October 29, 2018

A Proactive Approach Requires Effective Training

By Ally Jones

Based on the article by Ashley Chohlis, “Creating a Safe Learning Environment Demands Realistic, Proactive Safety.” Read the full article on Upshot.

Ashley Chohlis, Director of Administrative Services and Leadership Development at East Central ISD, recognizes that being proactive is essential to school safety, and it requires staff and students to train for how to respond to various situations. She stated, “In an unsafe or emergency situation, people will rise or fall to the level of their training. Every drill, every scenario, we put staff and students through, builds schema for their response in an actual emergency situation. That is why training and developing teachers’ and students’ responses in emergency situations is the key to being proactive.”

Learning from Tragedy

Tragedy struck close to home in Ashley’s district, but they were able to use it as a learning experience to grow from. She stated, “East Central is very close to Sutherland Springs, which you may know as the site of a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in November of 2017… When that event happened, the people in our district were deeply affected. It shook the entire district to its core. The impact was that we all realized we weren’t doing enough to protect our students.”

“Everyone in our district must know how to handle an unidentified person in the building, a fire in the parking lot, and everything in between. Some events are more likely than others, but the stakes are too high not to be ready for anything… We ran drills, certainly, but we ran them when it was convenient…Many of our own kids are in classes across this district, and if our preparation didn’t feel good enough for our own children, it wasn’t good enough for any of the children we serve. Something had to change.”

Using Scenario-Based Training

Ashley saw an opportunity to better prepare her staff and students for any emergency through scenario-based training using Drill Scenarios. She stated, “Across the entire district, we’ll start to drill at times when everyone least expects it. People will understand what their different options are at different times of the day. We’re not going to tell people exactly what they should do in every case—we’re going to give them the skills they need to make that decision for themselves. After each drill, we’ll debrief and help our staff build their own schema. This has always been the dream, but now it’s a reality.”

“Disaster can strike at a moment’s notice. This isn’t something you can control and, in truth, you probably can’t prevent it, either. What you can control is how prepared you are when that moment finally comes.”

How are you taking a proactive approach to school safety in your district?

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I can’t express how important that drills are. They are just as important as the testing that we require of students. How else do we expect them to be prepared. PLUS – we are prepping them for a lifetime lesson to be prepared.

Chad Leggett

Practicing Safety Drills and Scenarios is just like learning First Aid and CPR. You may never need it, but if you do, you need to be ready/prepared to make quick rational decisions.

We have monthly drills of all types – the building administrator determines which is most appropriate. We also do tabletop scenarios with our staff and with our students.

Kathleen Wolf

We have drills throughout the school year. We have updated our communication system through Navigate and instruction has been
given to the teachers on how to use the system. We do tabletop scenarios with staff.

Charlie Hammonds

It is a well known fact that in emergencies we revert back to our training. No training = Disaster. We need to practice practice practice.

Alexander Garey

Reading through this is something that we all know but seems like we often overlook it. It’s like the saying ‘better safe than sorry’.

Practicing for these scenarios is the only way you can prepare for (God forbid) the actual event.

Not only practicing the drills, but explaining they “why” aspect of drills. Why do we practice? To ensure that in the event of a real emergency we are prepared. To make sure that we know what to do, and how to do it, saving time and potentially lives. We practice drills not because we have to, but because it is the right thing to do.


On occasion we will run drills with barriers in places that were not given prior to the drill starting. We have also ran drills where students have been removed and placed in other areas of the building to act as potential hazards to the staff and students. Though not attacked we have talked with staff and students how they would have handled the situation. With the barriers in place we have forced staff and students to an alternate route and increase their ability to communicate in an emergency situation.


By integrating safety into the culture of the District. It’s something that we try to encourage everyone to think about all the time, and to utilize their skills all the time, not just on drill days.

Our district holds full-scale live drills several times per school year. Our state only requires these types of drills every 3 years. We find by doing live drills instead of just table-top, this our staff, students, and first responders are more prepared. These drills have also lead to building upgrades and procedure changes that were needed to be made.

We are doing more different types of drills than in the past – including the reunification drill.

Shannon Myers

I think scenario drills are key. We practice drills in a rote way and become careless. Scenarios require us to think on our feet and make decisions we can learn from!


We are very honest with the kids but I teach kindergarten so it’s a fine line between honesty and scaring them.

Julie Hermes

My district has also used situational drill scenarios. They are helpful in thinking through as many scenarios as possible.

Tyarra Toomey

We are honest with students about our intruder drills but it is a fine line of how much info is too much in Kindergarten


Last year we took a proactive approach to school safety by running through drills to simulate an intruder in the building. While there was no immediate threat or danger, the emotions that you have even in the simulation makes it feel real

Communicating with the school safety team annually