Safety: Do you have a plan?

Practical ProfessorsYou walk into the classroom one day and there is a student under a desk clenching his backpack. What do you do? How do you handle the situation? How do you ensure the safety of other students in the room while addressing this situation?  Similar scenarios have been in training seminars at campuses across the country. I’ve thought about this scenario. Have you?

Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that you teach at institutions where students would never engage in this type of behavior  or maybe you’ve told yourself that dangerous situations, like a school shooting, don’t happen where you teach.

This week, I finished reading Think No Evil, a book that summarizes the events of the Amish school shooting in 2006. I am 100% sure that the Amish community in Nickel Mines, PA were convinced that school shootings would not impact their lives. However, a school shooter entered a small, one room school house and shot 10 girls before killing himself.

Tragic events like this can happen! To you, to me, to any of us! So what’s your plan?

My Department or School Hasn’t Trained Me

I have talked to faculty across the nation, both full time and adjunct, who have report that their college or university has not developed an official plan or have not formally communicated the plan for an active shooter or threat to campus. Every person I’ve ever talked to finds this problematic and a major concern. I agree! In fact, I think every department and school should take the time to discuss this issue. We are well-educated and capable people, who care about our own safety and our students’ safety. So don’t wait for your campus, if they have not release an official plan, develop one for yourself!

In some cases, training may be a one time push, so ask your department chair or human resources department if there is an official policy or training program offered. If there is then take advantage of it, because it can be a wonderful learning opportunity. If there is not a program and you are passionate about this topic, you can ask your human resources department if there is an opportunity to collaborate to create a safety plan for the campus as well as a training opportunity for those who work on the campus. Students should also be informed and taught what they should do.

Make a Plan

Planning for the Unexpected_ Safety PlanningOne day over lunch, a colleague and I discussed our plans, how we would help to increase student safety in the event of an emergency on campus, where we would meet, etc. If you haven’t had this conversation yet…you need to! Even if you only teach one class, you should know what you would do in case of an emergency. If it’s not a life-threatening emergency you should have an idea of how you might handle the situation. There are several websites that can help you think about the steps you might take! Before writing this post I Googled “plan for active shooter” and there are a lot of helpful websites including the Department of Homeland Security. Google this for yourself and consider your campus layout. Where can you and your students go?

It is important to consider a variety of situations that you may encounter. There may be a fire. You may have a student who is threatening to harm him/herself. You may have a hostile student in your classroom that does not have a weapon but is being a disruption. You may have a student who threatens you, due to a grade he/she received. Or The student in the example above may be suffering from mental illness or he may be protecting an illegal substance, or hiding a gun or another weapon. Preparation is the key. Just like you would not enter the classroom unprepared to teach, you should not enter the classroom unprepared to deal with situations that may arise.

Emergency Contact NumbersPlanning for the Unexpected_ Safety Planning-2

Before the semester begins, obtain phone numbers for public safety as well as the counseling center. Store these numbers in your cell phone so that they are easy to access if an emergency occurs. You may find that you never need to use them, but in the event you do, it is better to be prepared.

Mandated Reporter

If you are concerned about a student, how can you go about reporting the concern? Who do you report them to? What is the protocol on your campus?

You are a mandated reporter. If a student appears to be in distress, report! If a student shares information with you that you find concerning, report! If a student threatens to harm him/herself, report! If a student threatens to harm someone else, report! It is better to err on the side of caution. A student’s safety is your top priority; therefore, nothing should prevent you from reporting concerning behavior. In order to report, you must know who to report to and how to go about doing so. Therefore, it is important to ask how to file this type of concern. You may ask a faculty mentor, an administrator, or contact the health center or counseling center to find out.

Preparation is the Key!

So, again I ask, what would you do if face with the scenario above? Would you leave student inside while you left the classroom to call for help? Would you try to evacuate the other students? Would you just simply leave…every man/woman for themselves?

Making a plan prior to an incident allows you to think more critically about how you would handle the situation. Most likely, you will be highly impacted by the stressfulness of the situation. This may impair your ability to think clearly which is obviously necessary in this type of situation. The way that  you respond will make all the difference. So develop your plan now!

When I started teaching, family and friends asked me if I was afraid. I had no idea what they were talking about! But from their perspectives, teaching had become a field where faculty, students, and staff could be at risk of attack. I rarely think about what could happen, but I do have a personal plan, in addition to the plan offered by my university. So I encourage you to think about and talk about what you would do! Ask other faculty and staff that you know if they have a plan. Talk to people outside of higher education, who have experience in these situations. They are trained to think about these scenarios and may have some sound advice to provide. Or conduct your own research to learn more.

4 Practical Apps that every College Student MUST Download

4 Practical Must Have Apps for Every College Student
New technological advancements help to improve student success on campuses. Therefore, there are a few applications and programs students should download on the first day of class that will make the semester run a bit more smoothly. Programs that help to navigate and stay connected on campus and improve writing and keep track of references are very helpful. Here are some programs that we suggest that students download on the first day of class.

Campus App

Most college campuses have an application that students can download to help them navigate campus and access resources on campus. Downloading the campus app provides students with guided campus tours, a map of campus facilities, radio and webcam streaming on campus, and campus services. This can also be a helpful tool for faculty and adjuncts, because it provides access to quickly find buildings, classrooms, and the closest coffee shop! 

