Safe educational environment: new dimensions of security

The State Education Quality Service has developed recommendations that will help the school principal to organize a safe educational environment in face-to-face, remote, and mixed learning formats, as well as more effectively change formats depending on the security situation.

In armed conflicts, the issue of preserving educational institutions as a safe space is extremely acute. In 2015, the UN developed the Declaration on School Safety, which was signed by 109 countries by 2022, not including Russia. Today, in Ukraine, this aggressor country considers educational institutions as targets for shelling.

According to the Ministry of Education and Culture, as of August 18, 2022, 2,300 educational institutions were damaged by bombing and shelling, of which 286 were completely destroyed.

During military operations and for a long time after their end, educational institutions in Ukraine will work under new requirements for a safe educational environment. Arranging shelters and organizing a safe educational space in the school is one of the most important tasks for the principal.

With the beginning of the new academic year, each educational institution will individually decide on the organization of the educational process – face-to-face, remotely or in a mixed format. This decision will depend, in particular, on the security situation, the availability, condition and capacity of the shelter and on the results of the school inspection by special commissions.

The requirements and recommendations for arranging a safe shelter in an educational institution were developed by the State Service for Emergency Situations, and also provided by the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. These recommendations were developed by the State Service for the Quality of Education together with experts of the “Education Quality Assurance System” initiative, which is implemented within the framework of the “Support of Governmental Reforms in Ukraine” (SURGe) project, which is implemented by Alinea International with funds from the Government of Canada.

Safe physical space for students and employees
Arrange a safe space in the institution:

See the arrangement of classrooms
This is especially relevant for institutions that will work in full-time or in a mixed format. Study rooms should be freed from open shelves, stands, etc. as much as possible.

It is worth remembering: nothing should obstruct movement during the evacuation of students. Thus, cabinets, shelves, mobile shelves and organizers, frameless furniture should be placed / grouped in the room so that they do not hinder the movement of children between rows. It is necessary to roll up and remove the mats in advance to avoid tripping and falling during evacuation.

Organize safe and unhindered movement around the school
It is worth additionally inspecting the corridors for the location of indoor plants and other objects that may become an obstacle during evacuation. Corridors and spatial cells (recreation) should be freed as much as possible from things that can interfere with emergency evacuation and be a source of injury.

On stairwells, markings should be applied on the first and last steps, as well as on the railings.

Passages to all emergency exits must be free and accessible. It should be further examined and checked.

A safe educational environment
Develop and implement clear emergency response and behavior procedures at school.

One of the prerequisites for a safe educational environment is the presence of clear response / behavior procedures, knowledge of these procedures by all employees of the institution, and constant practice of the rules with students.

First of all, these should be:

1. Evacuation routes (including to the nearest shelter, if one is not equipped in the facility):

review the evacuation routes, taking into account the location of the shelter (in an institution or building near the educational institution);
develop “alternative” evacuation routes in case of unforeseen situations;
ensure unconditional knowledge of these ways by all employees of the institution. To do this, it is necessary to practice evacuation from each room first by teachers, and then practice with students.
2. Safety protocols for students of different ages regarding the rules of behavior during air alarms, evacuation, staying in a shelter / shelter.

A safety protocol is a certain set of rules and procedures that teachers and students in an educational institution must follow in relation to a certain situation. Given the security risks, the institution should have several such protocols, in particular regarding actions during air alarms and evacuation, staying in shelter, behavior during online classes.

Some tips for developing security protocols:

Don’t look for a one-size-fits-all solution. Protocols cannot be the same in all schools. Because each institution, when developing such a document, is guided by the features of the location of the school, the characteristics and architectural features of its building, as well as resources, forms of organization of the educational process, etc.
The security protocol must comply with the general recommendations of the State Emergency Service.
Educators should be involved in the development of safety protocols. This will allow for the formation of a common vision and acceptance of developed procedures.
Formulate texts in safety protocols based on their perception by children. Use concise and clear sentences: “Take your backpack”, “Take your clothes”, “Follow the teacher’s instructions and prepare to go out”, “Don’t push”, “Don’t run”, “Walk quickly, but stick to your group”, ” Help someone who has tripped or fallen.”

The algorithm of actions for the teacher during the “Air alarm” signal, developed by the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine.
Algorithms of actions for children during the “air alarm” signal, developed at Vinnytsia Lyceum No. 29.
Conduct daily awareness/training on safety protocols with children

As with any rules, there are two conditions that apply to security protocols:

Children understand the rules.
The rules are routinely repeated and discussed with the children every day.
In the conditions of martial law and the educational process being carried out in face-to-face or mixed format, it is important to repeat the rules of evacuation with the students every day. Regularity also requires training evacuations. Even if the training time is lost, in the conditions of a real threat to the safety of students and teachers, the role of such training cannot be underestimated.

