Six Keys to Safer 21st Century Schools

Students stand together during tragic moments at school

The deadly shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 ushered in an era of other school massacres, including an elementary school in Newtown Connecticut, a high school in Parkland Florida, and other devastating events. In efforts to prevent future school atrocities, a call to action is issued to higher education faculty and administration to integrate the keys to safer 21st Century Schools into their preparation and professional development programs for teachers, administrators, and all other school stakeholders. The six keys to safer schools include developing schools as centers of encouragement, strong educator and family relations, support programs for students, safe school audits, increased vigilance, and interagency councils.

1. Centers of encouragement

The first key to safer schools is that schools need to be centers of encouragement, learner-centered, and developmentally appropriate. Faculty will need training in developing this type of school culture. In support of the development of centers of encouragement, it is essential to arm current and future teachers with knowledge and training. Counselors and school social workers need to be employed and supported in developing, implementing, and training faculty in learner-centered and developmentally appropriate programs. Today, “1.7 million students are in schools with police but no counselors” (Bagley, A., 2019, p. 4).

2. Strong educator and family relations

Strong educator and family relations, the second key, are essential for safer schools. It is crucial that relationships are strengthened by mutual respect and appreciation for one another. It is crucial for parents to feel welcomed, valued, and encouraged. Each parent concern should be investigated by school personnel promptly. The research of Hudson, Windham, and Hooper revealed “parent and family-based interventions have proven highly effective in preventing violent behaviors especially when they are paired with other interventions based in the school or community (62).”

3. Support programs for students

The third key that needs to be emphasized by higher education faculty and administration is that support programs for students need to be developed where students feel supported and encouraged to communicate their thoughts and what they hear. Student and teacher programs should be implemented where students feel a closeness and trust to their teachers. Mental health programs and bullying prevention initiatives must be implemented. Peer mediation programs should be developed where students have open discussions with other students. Confidential hotlines for students to report safety concerns 24 hours a day and seven days a week to live operators are essential.

4. Safe school audits

The fourth key entails safe school audits which need to be implemented to assess the safety conditions in schools. Safe school audits that identify and develop solutions for safety matters, security issues, and the evaluation of safety conditions are imperative. Safe school audits should include skilled professionals who meticulously review a school’s physical plant to identify safety concerns and make recommendations to mitigate safety issues. In addition, threat assessment teams are essential in order to determine if students are on a pathway to destruction, and how to get them off the path of potential violence and into healthy services.

5. Increased vigilance

Vigilance is the fifth key. The importance of school leaders identifying and investigating every threat needs to be emphasized by higher education faculty and administrators. Students, teachers, and administrators need to be vigilant and report each safety concern. An incident tracking system must be implemented that identifies and resolves safety issues. Furthermore, it takes a “vigilant village” of diverse team members, sharing information, knowledge, and expertise to improve school safety. “If you see something, say something” needs to be strictly encouraged and enforced. Technology that detects and responds to potential danger is crucial in supporting vigilance.

6. Interagency Councils

The sixth key is Interagency Councils comprised of members from social services, the court system, ministry, law enforcement, university/college representatives, psychologists, media, and school leaders who need to meet regularly and continuously communicate safety concerns. Early detection, collaborative intervention, and immediate communications among council members are essential in preventing school violence. In efforts to unite all providers, “The U.S. Department of Education recently required every public school to report the number of social workers, nurses, and psychologists employed for the first time in history” (Bagley, N., 2019, p. 4).

To prevent school atrocities from occurring, it is essential that higher education faculty and administration integrate the Six Keys to Safer 21st Century Schools into educational curriculum and instructional programs. Further consideration is recommended by all higher education faculty and administration of the Six Keys for safety in other contexts. The integrating of Six Keys into higher preparation and professional development programs will lead to safer schools.


Bagley, N. (2019). Cops and no counselors: How the lack of school mental health staff is harming students. Youth Today (10896724), 1. Retrieved from

Hudson, P. E., Windham, R. C., & Hooper, L. M., (2005). Characteristics of school violence and the value of family-school therapeutic alliances. Journal of School Violence, 4(2), 133–146.

The authors have over sixty years of collective experience in school leadership, school district leadership, and higher education. Dr. Michael Jazzar has served as a university administrator and professor, board trustee, superintendent of schools, principal, curriculum director, counselor and teacher. He is currently employed as an online university professor. Dr. Michelle McCraney has served as a state college administrator, faculty member, principal, assistant principal, program and staffing specialist, and teacher. She is currently employed as an online university professor.