Teachers are tasked with ensuring that those under their care are safe and protected, yet the lack of evidence supporting the specific needs and experiences of teachers during active school shooter lockdown drills is alarming. The current study used live-action, virtual reality (VR) technology to simulate 36 active school shooter scenarios to explore teachers' experiences related to lockdown procedures and response protocols. Using thematic analysis and structured qualitative data, 355 descriptive responses from 11 teachers across 396 scenarios were coded and analyzed for explicit and implicit themes and sub-themes. Three overarching themes—humanistic care, enacted care, and professional duty—describe how teachers negotiate demands placed upon them during an active shooter lockdown. The findings reflected internal and external responsibilities for teachers in protecting and caring for others. Implications for school safety policies, active shooter response protocols, and ways to support teacher resilience as part of emergency response procedures are discussed.


school lockdown drills, school safety, teacher resilience, thematic analysis, qualitative research

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Stephanie F. Dailey is an Assistant Professor in the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. Dr. Dailey is a licensed professional counselor in Virginia, a national certified counselor, and an approved clinical supervisor. She specializes in disaster behavioral health, crisis intervention, and working with individuals who experienced complex trauma. For the last 15 years, Dr. Dailey’s clinical work and research has been directed at better understanding community-based disasters of mass violence and appropriate response and recovery strategies, both for survivors and impacted communities. Her work at the federal level has included investigations of security procedures and protocols for public schools during active shooter events and strategies to deter and reduce law enforce use of applied force. She has worked with state and local first responders and citizens investigating the emotional impact of mass violence events and lockdown protocols on citizens. Dr. Dailey has supported state and federal agencies in developing procedures for conducting trauma-informed response protocols for community-based critical incidents. Focusing on community reconciliation and resilience for survivors, Dr. Dailey has developed evidence-based guidelines for individuals, families, and communities following mass casualty events, co-led a federal program on disaster preparedness and response for lockdown, and is currently investigating lockdown protocols in schools, seeking to better understand the impact of lockdown drills on school-based stakeholders. Please direct correspondence to sdailey@gmu.edu.

Beth Hosek, M.S., is a third-year doctoral student and Presidential Scholar in Educational Psychology within the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. Her research interests center on self-efficacy for self-regulated learning in middle school learners who have a history of adverse childhood experiences. Her work related to self-regulation, motivation, and mental health is set on the foundation of her past experiences teaching, working with children on the autism spectrum, and in community emergency management.

Dr. Heather Walter is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Special Education at George Mason University. Dr. Walter is a practitioner-scholar who brings more than a decade of experience into the field of general and special education and educational administration in various diverse settings in multiple states. Dr. Walter’s research draws upon interdisciplinary and participatory practices to provide access to and knowledge of equitable, healthy, and sustainable educational systems for all children, with a focus on children who are identified on the axis of oppression and partnerships with the adults that serve them to support improved outcomes. Dr. Walter has led efforts and resource development in the areas of universal design for learning and embedded instruction, personnel preparation and coaching, teacher retention, mental health and wellbeing, and systems change. She has received awards for this work from the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the Society for Research in Child Development (SCRD), and the Exchange Leadership Initiative. She has published research and practitioner articles in top tier peer-reviewed journals and has presented at local, regional, national, and international conferences.

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