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New Training Offered to Support Teacher Mental Health During Emergency Drills

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Teachers and staff shoulder a significant burden of responsibility for emergency preparedness in pre-k-12 schools. While emergency drills, including active harmer (lockdown, lockout) drills, are designed to instill confidence, they can sometimes lead to fear, anxiety and confusion. Teachers are expected to lead the drills by directing and evacuating students, locking down classrooms, providing safety checks, and emotionally supporting students. Teachers often have unanswered questions and increased anxieties associated with drills and other emergency preparedness efforts. This underscores the importance of providing necessary resources to better support the school workforce, including psychological preparedness and other mental health supports, in addition to regular access to safety and security personnel

Researchers Courtney Welton-Mitchell, PhD, and Natalie Schwatka, PhD, from the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health have developed, tested and launched a new training manual to help school districts enhance their emergency preparedness. The training emphasizes an integrated approach to support teacher and staff mental and physical health.

“The half-day interactive training can be facilitated by district or school-based mental health and safety and security staff and is designed to make employees feel more psychologically prepared, increase peer support and elevate the voices of teachers and staff related to emergency preparedness,” said Welton-Mitchell.

The curriculum manual for the training is a product from a recently completed research study with one of Colorado’s largest school districts, Cherry Creek School District. The two-year research project included design, implementation and evaluation of a mental health integrated emergency preparedness training for the public-school workforce that complimented the district’s current emergency preparedness plans and drills. The project included shared leadership and peer support components, encouraging teachers to support one another and provide regular feedback and suggestions to decision-makers about emergency preparedness planning efforts. The team worked with six schools (elementary, middle and high school), training nearly 500 school-based personnel, working in collaboration with district safety and security team members and mental health staff.

The newly published manual is a comprehensive guide based on the training with Cherry Creek School District and will allow other interested school districts to implement their own mental health integrated emergency preparedness training and feedback process. Welton-Mitchell and Schwatka are offering the manual at no cost in hopes that districts will take this next step to support teacher and staff mental and physical health before and during emergencies.

The research team is seeking districts and schools interested in adopting the mental health integrated emergency preparedness training. They are eager to continue supporting districts to transform the emergency preparedness training process and improve teacher mental health and psychological safety. For those interested in downloading the manual and potentially hosting a training, visit here for more details: https://coloradosph.cuanschutz.edu/research-and-practice/centers-programs/chwe/research/mental-health-emergency-preparedness-for-the-school-workforce.

You can also contact Courtney Welton-Mitchell directly at courtney.welton-mitchell@cuanschutz.edu.