After racing from her classroom to pick up her son at soccer practice, she pulls into the parking lot to discover that the coach needs “15 more minutes.” How to pass the time…it’s not long enough to be worth pulling out today’s exams to start grading them. Wait, there’s that mandatory training on bullying prevention she has to finish this week…and all she has to get out is her smartphone.
With the start of the 2014-2015 school year, all nine member school districts of the Florida School Boards Insurance Trust (FSBIT) have free, unlimited online access to a suite of more than 300 online school safety trainings that can be accessed anytime, anywhere. School districts can pick and choose courses best suited to their school’s needs, and further customize learning plans so that teachers, accountants, custodians and bus drivers all take the courses best suited to their own job descriptions.
“We used to create our own web-based trainings in-house, but we found the offerings with this program to be so much broader than anything we could do ourselves,” says David Stephens, FSBIT director of risk management. “For the quality versus the price, it’s very much better than what we were doing. We would pick a subject, ask a specific school district to provide personnel for taping, and hire someone to do the video and narration. This is much more cost-effective in general, especially if you’re doing it for a number of districts.”
The system allows administrators to track training, monitor staff progress, download compliance reports and more. Written by national experts on school safety, the courses are school-specific rather than designed for general workplace training, and cover topics such as identifying and addressing causes of potential school violence, preventing crimes through enhanced physical security, bullying (including cyberbullying), and suicide awareness and prevention.
“It ranges from general safety information to very specific topics such as sexual harassment. The breadth of it is so wide there are courses that apply to all types of jobs. Florida has some of the largest school districts in the nation and they really are mini-municipalities,” Stephens says.
FSBIT provides the member school districts with several training templates to use as a starting point, then the districts use the training program’s flexibility to design a curriculum that meets their specific needs. Schools can elect to have groups take some trainings together and allow individuals to take others at their own convenience. Two member districts, Santa Rosa and Suwannee counties, ran pilot projects during the 2013-2014 school year and FSBIT received only positive feedback.
The system allows administrators to set up assignments and training plans for specific staff members, who can then take the 20- to 30-minute trainings on any web-enabled device (they can even start a course on one device and finish it on another). Courses include interactive components that keep users engaged, and pre- and post-tests to help ensure staff retain what they’ve learned. Each school district can set its own criteria for the pass/fail rates needed to earn a certificate of completion. And not only do staff members find the training is more convenient and engaging, it’s far less expensive than bringing in a consultant to do an in-service training on a specific topic that might not apply to all staff.
“We always try to keep the need to increase the safety factor in the front of our minds. With this training, we can do it easily. We can be alert for teachable moments; for example, if there is a bus accident, we can send out an email pointing to an applicable training,” Stephens says. “The Florida School Boards Association is very aware that when students and staff feel safe, they perform at a much higher level.”
“We want to involve the community and use what’s already there to help encourage our educators and our students to look out for each other. If we get children thinking that way from a young age, they are likely to take that attitude into adulthood,” Armes says. “There’s a tendency to think that out West where communities are smaller we naturally do that, but with people moving around frequently, there’s less thought given to community responsibility than before. I think our approach makes a lot of sense for Idaho, and it’s a good way to get people ‘back in the saddle’ and caring for each other.”