Never Say “I’m just a custodian”

I had the good fortune to get to work with groups of custodians from two school systems in Minnesota this week.  I have been blessed with the opportunity to provide tailored staff development for school custodians a number of times over the years and have been inspired every time.  Like school bus drivers, front office staff and school nutrition employees, the importance and impact that school custodians can have on school safety, climate and emergency preparedness are often overlooked by school officials.  

Like any and every other employee in a school, custodial personnel may be in a position to spot danger and avert tragedy or may be called upon at any time to make life and death decisions.  School custodians also have a unique perspective that can allow them to spot problems that may be harder for other school employees to see.  For example, school custodians like other facilities employees often know many things about a school that the principal does not know.  I also have learned from experience by conducting red team assessments (attempting to commit simulated crimes on campus at the request of school officials to test security measures), that school custodians interrupt these attempts more often than all categories of employees combined including school security and law enforcement officers assigned to schools we have assessed. 

When we look at the research on pattern matching and recognition, we can see why the unique job roles and perspectives of custodians are often able to detect danger missed by other school employees. For example, the manner in which custodial personnel move through and around school facilities each day offers them a chance to observe the behaviors of students, staff and visitors in a different way than employees who are tied to specific areas and activities each day.

All this helps to demonstrate that school custodial personnel can and should be a valuable part of any school’s safety strategy.  As I told both groups of custodial personnel yesterday, I really hate to hear anyone say that they are “only a custodian”.  In my campus safety work over more than thirty years, I have seen ample evidence of the incredible contribution school custodial personnel can bring to the table if we simply train and empower them to look, act and communicate to help us improve safety, security and emergency preparedness in our schools. 

About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.