The pivotal place of the school leader was again affirmed by Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley, who reiterated in the media the important role of school principals in supporting, preparing and informing their communities when disasters strike.
Recent tragic events and the fires sweeping across large sectors of our state earlier this year have highlighted the need for schools, and school leaders, to be capable, confident and prepared for responding to and managing the diverse and often unpredictable effects of critical incidents that lead to trauma in their schools and local community.
In the past 15 years, there has been increasing research and experienced-based learning in relation to managing emergencies and disasters that impact on school communities. Principals who experienced the Black Saturday bushfires have learnt firsthand the challenges of being called by distressed parents asking what to do when the threat is at hand, being required to re-establish the buildings of a school razed by fire, and the challenge of responding to the emotional, psychological, physical and academic needs of staff, students and parents over a sustained period of time.
But while response and recovery in school communities can be a complex and protracted processes, leaders who are prepared and informed can truly make a difference because they have built their own understanding and are empowered to act with skill and knowledge.
A developing area in education is called Disaster Resilience Education (DRE) – where key knowledge, skills and understandings are embedded in the curriculum to strengthen the resilience and skills of children so that they understand the risk of disaster in their communities - which can play a role in reducing risks and impact and can be supported through the recovery process. In 2013, several schools were involved in an innovative project with Red Cross and Australian Emergency Management Institute (AEMI) to promote the “knowledge, skills and confidence to problem solve and take action before, during and after a disaster”.
AEMI is also supporting a group of experts to guide National Curriculum content through the Disaster Resilience Australia Schools Education Network (DRASEN).
Another resource that is gaining strength is the Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma, Loss and Grief Network (ACATLGN). This federally funded network of experts provides free evidence and practice-informed guides and tip sheets.
Every school leader can expect, at some time in their career, to be either called upon to respond to the types of incidents that schools deal with day to day: suicides, staff distress, angry parents and students who go missing or to be one of the key leaders called upon to respond with others to a disaster that may affect an entire community.
The key message is that this does not have to happen in a vacuum. School leaders across Victoria can be part of a professional learning network that will help them to understand what they can do before
a crisis hits, and to be able to anticipate the types of responses after
that might impact on themselves, their staff and their wider school community.The Good Response Leads to Good Recovery Professional Practice workshop at Bastow on 8 May 2014 will bring together practical wisdom and evidence-based practice for school personnel responsible for responding to and managing critical incidents and emergency situations - including principals, school psychologists, welfare officers and others. At the end of the workshop, participants will feel more empowered and better able to respond to, strategically plan for, manage and sustain the recovery of their school community when a crisis hits.
We are interested to hear from you:
- What are the risks you feel least prepared to deal with in your school?
- What resources do you need to be prepared for responding to emergencies before, during and after the event?