For the youngest students, it is important to carry out training evacuations with minimal stress, involving elements of the game, so as not to provoke / increase anxiety. For example, help children’s favorite character find the way to the vault. It will also help children get used to evacuation rules. Such training can also be conducted as a board game – so children remember the algorithm of actions well.

For elementary school students, it is important to have all their safety questions answered and to go over the evacuation protocol / plan in detail with them.

Elementary and high school students need to pay attention to the fact that collective safety depends on everyone, which is why it is so important that all students follow the specified rules.

The drills will also show weaknesses in the evacuation plan that can be corrected before possible critical situations occur.

Inform students about mine safety rules, conduct activities with the involvement of the State Emergency Service

In regions where hostilities have been fought and which have been liberated from occupation, attention to mine safety issues is particularly important. However, it is important for all children, regardless of which region of the country they are in, to know the rules for handling explosive objects today.

A few materials on which rules to follow:

Interactive online book for younger children “Mine safety is not without Peck”.
Note: Mine safety. What you need to know and do.
It is also important to include relevant material on mine safety in the “Defense of Ukraine” course in high school.

Ensure that school employees undergo first aid training

Possession of first aid skills is relevant today, more than ever, especially for employees of educational institutions. For example, Ukrainian Paramedic Group conducts first aid training for children.

Support the passing of psychological training by teaching staff

The personal resilience of teachers and the ability to provide the necessary support to students during emergency situations of a military nature are paramount in the conditions of martial law.

The emotional state of teachers is also important for the quality of teaching and the quality of student learning outcomes.

What should be kept under the control of the head of the institution:

It is important for the director to know how the teachers feel, what level of anxiety each teacher has for their safety and the safety of their family. Find out what the biggest challenges teachers see for themselves at the beginning of the school year, where they need support, and what, in their opinion, the head could do to support the school team. The well-being of teachers plays a significant role in the formation of a favorable educational environment for students. To collect this information, online surveys can be conducted anonymously, or through face-to-face interviews if the school population is small. Such surveys will give the school principal an understanding of what help needs to be sought from outside, and what can be done independently to cultivate the most comfortable environment.
As research on the well-being of teachers in conflict and war zones shows, the least experienced teachers experience the highest level of stress and professional burnout. And this is immediately reflected in the quality of work with students. Therefore, the manager, having the results of the surveys on the well-being and well-being of the teachers of his school, should pay attention to whether such tendencies are manifested in the institution and offer preventive work / help to such teachers.
It is important to remember that some students may have the status of internally displaced persons. That is, in addition to the fact that teachers ensure the educational process, they must also create a safe educational environment, provide for the emotional needs of students. At the same time, when teaching internally displaced children, teachers themselves may have the status of IDPs, and therefore experience the same difficulties as students. Therefore, it is important for the head of the school to provide teachers with constant psychological support, various trainings from psychologists: stress management techniques, self-regulation, art therapy, etc.
Finding opportunities for psychological support of one’s team is an important task of a director in wartime conditions. Increasing the time for communication between colleagues can help – the formation of a community of teachers. It is useful when not only professional issues are the subject of discussions with colleagues, but also feelings, experiences, and fears.

Establish and maintain a partnership with parents

If the school decides to conduct full-time or mixed education, it is important to promptly and fully convey this information to parents. They should receive information from the head of the school about the availability and condition of the shelter in the school or about the evacuation routes if the shelter is located outside the school.

Safety protocols for air raids, evacuation to shelter in or outside the school are also information to communicate with parents. This is important for several reasons:

firstly, parents should know what happens to their children at school in case of an “air alarm” signal, how and where to evacuate;
secondly, having information about safety protocols will allow parents to further discuss them with their children, to convince them to follow them and not to worry.
It is also important to agree with the parents on the additional contents of the school backpack, in addition to educational materials. For example, water, a snack, necessary medicines with instructions on how and when to take them, a note with the name of the child, parents, contact numbers, and address. The teacher, in turn, should have as much complete information as possible about the special needs of the child – possible reactions to stress, special medications that must be taken, allergic reactions.

Review the anti-bullying policies

This is especially relevant for institutions where children of internally displaced persons study.

