School Crisis Prevention and Intervention
- Mary Margaret KerrMary Margaret KerrUniversity of Pittsburgh
A school crisis unexpectedly disrupts the school, causes emotional and physical distress, and requires extraordinary decisions and resources to restore stability. During a crisis, teachers and administrators are the first decision-makers. Yet, their training may not prepare them for this responsibility. The first school crisis framework published in educational psychology appeared in 1994, following a U.S. symposium of school psychologists to discuss a recent school massacre. In addition, cross-country communications forums and seminars recognized cultural considerations while fostering the exchange of school crisis research findings and their implications for practice. These efforts have led educational psychologists worldwide to adopt a temporal framework of recommended practices to guide educators’ decisions before, during, and after crises.
Pre-crisis work includes assessment, prevention, planning, and training. Pre-crisis planning calls on expertise in multidisciplinary collaboration with other emergency responders and risk assessments that require one to choose measures and interpret data. Once a school staff identifies impending risks, educational psychologists collaborate with responder agencies to communicate some of this information. Planning for a crisis includes procedures for young children, as well as those with special needs, which calls on the psychologist to consider how best to assess their needs and accommodate these groups. Practices and drills call for behavioral observation skills and an understanding of stress reactions that impede compliance with directives. Here, the educational psychologist contributes technical expertise in behavioral observations and performance assessment.
The crisis response phase thrusts educators into rapid collaborations with emergency responders to prevent casualties and reduce exposure to trauma. During a crisis, psychologists work alongside others to safeguard, reassure, and empower those affected, taking into account the assistance that older students may offer.
Post-crisis efforts seek to restore psychological safety through the restoration of social supports, then address acute mental health needs. Educational psychologists impart clinical expertise to restore social supports, arrange for psychological first aid, minimize continued exposure, and triage mental health needs. Academic recovery requires decisions about how and when to resume instruction. A return to schooling, ongoing supports for victims and responders, and evaluations to improve school crisis responses comprise the final goals. Some view this post-crisis mental health work as the psychologist’s primary contribution; however, the aforementioned examples reveal a greater agenda of opportunities during all school crisis phases.