School violence is a serious issue that affects many schools nationwide. However, with the successful implementation of strategies at various levels, this violence can be prevented in most cases, leading to a safer and more productive school environment.
Violence in Schools
Think about the following situations: a student is bullying another on the bus to school in the morning. A student has just physically attacked another on the blacktop at recess. A student assaults one of his teachers with a bat on the way to his car. Two students attack another at a school basketball game. Which one of these is an example of school violence?
If you answered all of them, you would be correct! School violence is any violence that occurs between students or between a student and staff member on school property, at school events, or on the way to and from school and school events. It is a serious issue in many schools, but there are several strategies that districts, schools, and teachers can implement to help prevent school violence.
Creating and Maintaining a Safe School Climate
Imagine a school you’ve been in, attended, or worked in. Think about the different aspects of that school environment that made you, students, and parents feel like it was a safe place for everyone. You may be imagining that this school had a consistent behavior management plan, imagery around the school that encouraged kindness and discouraged anger and aggression, and teachers and staff who implemented conflict resolution and discipline strategies.
All of the aspects of the school environment contribute to the school climate. The school climate consists of the norms, values, and rules that govern interpersonal and professional relationships among students and staff. A safe school climate is incredibly important for preventing school violence.
For example, if a school has a plan in place for conflict resolution and every teacher, staff member, and administrator is trained in the strategies for conflict resolution, there is less of a chance that disagreements and arguments between students will escalate to the point of physical violence. If every adult in the building is trained in the strategies set forth by the school, conflicts can be successfully resolved anywhere inside and outside the building.
Additionally, a safe school climate makes students feel safe (obviously). This means that those students who are victims of bullying and violence feel safe to report it to an adult in the school. Clear and open lines of communication between students and staff give both the power and ability to prevent violence before it even starts. If students feel safe and encouraged to report problematic behavior, teachers and staff can intervene before the problem escalates.
Classroom Management Strategies
Mr. Smiley is a 7th grade teacher in a school that has a high risk of school violence. However, because of his and many of his colleagues’ classroom management, there are very few school violence situations. This is because Mr. Smiley uses a variety of strategies inside the classroom that help prevent violence, both in and out of the class.
For example, Mr. Smiley focuses on positive behavior, constantly reminding students when they are caught doing good deeds. Reinforcing positive behavior is more effective in preventing negative behavior than simply reacting to every situation in which a student breaks a rule. For example, Mr. Smiley will verbally acknowledge when a student resists the temptation to act out, every single time he notices a student doing so.
Additionally, Mr. Smiley teaches his students responsibility in both their social interactions and school work. All of his classroom rules and procedures are written to place the responsibility for success in the student’s hands. For example, instead of saying ‘no calling out’, Mr. Smiley informs his students that ‘you are responsible for participating respectfully by raising your hand and listening while others are talking’. If a student forgets this responsibility, Mr. Smiley consistently reminds him or her every time.
Finally, Mr. Smiley is consistent in implementing all of his responsibilities, procedures, and consequences. Every single time a student is caught doing something positive, Mr. Smiley acknowledges it. In the same vein, every single time a student forgets a classroom responsibility and acts out, Mr. Smiley reminds him or her of the responsibility and discusses ways the student can improve his or her behavior. This must be the same for every single student because, as soon as you start to ease up with reinforcement, students will notice and start to act out more.
Though all of these strategies are used within the context of the classroom, students will continue to follow their responsibilities out into the rest of the school, especially if every teacher is using effective classroom management strategies. Good behavior starts in the classroom, so effective management is key for preventing school violence.
As a teacher, you spend a great deal of time with your students. By the end of September, chances are you know them pretty well. You know their interests, abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and personalities. Therefore, you are on the front line for identifying students who are at risk for violent behavior. Recognizing and intervening with these students is key for preventing school violence.
Consider Mark for example. You have been Mark’s teacher for a month, and you know he is very outgoing and hardworking. However, he is also sometimes the victim of bullying and harassment. A few days ago, Mark became very withdrawn both inside the classroom and in the hallways. Also, you found a crumpled piece of paper next to his desk that had some violent words and references on it.
As Mark’s teacher, you should have noticed a shift in his behavior and attitude. Knowing his history with bullying, this should raise some red flags. The note with violent references is also alarming. Therefore, it’s time for you and other professionals in the school, such as the counselor or psychologist, to intervene and find out what is going on. In doing so, you are potentially preventing violent behavior.
There are several key behaviors and attributes to be on the lookout for when attempting to identify at-risk students for violent behavior. These include:
A history of behavior problems
Known gang affiliation
Drug and alcohol use
Feelings of rejection
Disinterest in school and poor academic performance
Written threats of violence
History of bullying and violence
These do not cover every single behavior you should watch for, but they give you a general idea of things you may see in at-risk students. Additionally, just because a student is displaying some of these behaviors does not mean that the student is going to commit an act of violence. You know your students best, so use your judgement when identifying problematic behaviors.
School violence is any act of violence that occurs between students or between a student and staff member on school property, to and from school, or at a school event. There are several strategies districts, schools, and teachers can use to prevent school violence, including creating and maintaining a safe school climate, improving classroom management, and identifying and intervening with at-risk students. Finally, preventing school violence is a team effort, so every teacher and staff member should be trained in any strategy being used.