A Strategy for Educating Students about the Active Shooter

December 08, 2016

Teaching with Stories and Content
Cara W. McFadden, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Sport and Event Management
School of Communications
Elon University

In the wake of over 200 mass shootings in 2016, it is important for practitioners to view themselves as educators to discuss strategies for teaching future collegiate recreation professionals about active shooter protocols (as well as train current student employees). For this article practitioners will be called educators.

The Gun Violence Archive defines a “mass shooting” as any event where there are four or more people injured or killed. The most recent mass shooting at the Orlando Pulse night club killed 49 people. This and other similar occurrences are happening in our public spaces where individuals should feel safe – schools, movie theaters, churches, community facilities, and other social gathering spaces. With the awareness that Campus Recreation centers can also be included under ‘public spaces’, professionals need to be prepared in the event of a mass shooting occurring in their recreation facilities.

This article focuses on the concern of the active shooter in sport and recreation environments and the role practitioners play in educating students to have a survival mindset. Strategies will be shared from an example of a course taught at Elon University entitled, Facilities and Venue Management. The course concentrates on the use of personal story telling with an active shooter incident, case study analysis, and application to the industry.
The pedagogy or teaching strategy used for the course is divided into three course meetings that could also be planned for three training sessions (or day long training).

Story telling. Teaching through stories can assist the development of students in multiple ways. It can assist in understanding one’s own values and help to understand others’ values around a difficult topic. The sharing of students’ lived experience creates opportunity to reflect as well as influence their understanding. The understanding of values around a difficult topic in conjunction with lived experiences creates a foundation for student learning and development. For example, a practitioner could share a personal story about an active shooter experience.

To read the author’s personal story about Virginia Tech mass shooting, click http://ow.ly/Yk6E306oGU9

There is much more to my story and many others who experienced the events of that day. I shared a short part of my story in this article to bring context about how storytelling can be used as an education strategy. We become better educators for our students by sharing real life experiences and intentionally connecting to the content we plan to teach in a training or classroom setting. Before I teach the students about active shooter policies, I share my story to engage their thought process and make it a reality.

Case Study Approach. After the story telling has set the stage and created the hook for learning, the students are responsible for diving deeper into the topic by intensively analyzing the Virginia Tech mass shooting through a variety of lenses (the community, the media, the US, lawmakers, educators, and as sport managers). Students are responsible for finding multiple videos and articles to enhance the training discussion. In addition, the educator teaching the students can share documents (newspaper clippings, personal emails received related to the incident, cards from strangers, photographs and videos). This assists students in hearing a lived story and also provides other sources of information to gain insight about mass shootings from multiple perspectives. The story as mentioned above provides one perspective and is elongated by the use of multiple sources shared by the educator and peers. Through storytelling and case study analysis, students can engage themselves in a real life experience which leads to opportunities for application into the work practitioners do in the sport and recreation industry. Students are given the opportunity to ask difficult questions out right or anonymously.

Application to the Industry. Once the story is shared and the case study analysis complete students watch an active shooter training video that is a twenty minute video created by the Center for Personal Protection and Safety. The video provides valuable guidance for how to survive an active shooter situation and how to have a survival mindset. The training shares three key components to having a survival mindset: Awareness, Preparation & Rehearsal.

The Center for Personal Protection and Safety’s The Survival Mindset:
Awareness: Taking time to understand your situation
Preparation: Asking yourself “what if” questions & Developing effective response strategies
Rehearsal: Practicing your response plan

After the students have watched the video, they are brought back to the training environment. Students share out loud takeaways from the video. Once the students have gained understanding the educator can walk to the entry door in the classroom and look out and look back in and say, “I hear a shooter, what do we do.” Some students’ eyes are glazed over and others begin acting fast. It provides a great opportunity to apply what they have learned. It makes them aware of their environment and they begin to create questions and strategies to fight back and survive. Time is then allotted to debrief the experience by practicing their response plan, if there was an encounter with an active shooter in the facility.

Next, students apply the experience to the sport and recreation industry. Students are given scenarios in regards to how they might handle an active shooter situation at a club sports game, fitness center, as well as large events with 5,000 people plus. Students are reminded that the idea of discussing an active shooter and bringing their attention to it is not to create fear, but to place emphasis on the importance of being aware of their environment, being prepared to keep their staff and patrons safe, and being responsible to rehearse plans in case of an emergency such as an active shooter. Overall, to be proactive versus reactive.

To do this work there needs to be intentional sequencing. First there was the story and learning about a specific event. Next students learned about multiple perspectives regarding mass shootings through a case study approach. Lastly students learned how to apply the story and analysis to the sport and recreation industry. Educators tend to believe they have to rush the content to be taught to student employees. If educators (practitioners) challenge themselves to create memorable learning experiences, the content will stay with the students much longer.

Second, educators must create space for difficult conversations to occur because it is imperative for understanding to take place.

Here are a few strategies:
• Create a Brave Space (have the group define what this looks like to them – for example, creating guidelines for the discussion). The idea of a Brave Space has come from work by Arao & Clemens around diversity and social justice.
• Acknowledge Comfort Levels. Inform students that if they need to leave the room because they feel uncomfortable that it is okay (this may need to be stated more than once, a student could have been exposed to an active shooter incident, such as the Sandy Hook shooting. Students may also need additional time after the training to debrief; it is important to note that these conversations will impact individuals differently)
• Different Lens. Understand that everyone is at a different place with the difficult conversation based on varying life experiences and viewing the world through a different lens.
• Create Additional Time to Debrief. Create opportunities out of class (training) or during the next class (staff meeting) to continue debriefing if there are questions/feelings left unanswered.
Sharing of real life stories can feel uncomfortable, however, with the challenges it is well worth the rewards of learning (for all involved). The use of stories, case study analysis and application is the reality of how these important topics influence the collegiate recreation environment. These moments will stay with students. Stories can create memorable learning experiences. Connecting related content to the story provides students the opportunity to apply knowledge to an industry scenario through rehearsal. Educators (practitioners) owe that too their students and the communities that they serve.

Related sources to assist with this work:
Active Shooter Training Video: http://www.metrostate.edu/applications/drep/files/shots_fired_transcript.pdf
Brave Space Article: https://sty.presswarehouse.com/sites/stylus/resrcs/chapters/1579229743_otherchap.pdf
CNN health:
Gun Violence Archive:

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