Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

February 3, 2011

Mental Health in the Classroom:

Tips for keeping your classroom safe

Pitt psychology in education professor Mary Margaret Kerr, who has written extensively on school crisis prevention/intervention strategies and student behavioral problems, said, “My biggest worry is when people abdicate their responsibility for safety to others. Safety is everyone’s responsibility.

Mary Margaret Kerr

Mary Margaret Kerr

“For example, we know that perpetrators often signal their intent in advance. We also know that being aware of one’s surroundings and reporting anything suspicious is fundamental to safety in any workplace or campus. Yet too many people plug in their earphones, focus on their cell phones and move through campus barely noticing what’s around them,” she said.

She offered some common sense tips:

Review safety procedures in your work environment.

Watch what’s going on around you. Listen to conversations. Pay attention to your instincts. Report things that disturb you.

Sign up for emergency notifications so you know when a situation is unsafe.

Program the campus police number into your cell phone.

Make a mental note of where emergency exits and defibrillators are.

Call the student judicial conduct office, the University Counseling Center or the campus police if you need advice on a particular individual or situation.

“We have tremendous talent to advise us here at Pitt,” Kerr said.

For faculty

Kerr suggested classroom strategies to mitigate problems and lessen the chances for a situation to escalate into danger.

Get to know your students, so they are not anonymous.

Go over safety tips at the beginning of each course.

If a confrontation should arise, think safety first.

Always give a hostile person plenty of physical space — at least 3 feet. If you are concerned about an anticipated interaction, scan your environment and remove anything that could be thrown at you.

Do not escalate a situation. Do not corner a student or raise your voice with a hostile student.

Do not reprimand a student publicly. Instead, call the student in after class to review what happened and make a plan to prevent it from recurring.

Alternatively, suggest a meeting later in a departmental conference room or space where others will be nearby.

Use the syllabus to provide explicit examples of behavior you consider inappropriate. But do not set up a rule or situation that requires you to confiscate possessions. These confrontations usually escalate hostility. Instead, address a violation through a private communication or your established grading policies.

Kerr said, “When you’re clear and complete about behavioral expectations, and you are fair and reasonable, then you’ll definitely reduce the number of problems.”

—Peter Hart

Leave a Reply