You may have heard on the news a few weeks ago (the story made the national and international news after all) of an incident at a school near Evesham in Worcestershire, where a teacher pretended to be shot dead in front of most of the school as part of a science lesson.
One of my sons goes to the school in question so obviously I took a keen interest in the story. But as well as my concerns as a parent, I also found it very interesting from a professional point of view, in looking at the way the whole thing was handled. It raised a number of thoughts, including the following :
- The way that a relatively small incident can quickly become widespread news if the media find it interesting enough. The story first appeared the following day in the local Evesham paper, and was then picked up by the BBC, appearing on several nationwide radio and TV news programmes, and was subsequently featured on several websites. It even made the news in parts of the USA. Interestingly, when I facilitate incident management exercises with my clients, they are often adamant that the media wouldn’t be interested in them and their problems because they wouldn’t be particularly newsworthy. But, quite clearly, that is for the media, not us, to decide.
- The fact that poor stakeholder communications, particularly with the media, can undermine an organisation’s incident management efforts. The school’s media response on this occasion seemed to me to be naïve and ill considered and in my view was poorly executed. The result was that the main message I got (in my capacity as a stakeholder) was a lack of concern for the concerns of the pupils affected by the incident.
- How a lack of appropriate training for media spokespeople and poor planning for media interviews will contribute hugely to the above. The head teacher’s ineptitude at handling the media made it abundantly clear to me that he’d had insufficient (if any) media training. My favourite gaffe was the fact that he allowed himself to be photographed for a newspaper report, clutching whatever it was that was used to make the gunshot sound, in front of a Winnie the Pooh poster with the caption “Think before you act” – I thought that summed up the situation nicely.
- Just how little appreciation many organisations seem to have of how people might be affected by a dramatic or stressful incident. In this case the effect on some of the pupils was brushed under the carpet with a comment to the effect that only a few children were adversely affected (well, that’s ok then!) and that they’d been spoken to afterwards and were now fine. The reality was (and I know this from speaking with other parents) that this was definitely not the case and that some children who had witnessed the stunt were extremely upset.
Because this incident affected me and my family personally, I’m conscious of the fact that it’s difficult to take a totally detached view, but I’ve attempted to look at things objectively.
Whilst it was a very different scenario to that which your average business continuity plan might have to deal with, there are a number of parallels that can be drawn and a number of lessons that can be learned.
Let’s just hope that the school themselves have learned from it and that the next time they consider spicing up their science lessons, they take some advice from that well-known management guru Winnie the Pooh and think before they act.