Simple steps you can take to do this:

More often practice surveys among students regarding the feeling of psychological comfort in the institution (including the online environment of the institution, if the educational process takes place exclusively remotely)
Encourage teachers to use positive classroom management – avoid punishments, loud remarks, while implementing very clear rules for communication / behavior during distance learning and online lessons
To focus attention in working with students on preventing bullying directly on educational activities. In particular, teachers can select educational materials with the help of which students could learn to resolve interpersonal conflicts in a peaceful way, offer situations in which students can be mediators in resolving conflict issues with classmates
Include elements of social-emotional learning in lessons, in educational material for independent study or joint discussion, in particular, understanding and managing emotions (including aggression), empathy, communication skills and conflict resolution.
Adaptation activities for students
Review or develop adaptation measures for students at the beginning of the school year (applicable to all institutions, but especially those accepting IDP children).

In the 2022/2023 academic year, the number of children in schools will increase, whose families were forced to move to safer areas. Therefore, in addition to traditional adaptation practices for students when transitioning between education levels, it is worth paying close attention to the adaptation of IDP children to a new educational environment for them.

What should be remembered when it comes to IDP children:

the resettlement experience is very exhausting, children may not have enough energy to study;
educational losses may be greater compared to students who did not leave their homes;
possible problems with understanding the material if the students studied in Russian before;
children may not have space for online learning in the place where they temporarily live, may not have proper clothes, shoes, school supplies, tablet or laptop;
children can have a very traumatic experience of war.
How to help IDP children with adaptation to a new institution:

Accept IDP children, whose parents have applied to your institution, to the school.
Find out what conditions the child is in, what his resettlement experience is, what needs he has in order to fully begin his studies.
Organize communication of a practical psychologist with parents or guardians, as well as with the child. Based on the results of such communication, the psychologist will be able to formulate his recommendations to the class teacher and teachers who will work with students from the IDPs.
Invite the IDP children together with their parents for an adaptation visit to the school on the eve of the start of studies. If this is not possible, arrange a meeting online. In this way, parents and children will be able to get information about how education will take place, get to know the teachers, find out how the child will adapt to studying in a new school, who can be turned to for help, etc.
Think about which of the students can play the role of a curator for a while – will introduce the school (if the school will work full-time), the rules, tell about various opportunities for leisure, sports, etc.
With the beginning of the academic year, pay attention to getting to know the newly arrived students from among the IDPs. It is also important for teachers to build relationships so that internally displaced children feel supported, but at the same time, this does not particularly set them apart from other students in the class.
Pay attention to the diagnosis of educational losses in newly arrived students, because a situation may arise when children have not had the opportunity to study for several months since the beginning of the war. It is possible that such students will need additional counseling to fill gaps in knowledge.

Assess the institution’s readiness to change the way the educational process is organized
During the war and in the post-war period, every educational institution must be ready for a rapid transition to distance or blended learning. It is obvious that such readiness will be the key to the success of schools.

What are the components of such readiness?

Flexible lesson schedule
At the beginning of the year, it is worth developing several options for the schedule of educational classes at once: for face-to-face, distance and mixed learning.

The schedule for distance learning should differ by a smaller number of study hours in the mode of synchronous learning. This can be done using various strategies: dividing lesson time into synchronous and asynchronous learning, reducing the amount of lesson time, including individual consultations in the schedule taking into account the redistributed time, etc.

Blended learning can be applied in a variety of ways. In the event that partial attendance at an educational institution is envisaged (several days a week or individual lessons, etc.), the schedule must also be adapted to the new learning conditions.

It is also possible to develop a single schedule with appropriate notes (colored, symbolic, etc.) that will work in changed learning conditions.

Computers and the Internet
Technical support of distance learning remains one of the important conditions for its quality. At the same time, it is this condition that is the most difficult to ensure in an educational institution, since it mostly depends on the parents of the children and the founder of the school. To a lesser extent, the manager and teaching staff can influence its provision.

What will not prevent the head of the school from doing?
Collect data on the availability of teaching aids for teachers and students: computer / laptop, Internet access, smartphone, place to study.
To contact the founder with a request to satisfy the need for technical means for the work of teachers.
Try to raise resources to provide students who need it with the necessary equipment. Announcements on the page of the educational institution, requests for help from school founders, volunteers, charitable organizations, organization of charitable events, involvement of parents in finding resources will help to obtain additional resources.
Provide the possibility of distance learning for vulnerable categories of students directly in the school premises, if it was not possible to attract resources to provide them with the necessary equipment at home. An additional option for meeting the educational needs of such students can be face-to-face consultations (individual and group) on a separate, stable schedule.
Timely and effective management decisions will contribute to the improvement of the quality of the organization of the educational process in the conditions of distance learning.

