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Putting the pieces together: How “connection assessments” support students and strengthen safety

In the school safety world, we often talk about “risk assessments” and “threat assessments” as important tools to keep communities safe. To be sure, these are critical tools - they each offer a framework to understand how likely an event or action is to impact community safety. But both of these tools are focused on planning how we’ll react to things that come up. Making a true, meaningful impact on safety requires starting even earlier - with prevention and proactive action. 

We often talk about prevention as a puzzle. Why? Because before every attack in recent history, some combination of people had information that when put together, painted a picture of what the assailant was feeling, thinking, and even planning. Building systems to put these puzzle pieces together is essential to ensuring the right people know this information before any violence occurs. 

One way to do this is through the implementation of “connection assessments” - a tool we use to understand and address students who may be struggling BEFORE their behavior becomes a risk to themselves or their school community. Here’s how connection assessment works:

What’s a “connection assessment”?

A connection assessment is a process by which a team of faculty and staff work together to collect information that might identify “connection gaps” for students, and make a plan to address them before they escalate. In other words, it’s a system that asks three questions:

  1. Which students in our community might be struggling?
  2. What care/compassion/support do they need?
  3. How do we offer that support to prevent any harm from occurring? 

The purpose of this process is to intentionally create a connection with every student on campus so they feel the sense of purpose and meaning that comes with being connected to others. 

How do connection assessments work?

The process and approach varies in each school community, but generally connection assessments involve:

  1. Creating a team and input process - Identify a cross-functional team of faculty and staff who interact with students regularly. This should include your counselor, community health lead, principal, dean of culture, or a number of other roles. Establish a process by which anonymous reports or concerns from teachers, students, parents, or community members can be shared.
  2. Assigning a coordinator - There should be one team member assigned to coordinate the group. The coordinator should be prepared to collect the “inputs” needed for the connection assessment through conversations, emails, monitoring social media, etc. The leader will likely be an owner of your community’s safety or health & wellness work, or it may also be someone in an administrative role who can be a centralized person/team tasked with receiving notifications.
  3. Sharing the input process with your school community - The system will only work if your community knows about it, and understands how to share concerns as they arise. Take time to communicate thoughtfully about the purpose of this work, and clearly explain the process for sharing information or concerns for connection assessments. 
  4. Scheduling regular meetings - Weekly or bi-weekly meetings of the team will help ensure they have frequent touch points. Meetings do not need to be long, as long as they are frequent enough to identify issues quickly. 
  5. Planning courses of action - As a team, determine what the next steps are in providing intervention, resources, referrals to outside agencies, etc. Be clear in who takes responsibility for these actions and follow-through.
  6. Monitoring on an ongoing basis -  The team will determine how often to reassess for progress or need for continued intervention. By establishing a clear set of benchmarks, the team will demonstrate efforts put forth, progress of interventions, and create a record of events.

If this sounds like a lot of work, you’re probably right - it may be. But the payoff is huge, and the investment in connection will pay dividends across campus. We’ve seen it happen - over and over again. Let's keep working toward our goal of prevention. There's an awful lot to do, but our students (and communities) are counting on us!

To hear more about the “why and how” of connection assessments, listen to the Education Suspended podcast episode featuring Chris Joffe. Chris shares some additional information and tips for schools to maximize connection and minimize risk. 

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