Teaching with Active Shooter Drills


Active shooter drills are a type of lockdown drill which has students and educators practice how to respond in the event that an active shooting takes place in the school. Forty states require schools to conduct active shooter drills with the idea that these drills will prevent deaths if a school shooting were in fact to occur. However, there is little evidence that active shooter drills are effective, and certain students can become traumatized by various aspects of the drills. With educators utilizing these resources to learn about how to teach more effectively with active shooter drills, ideally students will be fully informed on the ins and outs of active shooter drills and feel more comfortable with the prospect of running through them in the classroom!


There are many resources available online for teaching with active shooter drills, as these drills are an unfortunate part of the present climate of America. Though active shooter drills are done in school systems across the nation, new research is beginning to show that they may not be effective and can traumatize some students. Therefore, the articles below are split into two categories, one which consists of resources that will help educators teach effectively with active shooter drills and another which contains resources that focus on the cons of active shooter drills. Whether or not your school does active shooter drills, it is important to be aware of the dos and don’ts along with the most current research regarding the effectiveness of these drills.


How to Teach Effectively with Active Shooter Drills

  1. Helping Students Cope with Active Shooter Drills: nea provides a piece to help students cope better with active shooter drills. In this article, Janet Shapiro, dean of the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research at Bryn Mawr College, answers a few questions about the impact of these drills on students. Shapiro discusses how students are affected by news of school shootings in our country, which age group is especially vulnerable to the anxiety surrounding these drills, the signs educators can watch out for in their students, and whether active shooter drills are doing more harm than good. For educators who want to learn more about how to help students cope with anxiety surrounding school shootings and active shooter drills will find this resource to be very helpful!
  2. Five Ways to Cope if Shooter Drills Stress You Out: ScienceNewsforStudents offers students five ways to cope if active shooter drills stress them out. This article recommends that students realize that school shootings are extremely rare, recognize that they can say no to active shooter drills, talk about their uneasiness with a school counselor or educator, watch for signs of increased anxiety post-drills, and be proactive regarding safety in school. This resource would serve best if educators either provide the link of the article to students or print them each out a copy to read over. Students who recognize their personal anxiety surrounding these drills will likely take a closer look after class and ideally implement some of these strategies into their daily lives in the classroom!
  3. Active Shooter Drills at School – How to Do Them Right: PsychCentral published an article on how to do active shooter drills right because if performed the wrong way, certain students may be negatively affected. The author explains how active shooter drills have traumatized students due to their “realness,” which is why it is best if schools don’t use actors to pretend to be an active shooter, utilize prop weapons, or keep students in the dark about the fact that it is only a drill. Instead, students should go through specialized training so they are fully informed not only about what to do in the event that there is an active shooter on the school premises but also what the active shooter drill will look like when it occurs.
  4. Lockdown Anxiety – Teachers Talk About How to Explain Drills and Calm Kids’ Fear: Scholastic has published an article in which educators talk about how to explain active shooter drills and calm students’ fears. The author discusses how to explain what is happening, gives strategies to get students’ cooperation, and talks about how to talk about the drill afterwards for students in grades K-2, 3-6, and 7-12 because students of different ages will respond very differently to this topic! The overall message is to be honest and provide students with the facts, but don’t go into details with the younger kids. More specific information can be shared with students who are older and more mature! For educators who are seeking advice (from fellow educators and psychologists) on how to broach the subject of active shooter drills with students, this resource will be extremely helpful!
  5. There are Good and Bad Ways to Conduct Active Shooter Drills: SafeDefend provides a brief blog post describing the good and bad ways to conduct active shooter drills in schools. The main takeaway from this post is that schools shouldn’t be performing these drills unannounced or use special effects, such as simulated gunfire, because students can become traumatized and both educators and students could get hurt. Additionally, the author walks through how teachers should approach active shooter drills with their students, which includes focusing on safety and practicing procedures, talking openly with students about active shooter situations, looking out for students who are struggling, and more.

The Cons of Active Shooter Drills

  1. Unannounced Active Shooter Drills Scaring Students Without Making Them Safer: nea provides an article which focuses on how unannounced active shooter drills are causing more harm than good in schools. Surprise drills have the capability to traumatize students, which is why they are not the best way to prepare schools for the possibility of an active shooter. If shooter drills are to occur in schools (which they most likely will in the majority), both students and educators should be informed of the drills in advance, the drills should not include simulations or prop weapons, the drills should be age appropriate, etc.
  2. 2 Big Teachers Unions Call For Rethinking Student Involvement In Lockdown Drills: This article from npr explains why the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, which are the two biggest education unions, are calling for schools to rethink student involvement in lockdown drills. The author explains how because active shooter drills have not been proven to be effective in preventing violence and may traumatize some students, these two unions and others are not recommending this type of training for students. If schools choose to do the drills, they shouldn’t be unannounced or extremely realistic. Instead, schools should take other measures to prevent gun violence, such as conducting threat assessments and providing more mental health services!
  3. Active Shooter Drills Are Meant to Prepare Students. But Research Finds ‘Severe’ Side Effects: NBC News provides an article which hones in on the negative effects of active shooter drills on students and educators. A recent report “found active shooter drills in schools correlated with a 42 percent increase in anxiety and stress and a 39 percent increase in depression among those in the school community.” The author gives several instances where educators and students have had lasting effects from these drills, which school districts can definitely learn from when deciding how to train students and staff members for an active shooter event!
  1. Informational Sites
  1. Active Shooter: Ready.gov provides an informational page which describes what students should do in an active shooter event, wherever that may be. This page not only explains how students can stay informed and make a plan for the possibility of being in an active shooting but also describes what they should do during an active shooter event (RUN, HIDE, FIGHT) and after one escapes or the situation is controlled by law enforcement. This may be a good resource to share with students prior to an active shooter drill to remind them of procedure if individual schools do not provide specific resources that correlate to their specific program.
  2. Active Shooter – How To Respond: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has put together an active shooter manual advising the public on how to respond in an active shooter event. Included in this packet is the profile on an active shooter, directions on how to respond when an active shooter is in your vicinity, directions on how to respond when law enforcement arrives, advice on training staff for an active shooter situation, etc. Much of the information in this packet is relevant to students, but there are some aspects that are more geared towards school boards and those in charge of the workplace. Therefore, it’s important for educators to take a look through this and focus on the information most relevant to their classroom (i.e. profile of an active shooter, how to respond in the event, good practices for coping with an active shooter situation, and more).
  3. ALICE – Prepare and Include All Students in Safety Training: ALICE provides a brief overview of how to prepare and include all students in safety training. The main focus of this resource is how to train students age appropriately, which is why different training ideas are offered for students in grades Pre-K, K-3, 4-6, and 7-12. (Many schools across the nation put their students and staff through ALICE training, so for these organizations, many lesson plans and additional resources are supplied.)


Teaching with active shooter drills may not be an easy task, but it is necessary for students and educators alike to be trained in how to respond to an active shooter event. However, depending on how your school system does active shooter drills, it is necessary to consider if the drills could negatively impact students. In addition, be on the lookout for any students who are having trouble coping with the drills or having increased anxiety post-drills!