3. Instructions / protocols / algorithms for teachers, deputy directors, information for parents regarding online education

The presence of developed clear rules and algorithms for all participants of the educational process facilitates the transition from one form of education to another and makes the organization of the educational process flexible.

Rules for students may refer to:

features of work on electronic platforms;
inclusion in an online lesson;
the ability to turn cameras and microphones on and off during online lessons;
peculiarities of the organization of work in asynchronous mode;
communication with teaching staff.
For pedagogical workers, it is also worth developing instructions on:

organization of the educational process;
use of electronic platforms and resources;
features of conducting lessons in synchronous and asynchronous mode.
It is worth developing several possible models of redistribution of study time for different subjects.

Special attention should also be paid to the adaptation of calendar-thematic plans by teachers. They can use one or more strategies, for example: summarizing and consolidating topics, integrating content, reducing optional topics and topics provided for repetition of material, dividing topics into synchronous and asynchronous study, etc.

The lack of a clearly developed structure and methodology of a distance online lesson leads to the need to develop appropriate algorithms and methodological recommendations for teachers at the school level. They should be framework, but outline the basic requirements for conducting lessons in synchronous mode.

4. Electronic journals, a platform with educational materials

In the conditions of the transition from one form of education to another, the optimal form for recording the results of students’ learning and providing them with feedback is an electronic journal. It is desirable that the educational institution switch to keeping electronic documentation and choose the most convenient resource for keeping an electronic journal, taking into account the requirements and recommendations of the Ministry of Education and Culture for such resources.

An important function of the e-journal is to provide feedback to students and their parents regarding academic success. Such communication will be more effective if it includes, in addition to point (or level) assessment, verbal characteristics or comments for the student regarding his further educational progress.

Considering the fact that in war conditions, the need for a systematic organization of distance education as an alternative form of face-to-face education is obvious, it is necessary to choose a single platform for student education, which would contain developed and systematized materials from all educational subjects for all classes.

We are not talking about a random selection of materials or teachers’ developments for short periods, but about complete electronic courses that take into account the full cycle of learning and include:

video explanations, text materials divided into short blocks with corresponding tasks and instructions;
tasks for consolidation, practical application, self-check;
testing system and providing extensive feedback.
The availability of such courses will make it possible to use various forms of education as flexibly as possible, and in conditions of face-to-face education, such a resource can be successfully used within the limits of the “Flip Class” technology.

5. Selection of educational materials and strategies for working with students during lessons

The learning process, the use of visualization, and texts for learning require careful selection and revision by teachers. In particular, it is worth:

Apply a sensitive approach to the selection of texts for reading, topics for discussion due to different and often traumatic experiences that children may have (shelling, loss of relatives, death of parents, father in war). Texts about family, native home can be perceived very painfully. The same applies to the selection of video materials, illustrations, presentations, etc.
Avoid excessive detail and description of the events of the war, the brutality of the enemies, murders, shootings, when the teacher conducts conversations with children about the war or simply answers children’s questions about the war.
Carefully consider and, if necessary, make changes to teachers’ strategies for managing / interacting with the class, given that children have experienced psycho-traumatic actions and may be sensitive to external stimuli (clattering, knocking), emotionally detached, with apathy, chronic fatigue, have a risk self-destructive behavior, etc.
With this in mind, teachers should:

avoid loud shouts, creating noise effects, for example, slamming doors, clapping a palm on the table, sharp signals using any devices, other loud sounds;
adapt the rules of behavior for students during online lessons, for example, discuss the conditions when the camera can be turned off, situations when you can write in private messages to the teacher, and not in the general chat of the class, etc.;
provide for the creation of situations and conditions for informal communication of students outside of lessons in order to establish closer communication contacts between students;
create conditions for student communication in groups during synchronous and asynchronous learning, using tools for dividing the audience into separate rooms, providing tasks to be performed in groups, etc.
Given the fact that during stress students experience changes in mental processes (memory deteriorates, concentration and attention span decrease, speech becomes confused), motivation and cognitive interest decrease, it is worth using certain methods and techniques that will help to “include » students in the lesson and will stimulate them to work more effectively mentally. For example, teachers can:

apply techniques and exercises to activate students’ attention, their inclusion both at the beginning of the lesson and during the process, if the need arises;
create problem situations, ask interesting questions, involve students in joint discussions, brainstorming sessions in order to increase their motivation, cognitive activity and interest;
apply activity-based learning methods, using virtual laboratories or providing an opportunity for student activity in asynchronous mode;
dose tasks for independent work, divide them into small blocks and provide clear instructions for processing each block of material or audio or written explanations, comments.

According to the materials of and the State Education Quality Service