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Suggested School Safety "Teachable Moment" Lesson

Natural Disasters, School/Community Violence/Tragic School Community Deaths

Scott Poland,  Ed.D., Director
Department of Psychological Services

Donna Poland, Ph.D.,
Middle School Principal

Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District
Houston, Texas


Suggested Activities


1. Students will develop an understanding of the facts regarding the "critical incident".

Teacher will share facts that have been provided by administration that answer: "Who, what, when, where?"  If there was a perpetrator, care will be taken to avoid their glorification.

  • Fact Sheet
  • *Tip Sheet

2. Students will express reactions and concerns regarding the behaviors of the "critical incident" individuals (victims and perpetrators) .

Question: "Why do you think this happened?"

Whole group activities:


Bean Bag Toss

Community Circle

Write a letter to the principal: "How I Feel About What Happened."

  • Any light object that can be passed or tossed from student to student.
  • Student- Scribe
  • Teacher- Facilitator

3. Students will explore alternative responses for managing anger and avoiding self-destructive decisions.

Question: "How do you think this could have been avoided?"

Small group activities:


What makes you angry?

How do you deal with it?

What is an appropriate way to respond?

Teacher led instruction on conflict resolution, anger management model.

  • model for anger management or conflict resolution
  • role play scenarios

4. Students will be provided an opportunity to express fears and concerns of their own safety.


"Is it possible for this to happen in our own community?"

" What would make you feel safer right now?"


5. Students will understand that a structure designed to assure safety and well being is in place in their own school and community.

Question: "What are we doing to prevent this from happening in our own school /community?"

Discuss: security around school, breaking the "conspiracy of silence" by telling an adult.

Activity: Write a letter to the principal with your ideas about how to make your school safer.

  • Review school crisis plan and safety task force recommendations.

6. Students will be able to communicate effective and appropriate ways to respond to a crisis (following directions of an adult, safest part of the building, etc.) and to situations of escalating anger (student contracts, Boys' Town, Peer Mediation, etc.).


"What would we do to assure student safety in an incident like this?

"What will we do to assure that this will not happen in our school?"

  • Review crisis drills
  • Review school creeds and student pledges that address the actions necessary to prevent violence.

7. Students will be able to express empathy for victims.

Question: "What can we do to express our sympathy?"

Student choices:

  • letters, notes of sympathy to victims
  • letters to editor
  • letters of appreciation to own parents, teachers
  • gather supplies, donations
  • fund raisers
  • involvement in planning appropriate memorials
  • Review school and district policies

8. Students will explore ways to reduce exposure to violence in our society and tragic deaths of peers.

Question: "Is there too much violence in movies, television, music, and video games?"

Student choices:

  • Group discussion of how to reduce exposure and make appropriate choices.
  • Letters to decision makers, legislatures, producers, etc.
  • List best/worst examples of movies, music, videos, etc.
  • Consider starting an anti-violence club or organization and discuss ways to increase student involvement in school safety and violence prevention. 
  • Local newspaper!
  • Weekly national magazines!
  • TV Guide!
  • Contact Mothers Against Violence in America at 800-897-7697 for information on starting a Students Against Violence Everywhere chapter.

9.      Students will identify the leading causes of death for children which are in order:

  • accidents
  • homicides
  • suicides

Question: "What do you think are the leading causes of death for our children in America today?"

Student choices:

  • Group discussion
  • library or Internet research
  • writing to organizations that provide prevention and intervention information.
  • Contact the following organizations for prevention information and student initiatives to prevent tragedies:
    1. Students Against Destructive Decisions @ PO Box 800,Marlborough, MA 01752, 877-SADD-INC
    2. American Association of Suicidology @ Suite 302,4201 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008, 202-237-2280
    3. Mothers Against Violence in America @ 105 14th Street, Suite 2A, Seattle, Washington  98122  800-897-7697