Last week, I had an opportunity to attend a freshman English class at a high school where I was speaking. Midway through the class, the principal’s voice came over the school’s intercom, announcing the commencement of a “lockdown” drill.
I have visited lots of schools and was certainly aware of the existence of these types of drills. My daughters have talked about participating in them at their school and I’ve seen clips of them on television, but this was the first time I had ever personally experienced a lockdown drill. I found the ordeal to be unsettling.
I think it would be enlightening if others were to experience the drill firsthand.
When the announcement was made, the teacher proceeded to lock the classroom’s door and turn off all the lights. The students hustled to find hiding spaces under tables and desks, in closets, and behind cabinets. I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to do, so I followed their lead and sought a hiding spot in the back corner of the room.
As we hid silently in the dark, I was confronted with a gamut of emotions—anger, sadness, fear, awe, more sadness, and then frustration.
The absurdity of having to practice hiding in the dark angered me, as did the reason for the drill. The exercise seemed inconvenient and a terrible misuse of time. But the more I thought about it, the more I accepted the drill’s necessity—which made me sad. We live in a world where school shootings are an unfortunate reality. Training for an active shooter can save just as many lives and is just as prudent as training for fires and tornadoes. This sad reality is scary.
Sitting silently in a dark classroom scared me, as I imagined it also did the students. I knew it was only a drill, but it felt like I was playing a horror movie version of hide-and-seek. The whole situation was unnerving. I was impressed, however, with how the students conducted themselves.
They didn’t act scared or annoyed or angered. None of them behaved immaturely. Nobody complained about having to do the drill. They were serious and businesslike. The drill lasted for nearly five minutes and the students remained still and quiet the entire time.
They had clearly been well trained in what to do. After the drill ended, I remarked to the students about how impressed I was with the way they conducted themselves. Several responded that they had been doing lockdown drills since they were in kindergarten. Their matter-of-fact response caused my awe to return to sadness.
It made me sad to think that such an unfathomable reality was routine to them.
When I was leaving the school later that day, a teacher commented that she was glad I came to speak to their students. With such an increased emphasis on testing, the teacher was encouraged to see students exposed to a message that didn’t revolve around improving scores.
Of course, the comment frustrated me. The teacher’s sentiments are valid. Schools have come to place a premium on test scores and the emphasis on test preparation often eclipses the teaching of important intangibles like kindness, service, and empathy—qualities of good teammates. Many administrations refuse to devote time to anything that doesn’t directly impact test scores.
This problem isn’t isolated to academia. I see the same misguided logic in the corporate world. Many businesses are too focused on sales goals and financial reports to devote time or resources to anything that doesn’t directly impact the “numbers.”
In both cases, the entities discount the influence an improved culture can have on productivity. The most prosperous teams—be it sports, business, or other—intentionally make time to work on their culture. That means training team members to practice kindness, service, empathy, etc.
If you don’t have time to work on the behaviors that have a positive influence on your culture, when will you find time to resolve the conflicts that result from not doing so?
The great irony is that the teams who make time to work on improving their culture achieve heightened levels of success and waste far less time resolving toxic issues.
The students at the high school I visited told me they typically do a lockdown drill at least once a month. I wonder if the frequency of those drills would still be necessary if schools found ways to devote more time to emphasizing and specifically teaching the aforementioned intangibles.
If nothing else, experiencing a lockdown drill reminded me of the significance of the good teammate message. The world needs more good teammates now more than ever.
As always…Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.