No one can predict when or where the next disaster or tragedy will strike, so principals must be prepared to deal with any possible crisis. Principals who develop effective crisis plans are those who understand the true meaning of the saying, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."Because no one can predict when or where the next disaster or tragedy will strike, school principals must be prepared to deal with any possible crisis. Principals who develop effective crisis plans are being proactive in their work. They are the ones who understand the true meaning of the saying, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."
Most state laws require school leaders to develop crisis management plans for their schools. Those crisis plans should always be simple, concise, and flexible guides for handling a wide variety of emergencies. They should include clear sets of communication strategies. Their creation should include input from teachers, parents, students, emergency service personnel, and the wider community. And they should be reviewed on a regular -- at least annual -- basis.
A school crisis plan must always include the names of the members of the school's crisis team or committee. Current contact information for each person should be included, as well as a description of what each member of the team is expected to do. The names and responsibilities of the team members need to be kept current.
[content block] Those staff members who are not part of the team or committee must know their responsibilities too. A discussion of the crisis plan needs to be part of faculty meetings at least twice a year. That is not always the case, however. Recently, I polled students in my graduate-level school leadership classes. I asked them what crisis-plan procedures were being used at their schools. Surprisingly, some of my students were not aware of any crisis plan; crisis plans have never been discussed at any school meetings. On the other hand, a few of my graduate students (current teachers) revealed they are members of their school crisis team.
A crisis plan should always be concise. It should contain important details, presented in a thorough but focused and easy-to-read format.
The plans that are most successful are usually presented in three-ring binders, a format that is the best method for keeping plans and procedures up to date. Three-ring binders allow for ultimate flexibility. When new procedures are introduced, or when membership on the school's crisis team changes, the binder pages can be easily revised.
Once a crisis passes, dealing with its aftermath is of almost equal importance to advanced planning. In addition to reviewing the crisis plan, an evaluation of the plan should be conducted. Input from members of the crisis team should be sought along with comments and suggestions from other members of the school's family. And binders should be updated to reflect any changes.
A most important element of any crisis plan is communication; and a plan for communicating with the media in a crisis is one of the most important parts of that plan.
Most school leaders know that the key to getting fair coverage in the media is having a good working relationship with media outlets in the community. When a crisis arises, a principal can expect fair treatment from the media if they have treated the media fairly in the past. Principals who have been proactive in establishing an effective rapport with members of the media -- that is, principals who have given accurate and focused responses to media queries in the past -- have earned, and usually receive, fair treatment in a crisis.
Although no crisis plan can cover all possible contingencies, the fact that a school has one can help ensure the likelihood that the school will survive without any long-term negative effects. The fact that educators, parents, students, and the community have played a role in planning and preparation of a crisis plan is the reason schools are still among the safest places for children and adults.
Be sure to see other columns by George Pawlas in his article archive.
Article by George Pawlas
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