Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fire Drills

Reviewing fire drill procedures are a fairly typical pre-school year agenda item, as is determining when a the first fire drill will occur.  Typically, giving teachers a heads up on the first fire drill provides them with time to teach (or re-teach) and practice fire drill procedures with their students.  This is beneficial for everyone in the classroom because they know exactly what it looks like and sounds like during a fire drill.  The expectations and the routine are clear for the students.  

Just this past week I was working a group of dedicated educators at a Massachusetts charter school. Their school year doesn't officially start until after Labor Day, but they are hard at work; preparing the school for the kiddos; including their fire drill practice.  I was struck by the simple brilliance of an additional piece they use when preparing their students for a fire drill.

This charter school gathers the students together and 'plays' the alarm for the students so their students will know what the alarm sounds like.  Think about how subtly brilliant this is.  How many times have you heard the fire alarm for the first time during a school year and a number of your students are unaware of what that sound is?  Playing the alarm for them, eliminates this wonder and decreases the fear and anxiety that students may have when hearing it for the first time.

With the school year beginning, re-consider how you prepare your students for an emergency.  Is there another piece that could proactively prepare them?  Is preparing them just once, at the beginning of the school year, enough?  Would it be beneficial for them to hear the fire alarm multiple times over the year, even not during a drill?  Would it be beneficial for them to practice a fire drill without the alarm, multiple times throughout the year?  

Although we teach students these necessary emergency routines, they are just in case of emergency.  It is quite likely, that for many kiddos, practicing only twice a year may not be enough for them to retain the expectations of what it looks like, sounds like, feels like, during a fire drill.  Feels like is an important consideration, and something we should be reflecting with students after a dry-run (without the alarm) and real drill (with the alarm).  Our goal is not to scare them, but prepare them so they can be as calm and safe as possible during an emergency.