No matter where you were at the time or affiliation to the location, regardless of age, race, gender or religion, it’s always difficult when news breaks announcing a terrorist attack. As adults, we are more aware as to the motives behind these attacks, although this being said it doesn’t make them any easier to comprehend or deal with.
As educators, we have a duty to protect our students and keep them away from harm. Included within this is the responsibility to support them through incidents such as the ones recently experienced in London and Manchester, but to also protect children from what is a very real risk of radicalisation and extremism. Fortunately for teachers, they are in a position where they can identify causes for concern when it comes to children’s safety. In this instance, we’re focusing on the risk of radicalisation in light of recent events.
Safeguarding is held of the utmost importance within schools and is enforced via the child protection policy, staff behaviour policy and a safeguarding lead who is responsible for dealing with any concerns raised. These policies encompass the worries of radicalisation which is a major concern not only for schools, but for many other organisations and processes like these are replicated in colleges, universities and businesses. Teachers however, are in a position where they have the ability to provide education on radicalisation, identify students vulnerable to radicalisation and intervene where they feel is necessary.
Teachers are a part of children’s life, they’re privy to private conversations that are overheard in class and the corridors. They’re also a trusted adult who many may find it easier to confide in and turn to in difficult times. These factors put teachers in an important position where they have insight into students’ lives where they can help to ensure their safety and well-being.
The process of radicalisation can occur quickly or over a long period of time, and whereas some radicalisation signs are obvious, some are much more subtle, but as a teacher who spends a lot of time with students, you are capable of detecting changes in behaviour which may not be obvious to others. In accordance to the ‘educate against hate’ website, they outline behaviours to look out for that could help identify radicalisation which includes students becoming argumentative and unaccepting of other people’s points of view, changes in appearance and friendship groups and spending excessive amounts of time online. For a full list you can visit their website here.
Steps that can be taken from schools to help prevent this are to ensure that students are educated on the risks of radicalisation and extremism, to ensure that your school has a secure online environment and students are taught from a young age to use the internet safely. It’s also important that we don’t shy away from talking about these topics with our students, especially when incidents such as the recent Manchester and London Bridge attacks gain such widespread media attention.
Steps to consider when discussing these incidents in class:
Let your students know they’re in a safe place
Terrorist attacks are scary, and it’s understandable for students to feel on edge after such incidents. They may also be worried about voicing their opinions or discussing them for lack of knowledge on the topic. Remind students that these incidents are rare and we have preventative measures put in place and our police, hospitals and firefighters are trained to deal with such events to ensure the safety of the public. Reassure them that they’re allowed to ask questions and that if they don’t understand what’s going on, you’re there to help them achieve a greater understanding.
Ask them what they want to know
Regardless of the fact that these issues are important to talk about, it’s also important to know what students want to get out their time talking about them with you. The reason for this is so you can be certain that this time is spent wisely and you are in fact helping them gain clarity on the issues at hand. It is also important to consider the opportunity these conversations lend themselves to, they have the ability to spark wider discussions surrounding politics, history and religion which will help students to become more socially and culturally aware.
Focus on the facts
When talking about what has happened, be sure to stick to what we know, depending on the age of the students looking at BBC or newsround articles can help to educate students on certain topics. When events such as these happen, there is bound to be speculation from peers and the media, as well as fake stories being common-place on social media sites. By delivering just the facts and pointing students towards reliable news sources you are helping to ensure that their views aren’t clouded by misinformation.
When it comes to subjects such as these, there are so many common misunderstandings that people can succumb to, such as branding Muslims as terrorists, which can lead to Islamophobia. It is our duty to put a stop to any hint of these feelings in our schools and to explain the implications of prejudice and racism. Instead we need to use the incidents to reinforce such misjudgements and instead celebrate different cultures.
Find the positives
When people attack with hate, we fight back with love. Help students to see the silver linings in such events; people coming together to help one another, to speak out against hate crimes and the charity they offer to others. Focus on the good that comes out of negative situations.