Tornado Alley: Keeping Students Safe—Physically and Emotionally—During Storms

In an interview for the NAESP Center for Innovative Leadership, Andy Jacks and Hamish Brewer talk with Oklahoma principal Scott Hein about keeping students safe during destructive storms, helping students get the most out of their education, and making every student feel special.

Topics: Mental Health and Safety, School Culture and Climate

Scott Hein is principal of Lakeview Elementary School in Yukon, Oklahoma. And a storm chaser. What do those two passions have in common? More than you’d think, according to Hein.

“I’m here to take on any storm, whether it’s a twister or a severe thunderstorm coming through Oklahoma or whether it’s taking care of kids and all the issues they face,” says Hein.

Hein is quick not to make light of his passion of chasing storms, though. Storms are a very serious threat to his school and community. Helping students learn how to stay as safe as possible during these storms—and overcome the destruction they can leave behind—is a unique challenge his school faces.

He’s especially connected to his school because it was the school he interviewed in more than 20 years ago when he landed his first teaching job out of college. In fact, now, as the school’s principal, that table sits in his office as a reminder of where he came from. It’s sentimental to him, and it’s not the only item of importance to him. He fills his office with many other items—though admittedly smaller than a piece of furniture—that also have meaning to him. On his first day as principal, for example, a young student gave him a handmade card that read “I’m ready to soar”—and that’s what he encourages his students, teachers, school, and community to do every day.

The Challenges:

  1. How do I keep my students safe—physically and emotionally—during storms and tornadoes?
  2. In what unique ways can help students get the most out of their education?
  3. How can we make every student feel special?

What You’ll Learn

Principal Spotlight:

Scott Hein
Principal, Lakeview Elementary School in Yukon, Oklahoma
Twitter: @ScottJHein

Scott Hein is principal of Lakeview Elementary School in Yukon, Oklahoma. There he oversees students in fourth grade and fifth grade. Lakeview has seen many changes in the past couple of decades—and so has Hein. Starting as a teacher right out of college and transitioning to the principalship, Hein has called Lakeview Elementary his home for more than 20 years.

His passion for education carries over into an unlikely hobby—storm chasing, which Hein sees as a metaphor for education. He faces head on any storm, whether it’s a tornado or an issue his students are working through.

In this video, Hein takes you on a virtual tour of his school to show a day in the life of a student at Lakeview Elementary School—from a morning assembly to the “A Beautiful Day” parties, and STEM classrooms. From Hein, you will learn ideas to:

Protect students during severe storms and tornadoes.

  • It all starts with preparation. Be aware of the effects of the storms and work to put in place the facilities—safe rooms—that can hold hundreds of students during weather threats. This investment comes from his district level, says Hein.
  • You can be as prepared as possible, practicing over and over again with students, but a bigger area of focus is the emotional impact. If there’s a close call with a tornado, Hein says, “We don’t just say, ‘OK, we’ve got the all-clear. Go home.’ ” Faculty and staff at the school follow up with their students afterward, too. Some of his students have been in schools that have been hit by tornadoes before, and it’s those students especially who need extra care because it’s a trauma point for them.

Help students get the most out of their education.

  • Every morning, students at Lakeview Elementary School have a morning assembly. Every. Single. Morning. Lakeview Liftoff, they call it, gets the children up and moving with music and dancing, helping them to get out the wiggles and set them on a path where they’re ready to learn.
  • An early adopter of the STEM program in their school district, the Lakeview STEM program has evolved to be such an effective program that it’s been named an Apple Program of Excellence. Lakeview adds in STEM as a regular rotation for all students, along with art, music, and physical education. Students learn how to do group problem-solving and team-building concepts.

Make every student feel special.

  • The school features a program called “A Beautiful Day,” which spreads the message to students that the day they were born is a beautiful day. Some students don’t get birthday parties or have families who are able to bring in treats for their child to share with classmates. A committee finds community volunteers like district administrators and superintendents who come into the school, put on an “A Beautiful Day” t-shirts, and pass out pizza and cupcakes in honor of kids who are celebrating their birthdays.


  1. Remember that what might be fun for one student might be a trauma trigger for another student. For example, bringing a local weather person in with a tornado machine might be cool to students who’ve never lived through a tornado, but it might trigger students who have survived a tornado.
  2. Get students up and moving early to get them ready for a day of learning.
  3. Every day at school is an opportunity to make every child feel like they’re special and unique. Find ways to celebrate them like “A Beautiful Day” parties.

Share your strategy: How have you transformed a school space to celebrate students? Go to the NAESP CIL webpage to tell us—and you could be one of the next principals we profile.