Where's the lesson plan for this?

If Columbine made many people see school as a place to fear (at least temporarily), last Tuesday helped many schools reassert their status as a haven from harm.

Around the United States, teachers were on the front lines with children as news poured in of a terrorist attack. Nothing could have really prepared anyone for the shock: Even as schools did a remarkable job of maintaining calm and helping children talk through their feelings, many were acutely aware of the fact that, as one teacher noted, "There's no recipe book for this."

School shootings in recent years have led schools to develop skills in crisis management, quick response, and counseling.

Those events made educators confront the safety of the world within school walls. But last week's attack posed a fresh challenge: easing children's worries about a world outside that suddenly seemed vastly altered and unpredictable - and where parents' whereabouts became a major concern.

In one sense, everything that good teachers do daily - respond to unexpected problems, shift lessons on the fly - gave them the tools to weather a difficult week. Some kept TVs off and and shut down Web access. Others watched alongside students - and talked about what they saw. All-school meetings were held, and teachers stayed late with kids whose parents were delayed. Lesson suggestions were posted on the Internet.

In the end, more than a few parents said they thought school was a good place for kids last week. Teachers, like so many others, reached out immediately with compassion and concern - offering children the most important lesson they could learn.

E-mail newcomba@csmonitor.com.

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