Lessons left to learn: A school shooting case study
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Safety is widely assumed to be a high priority for both policy and practice in American schools, and yet school shootings continue to occur. It is every principal’s salient nightmare. There are no universally accepted definitions of school shootings and little unified scholarship in the current research to guide change. The purpose of this study was to examine the phenomenon using first order data from a principal who has experienced a school shooting. Using a critical realist perspective this study used an in- depth single case to explore leadership and organizational factors which impact both the prevention and response in a shooting. A series of semi-structured interviews form the cornerstone of the data with supporting evidence from artifacts, documents, additional stakeholder interviews, and external sources. Results show a myriad of attributes converges to make school shootings to be highly complex events wherein many contributing factors are external to the institutions and the leaders who serve them. The data indicate strong systems of prevention and preparedness are clearly requisite to a safe school. Moreover, certain leadership skills are essential for building a culture of trust in which students feel safe enough to share potential threats. While there is no single solution, the study offers a range of proactive and responsive strategies to mitigate the risk, as well as recommendations for further study.