An Interview with Dr. Tina Brookes
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Tina Brookes about how Christian counselors can assist schools in preparing for and responding to crises. Dr. Brookes is our speaker at next week’s Webinar—The Calm Before the Storm: Preparing Schools for Crisis and Disaster. If you haven’t signed up, make sure you don’t miss this! Click here to register.
Laura: Dr. Brookes, you conduct trainings all around the U.S. and have a lot of experience in school crisis response. What are some patterns you are seeing that Christian counselors and caregivers need to be aware of?
Dr. Brookes: Many Christian counselors want to be involved in schools—they’re very excited about it and want to help. But, oftentimes, there’s a real disconnect with school boards. It’s important to build this relationship before a crisis or incident, specifically with the student services director (for both public and private schools).
The absolute worst time to introduce yourself and offer to help is in the middle of or after a crisis! That is not the time to show up and say, “I’m here to help; my name is Tina.” Unfortunately, many of us don’t think about preparing ahead of time by beginning to build relationships with those in our community.
Another trend I’m seeing is that, often, there’s not a plan in place for crisis response. Counselors are often called in when there is a crisis, but there is no planned way of responding. So they show up, but aren’t sure what to do when they get there. There is often a widespread lack of organization. They’re not even sure how to start a conversation with grieving students. We have to change this by getting appropriate training and beginning to go into schools now—to build relationships with faculty, students, and the school board.
Laura: What types of crises and disasters should schools and communities be prepared for? We’ve seen shootings in the news recently…anything else?
Dr. Brookes: I’m a real strong proponent for schools being prepared for what’s most likely to happen—accidental death of a student, death of a student or faculty member due to a terminal illness or a suicide—these things are far more likely to occur than a school shooting. We need to prepare for that. We also need to be prepared to support a school when there’s been an act of violence on campus, when students get in a fight. That affects kids.
It’s also essential to respond to a class when a child has lost their parent—to go in and help that classroom process what’s happened. We need to help the kids figure out how to welcome that student back into the school community and show care and support, rather than avoiding him/her. It’s not a crisis for the school per say, but it’s certainly a crisis for that student. We often lose sight of individual crises and fail to acknowledge how they affect classmates and the school community.
We need to educate schools about the need for such interventions; many don’t even think about it. If a school district personally knows mental health counselors in the community who are educated/trained and will come in voluntarily, they will be much more open to your involvement. There’s a difference, too, between self-promotion and a desire to serve, so check your motives. Then, build a relationship with the school beforehand and be available to come and give of your time. Some flexibility will be needed to possibly meet one-on-one with children, go into faculty meetings, and walk with classrooms or other groups through the grieving process.
Laura: I know you will address this in more detail at the Webinar, but what is a school safety plan and who needs to be involved in developing it?
Dr. Brookes: It’s a written document specifically addressing at least three things: 1) Action steps to be implemented in order to prevent an act of violence, 2) How the school/community will respond when a crisis happens, and 3) A long-term recovery plan for kids, faculty, and school employees.
School leadership works to develop such a plan, in partnership with community agencies who will respond in the event of a crisis. This includes the police, fire department, health department, local mental health counselors, etc. All community players need to be at the table, and responsibilities must be clear about who does what.
It’s important to have these conversations beforehand to avoid confusion in the midst of a crisis. For example, schools often assume that when the police show up, they are in charge of everything. In reality, law enforcement is in charge of the incident, but school personnel and staff are still in charge of their students.
A crisis can produce mass chaos. Lack of planning only makes this worse. With a clear plan in place, and appropriate training beforehand, school leadership, law enforcement, and community agencies know their appropriate roles and responsibilities and can offer competent help.
Laura: I know you’ve been on the ground with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team in Newtown, CT since the tragedy in December. How can we best pray for the community and families affected?
Dr. Brookes: When I asked those in Newtown, many responded, “Pray that I have the strength to keep going…” We need to pray for their strength—physically, mentally, and spiritually. This has absolutely exhausted them.
Pray for fellow believers and local churches—that God will open doors and give them opportunities to support the community. And we need to pray that the community will have a sense of peace. That God will show up in a tangible way.
We must certainly pray for wisdom for school and community leaders as they make decisions and move forward. Pray for our educators—as they go back in to the classroom and model being calm and confident to their students. We can also pray that God will ease the fear that many are continuing to experience.
And, my personal passion…pray that God will raise up a community that will care for the first responders—the policeman, firefighters, and other workers who took the brunt of the horror in responding to the shooting.
Interested in learning more? Click here to register for the Webinar with Dr. Brookes on Tuesday, January 29 from 6-8 PM, ET.