank index card on my desk.
When I was training at a school a few weeks ago we were talking about layers of school security to prevent the type of school shooting where the killer is a member of the school community and is intentionally shooting random targets. When studying this person, we find someone who has stressors in their life they cannot overcome, such as the loss of a parent, divorce, or a broken relationship. Something horrible has happened or is happening and they lack the resilience and the support to overcome their anger or grief. They may be considered an outcast by their peers and often ignored by the school staff. There is no sense of belonging to their school community. They might be grievance collectors and their pathway to justification merges with their pathway to violence. According to the FBI, the pathway to violence is fluid. If we can remove or help the student deal with the stressors, if we can help them build resilience, if we can make them feel a connection to the school and their peers, we have a good chance of getting them off the pathway.
During my undergraduate work, we watch a movie called, Cypher in the Snow. It is the story of a young boy steps off the school bus, collapses, and dies in the snow. When a teacher the student listed as his favorite teacher is asked to notify the child’s parents and write his obituary, the teacher realizes he didn’t really know the child. Reading the student’s school records he learns the student went from an outgoing student wanting to learn to a withdrawn loner due to the events in his life. No one noticed or seemed to care. The film had an impact on me and the teacher I strived to be to my students.
Using a seating chart, I looked at my students every day during attendance. I didn’t just call roll. And I noticed haircuts. The day students came to class with a new haircut I would say, “Happy Haircut!” What I was really saying was, “I see you in my class.”
I was known as the teacher with rules. Every day I would give my students Three Fs: Fair; Firm; and Friendly. As the year progressed, the students became more comfortable in my class and had a good understanding of my sense of humor. By December, if I came to school after a haircut a student, feeling his oats, would say to me, “Mr. Sigrist, happy haircut.”
Without missing a beat, I would say, “If you really meant that you would have sent me a card!”
Towards spring my students and I had a respectful banter that develops in groups with a shared goal and set of beliefs. The students learned how structure and order contribute to a positive learning experience and that I viewed their success at school as a shared goal. It was about that time when I would say to a student during attendance, “Happy haircut,” and they would respond, “If you really meant that you would have sent me a card.”
While their classmates were laughing, I reached into my desk drawer and pulled out a deck of playing cards. I drew a card from the deck, walked to the student and handed them the card. “Here’s your card!” More laughter from the students.
I shared that story during my safety training. It always plays to laughs but it reinforces the simple ways we can make a connection with our students to build positive relationships.
This week I was back at the school to assist the superintendent with safety grant paperwork. As I was being escorted to his office, a teacher walking a few students was coming towards us. The teacher said, “Happy haircut.” I said, “If you really meant that you would have sent me a card!” We both laughed and continued our way. A couple minutes later I was outside the superintendent’s office waiting for him to return from another meeting when the teacher came up to me, handed me a blank index card and said, “Here’s your card!”
Since my retirement as a School Safety Director ten years ago, I have been working with schools across the country to help them improve their layers of school safety by assisting them with their Emergency Operation Plans, doing Security and Vulnerability Assessments, delivering training, and conducting exercises. And, possibly most important of all, I have been building relationships.
That’s why there is a blank index card on my desk: