Analysis of the tragic wildfires that impacted Maui last week is already part of the national conversation. In the aftermath of a disaster, it is not unusual for debriefs to be conducted and investigations to begin well before impacted communities have started to recover. For some, this process can seem premature or even heartless, as if the professionals have already moved on. The truth is that some events highlight the fact that preparedness efforts and response systems can fall short.
Rather than submit, we sift through logs and data to find a way forward. After all, as Brene Brown says, humans are meaning-making beings; we need to understand “why” when our collective efforts fail to prevent or mitigate a tragedy. When we are unsure of what to do, we do the next right thing, which is sometimes using the power of hindsight.
So what does all of this have to do with schools? School leaders also have access to the same level of hindsight after guiding their community through an emergency, but their culture of communication can undermine the capturing of “lessons learned” long before the incident begins. Information silos and rigid chains of command, along with diligent communications teams, can make it difficult to speak frankly in the midst of a crisis.
Yet there is value in placing early, collaborative self-examination at the center of emergency response and recovery, even when it seems counter-intuitive. Emotional debriefs with staff can feel like they are moving away from the goal in the moment, but they prevent turnover and reduce the impacts of trauma among participants. Likewise, difficult classroom conversations help students regain feelings of safety and community by validating their lived experiences. Finally, transparent and complete messaging from leadership builds confidence and is an effective tool against harmful misinformation.
Leadership and communication are vital to successful emergency response and just like any emergency protocols, they require intentional practice well ahead of time to build trust and adequate muscle memory. Consider the following strategies to prepare your school community for the lens of hindsight:
Set a cadence of open conversations with your staff and stick with it
Lead debriefs after all drills, exercises, and safety training alongside passive means of feedback collection, such as surveys
Be the example of how to acknowledge unanswered questions and imperfect plans with the intention of continuous improvement
Provide updates and recognition when progress is made toward a stronger position
Utilize empowered safety committees to bring collaboration into your emergency preparedness culture
The hope is that, in time, you will find that not only does this approach strengthen emergency communication, but that it enhances the relationships that are the foundation of education.