Responding to Catastrophic Events is a Four Phase Recovery

This past couple of weeks have been fraught with calls from districts facing more difficult challenges than usual.  What is blatantly apparent is how much better we are at the first mobilization and the initial mental health response, and how few have a clear understanding of what follow-up might really entail.
Responding to catastrophic events is a three-phase recovery. What most schools miss is that students and staff are giving meaning to the event over time, and what they feel about the response, about whether teachers were really able to protect them, about whether adults really do want to hear what they have to say and what worries them… all of these things set the course for what school climate will be in a couple of months and, subsequently, in a couple of years.Phase I is the lock-down/keep-everybody-safe phase.  Phase II is the crisis team response, seeing to student and staff mental health needs, and often this is a stage that administrators expect to last for maybe a week or so.  Phase II may actually go on for years for a few of the students and staff who suffered most impact.Phase III.  That’s really where we determine who we as a school will become because of this event.  Catastrophic Events alter school climate.  It either gets better or worse.  But it doesn’t remain unchanged.  About two weeks after the event, just when teachers and administrators are hoping it is all over and we can get back to normal, students are now really reflecting on the event and what steps the school has taken to help them feel safe, and their experience of your ongoing follow-up will determine much about your school climate in the future.
Look at these three phases.  Even without any organization or training at all, schools will do the first two phases.  Good people jump up and the basic right stuff happens.  But Phase III is all about prevention.  It is all about school climate.  It is all about the teachable moment that crisis provides.
Schools are never unchanged by catastrophic events.  People can live on adrenaline for between 2 – 6 weeks, and at some point along in there, we begin to crumble.  Something has to shift.  Most often, people begin to put their angst in silos, expending lots of energy to keep their anxiety at bay.  But when the next event occurs, the lid pops off that silo and people are in deeper trouble.
Don’t miss the opportunity to examine what opportunities lie in Phase III of responding to major events.  If something happens in your district and you want some ideas, get in touch.  I’d be glad to give you all the ideas I can!
Thanks for all you do every day in the hallways of our schools!
Downloadable pdf:  Venn Diagram for Recovery
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