I LOVE Grammarly! I put Grammarly on every laptop and desktop I own! I also ask students to download it the first day of class and they LOVE it too! Grammarly will not only let you know if you missed a comma or misspelled a word, but it also let you know if you used the wrong word or if you should rephrase part of a sentence. Grammarly can be downloaded for free or you can pay for a subscription that promises to catch more mistakes. I only use the free version and so do many of my students.


The Pro WritingAid is like Grammarly on steroids! I usually encourage upperclassmen, graduate students, and other faculty to download this in addition to Grammarly. ProWritingAid is a fantastic tool for ensuring sentence variety, word variance, complexity of paragraphs, and the list goes on to help ensure effective writing. This can help students with their paraphrasing as well, which is helpful for student new to synthesis.

Circle of 6

This is an app students can download on their phones. They can select any six people from their contacts list to put in their circle. If the student finds himself or herself in a bad situation, they can send a message with GPS location to those six people identified. This can be helpful for students taking night classes or students who go to parties.

Apps that EVERY College Student Should Download

There are countless apps and downloads available that can help students. Share some apps that you recommend that students download and use. Feel free to comment below!

Should I share personal information with my students?

This week, a former student came to visit me. During our conversation, I asked how her classes were going and which classes she was really enjoying? As she began to talk about classes she took the previous semester, she mentioned a particular class that I assumed would have been one of her favorites. When I made that comment, she stated, “I learned more about my professor’s life than actual content from the course.”

What?!?! Epic fail with a capital F!

Personal Examples

Personal examples can be powerful tools in the classroom. They can help you to form connections with your students – build relationships. They make you relatable to your students – you really are an actual person outside of the classroom.

Personal examples can help to illustrate topics that you are presenting. I often use stories about my children or former teaching experiences in the K-12 setting, when they are relevant to topics that I am teaching. But, it is important to know when enough is enough. It is also important to keep in mind the appropriateness of what is being shared.

You are an authority figure. Students must respect you, your position, and the relationship you have with them. Failure to keep these boundaries can lead to consequences later. Form a connection, but remember there is still the need for boundaries.

I present personal information when it directly supports a topic being discussed. I may include a picture of my children on a powerpoint when it relates to a topic I am teaching.  I may share an example from my K-12 teaching days or a personal anecdote about something that happened to me as a child, in high school, or as an undergraduate student. But, the example is always used to support the topic I am teaching.

Keeping Your Opinion to Yourself

On a similar note, there are also times when I refrain from sharing my personal stories, opinions, or experiences on a topic. I may want students to form their own opinions. Therefore, I refrain from sharing how a feel or think about a topic. I play devils advocate during this type of discussion and demonstrate respect for both sides. By sharing opposing views, students are exposed to information on the topic, and they are provided the opportunity to form or adapt their current position.

Personal Contact Information

You should also determine what type of personal contact information you will share with students. Will you provide your cell phone number? Will you include a personal email address? Will you use a system like Remind?

Jessi and I differ in the type of information we share with students. Read our individual polices below:

Laura’s Policies
Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.53.53 PMThe classes that I teach are generally 90+ students. The majority of the students are underclassmen. In addition, I have Instructional Assistants to help me in the larger classes. Therefore, I do not share my personal cell phone with students. I also do not provide them with my personal email. My students have access to my work email and forums that are established within my class to communicate individually as well as to ask questions that the entire class can see. They are also provided the phone number to my office. I hold office hours weekly and will schedule appointments with student if they are in need of assistance. I like to keep my personal life and my professional life a bit separate when it comes to communication with my students. With that being said, I also do not “friend” my students on Social Media sites, like Facebook. I am cautious when “friending” colleagues who are connected with current students on social media sites. I keep my account set to private.

I am a bit more lenient with these boundaries after students graduate. However, this depends upon the student and the relationship I have formed with them. If they are trustworthy and responsible, then I am more likely to connect with them on social media or even provide some personal contact information. For example, I have some alumni who currently work with me as Instructional Assistants, who I am connected with on social media and they also have my personal cell phone number.

Jessi’s Policies

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.54.48 PMI agree with Laura – class size can dictate the types of stories and examples that get shared. I also would add that the size of the major and involvement with student clubs and other activities can also impact what you share. Overall, I am much more liberal with my information than Laura. I take time at the beginning of my classes to share personal information and events from my life with my classes. I also invite students to do the same. The stories shared help to build community and personalize the classroom. I have invited students, who are involved in a club I sponsor, to my home for a Christmas party, game nights, and scary movie nights. However, I never host these events alone; there is always another faculty member (usually from my department) present, who stays for the entire event. I do not give my address to all of my students. Furthermore, I also give select students my cell phone number. For example, students who are helping me with research projects, students I want to connect with to get coffee, or students in clubs that I sponsor have access to my personal cell phone number.

Regardless of how you plan to interact with your students, whether only during school hours on campus or by participating in off-campus activities, I still warn each of you to use caution!  It is important that you are aware of the policies and procedures of the university. If communication through personal cell phones or off-campus interactions and actives are prohibited, then you must abide by the rules set forth by the institution. It is also important to remember to keep a professional relationship regardless of where and how you are interacting with students. It has been made very clear to me that if anything were ever to happen in my home or if an allegation were to be made, I would lose my job. So take time to consider the pros and cons of your interactions and ask yourself….is it worth the risk?

Moral of this story is….if your students know more about you, than the course content at the end of the semester, you have failed them! Share personal stories but do so in a conscientious and cautious manner. Remember, it is important to maintain authority while also form relationships and teach the content. Boundaries and balance are the key!