School violence is a very real problem and causes concern for students, staff, and parents alike. Campuses across the country face various threats, including bullying and harassment, physical fights, and the presence of weapons on a regular basis. While school boards and committees work hard to prevent violence and ensure safety, many times, their efforts fall short. This can be frightening and perplexing for school districts.
The good news is that the story doesn’t have to end here. Many times, the answer to failed efforts lie in incomplete, outdated, or erroneous training, policies, initiatives, and safety measures. With this knowledge in mind, districts can focus on revamping plans and procedures to keep students and staff safe. ARISE provides information that educates youth to make better life choices. For more information about ARISE evidence-based life skills curriculum and staff training contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. The following is information on strategies to keep schools free from violence.
What Is Considered School Violence?
Before delving into strategies, it is important to define school violence. In a nutshell, school violence is any form of violent behavior that occurs on school property or during travel to and from school. This includes sporting events, dances and proms, and routine pickups and drop-offs. School violence happens at any learning facility, whether it be public or private, K-12 or college.
Violence in schools disrupts a child’s right to learn and harms their physical, mental, and emotional safety. Some of the most common violent behaviors include:
- Harassment (displaying derogatory materials, gossiping, rumor spreading)
- Physical violence (punching, kicking, hitting, slapping, biting, hair pulling)
- Psychological violence (exclusion and verbal abuse such as name calling, taunting, insults)
- Sexual violence (snapping bra straps, sexual jokes, assault, rape)
- Use of weapons (using weapons to threaten or cause harm)
- Bullying (sexual, prejudicial, cyber, physical, verbal, relational aggression)
With the different types of behaviors constituting school violence in mind, we can move on to discuss strategies to keep schools free from violence.
Create a Safe and Supportive Environment
Many times, children who bully and express violent behaviors do not receive the attention and care they need from adults at home. Thus, they lash out at school. In addition, children who are bullied or harassed tend to fear coming to school and suffer socially, emotionally, physically, and academically. School staff can help children on both ends of the spectrum by establishing a safe, supportive, and caring culture while at school. This includes:
- Setting clear behavioral expectations, including zero-tolerance policies
- Implementing fun and caring programs that contribute to a safe and positive culture
- Establishing positive interventions
- Providing support to at-risk students, including psychological and counseling services
Many times, teachers and other school staff don’t recognize violence. Or they may recognize the behaviors but don’t know what to do when they see or hear them. Proper training for all school staff ensures a rapid response to end violent behaviors the moment they are expressed. Ensuring that all staff is properly trained on the school’s safety protocols and crisis preparedness is critical.
In addition to training staff to detect, end, and prevent violence, schools can provide an evidence-based life skills curriculum. Lessons such as these will teach students the skills they need to cope with big emotions, social pressures, communication issues, and so much more.
While students don’t typically enjoy telling on one another, students who are victims of school violence fear it. Victims fear retaliation, not being believed, and appearing like a tattletale. Schools can provide a safe way for students (and staff) to report instances or threats of violence by creating an anonymous reporting system. With this system in place, staff can reiterate to students the importance of communicating their concerns and how they can do so safely and anonymously.
There are quite a few security measures schools can take to ensure staff and student safety. These measures include:
- Enforcing controlled access (only one functioning entrance, with all other doors and windows locked from the outside)
- Hiring security guards and creating partnerships with local police
- Installing security systems
- Installing metal detectors
- Close and continual monitoring of all school guests, parking lots, hallways, cafeterias, and sports fields, either from security systems or security guards
- Working with the community to ensure further safety for students once they leave school property
A tried-and-true strategy to keep schools free from violence is through preparedness drills. Requiring students and staff to practice what to do in the event of severe weather, fire, an intruder, or evacuation minimizes the unknown, putting minds at ease. Additionally, should an event actually occur, students and staff will know exactly what to do—which could save lives.
When an adult is present, violence is less likely to happen. School staff can make huge strides in ensuring safety for students and other staff members just by being present. Greeting students in the morning and saying goodbye at the end of the day can make a major impact in preventing violence from occurring. Making your presence known to students who are lagging behind after school, walking the halls while classes are in session, and lurking during lunchtime will help prevent violence.
Know the Warning Signs
Often, students who commit a violent act give at least one prior warning ahead of time. Training staff to notice the warning signs and handle the situation appropriately could mean the difference between life and death. Early warning signs of future violence include, but aren’t limited to:
- Unusual withdrawal in social situations
- Decline in grades and school performance
- Writing or drawing expressions of violence
- Flares in temper and unrestrained rage
- Showing patterns of hitting
- Exhibiting any one of the various bullying behaviors
- Use of drugs or alcohol
- Expressing threats of violence
- Gang affiliation
Reach Out To At-Risk Students
With care, another strategy staff can implement is to identify, monitor, and reach out to at-risk children. The sooner that potentially violent individuals are recognized, the more time there is to reach out and offer positive, life-changing intervention. In addition to training staff to identify and monitor at-risk students, hiring a professional therapist is also beneficial in providing these children with much-needed practical and emotional help.