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WHAT WE CAN DO. A response to the Florida school shooting.

When shots are fired on a school campus, it rings through the halls of every school in the country. As I reflected on the events of the week and the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, my mind was filled with questions, and my heart was heavy with grief.  I’ve read countless articles, blogs, and letters that detail the impact an event like this has on our communities and talk about how to cope in the wake of such events, and I’ve always been hesitant to sound into the broader conversation.  But I can’t be silent any longer and would urge none of you to be.

I see an interesting parallel to the conversation around bullying.  The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program talks about the concept of the balance of power between a bully and the victim. When an incident occurs, you have a bully, the victim, and all the bystanders. The act of bullying is intended to exert power over the victim. What Olweus’ work highlights is the importance of the role of the bystander. When we as bystanders are silent, we give up all of our power in support of the bully. When we say there’s nothing we can do about this, or we are silent, we give up all of our power.  We cannot forget that we have tremendous power in this conversation. We cannot, as a school community, allow shootings like this to be politicized, minimized, or normalized.

I’m not writing to discuss the politics inherent in this issue, but I would like to offer a few thoughts about how we can move forward in a school community.  I think schools have a moral obligation to lean into the conversation and be a part of the solution because no school is immune to a tragedy like this.  While I think it’s critical to have clear emergency response protocols based on current best practice, I would offer that we would be well served to expand beyond a reactive approach and think about how to build positive and proactive communities.  

Every school shooter profile I’ve read discussed the long list of red flags leading up to the tragedy.  You don’t have to look too closely to see that there are some commonalities- isolation, anger, disconnection, and feeling disenfranchised. One of the things that makes Marburn such an incredible place for students is our strong, student-focused community.  We work to show students that they are seen, heard, and valued as important members of our community.  We help them find their strengths and cultivate opportunities for them to be successful.  We build strong relationships with our students and work to make them feel included and connected to our community.  In a world where test results and accountability measures are the focus, I know it can be a challenge to find the time to focus on the affective side of our work.  I would argue it is a critical component that we must address.

It’s not hard to imagine a school community where we, as the adults and leaders, embrace a culture that focuses on showing students how to be empathic, kind and supportive of each other.  It’s not hard to imagine a school community where students feel supported, important, and valued, and that they have a voice.  It’s not hard to imagine a school community where we strive to help students see their strengths and how their effort impacts the outcome.  It’s not hard to imagine a community where our students feel loved and accepted for the incredible people that they are and can be.

As educators and parents, our charge is vast and often overwhelming.  But if we are truly here to be advocates for our children, cultivators of passion, and a source of unconditional love and support, then we owe it to them to put them at the center of our work- to make them our priority.  Every student deserves an educational experience that adds value to them and not one that takes that value away. We know that Marburn Academy is not invincible, but I am incredibly proud of the faculty and staff who work daily to ensure our students don’t have to imagine what it feels like to be heard, valued, and connected to their school.


Jamie Williamson, Marburn Academy Head of School