Preventing Violence - Priority Number One

TASA ID: 468

Preventing violence is fast becoming every school administrator's number one priority, or is it? It has become increasingly clear that schools and the culture they create can become a hotbed environment for random acts of violence, crime, and fear. If school managers (principals, assistant principals, counselors, and even school superintendents) fail to recognize and work to alter the present school culture that inadequately prevents bullying, harassment, and intimidation among students and staff, then we will continue to see students act out in the most disturbing ways. They are, after all, simply looking for attention and a sense of self-worth that will help them cope with adolescent frustrations and disappointments. Schools can help by carefully examining ten essential elements to enhance school safety. Each of these factors must be examined, reviewed, and promoted within each of our nation's schools. Let's look at them individually.

1.     The relationship between school administrators and the building staff.

Do they support and interact well together in the eyes of the students and in actuality? That is, do students see one team of dedicated adults who work together to guide and support them, no matter how big or small their problems, no matter how capable or difficult their needs, regardless of the culture they bring to the table?

2.     The role of those in charge of school security in assisting the staff in enforcing student discipline.  Are school staff in charge of enforcing security working closely with the entire staff so that problems can be anticipated, students can feel free to share concerns, and the administration can rely on everyone as stakeholders in enforcing positive behavior?

3.     The perception of students as to the expectation of staff in maintaining order and educational focus.  High expectations are typically met with increased determination to succeed. Do students feel that staff care about them, work to protect them from harm, expect all students to respect each other without exception?

4.     The relationship between staff and students/staff and parents. Are staff guiding, mentoring, leading by example? Are parents involved, welcomed into schools, asked their opinions on important matters, given the support and encouragement by all staff to play a role in maintaining a safe and secure environment?

5.     The conduciveness of the school environment to foster learning, school pride, and ownership among students and staff.  Is the administration working with the staff to instill a sense of ownership and pride in the school? Is that sense of pride evident in their relationships and their thinking when they work together to tackle problems? Can the student body understand and recognize that the staff and administration truly care about what happens in the school? The need to avoid staff having an attitude that the school is simply a place to work and nothing more has to be overcome by the administration through careful and well- intentioned actions.

6.     The sincerity of the Board of Education in supporting a caring and well-managed school (and providing resources to enable this to happen). The Board of Education can play a major role in conveying that they have the staff's best interests in mind through action taken at monthly Board meetings. The Board has to assign resources and pass regulations that support the efforts of staff to maintain and improve safety and general working conditions. For staff to feel a sense of ownership and caring toward their workplace, they need to be shown tangible results of the Board's governance that truly reflect better the Board's care and concern for them.

7.     The degree to which staff insist on mutual respect and cooperation among students and each other. The staff must be convinced that every action on their part is absorbed and interpreted by the students as a sign of the staff's interest and concern for the students. The staff's respect of each other and expectations that  students exhibit respect and compassion for other students will realize this goal. Schools that have accomplished this objective are true examples of great learning environments.

8.     The degree to which staff and administration are perceived by students to  have a presence and expectations of exemplary behavior. Staff and administrators can only expect exemplary behavior if they make a concerted effort to be there when students exemplify positive behavior and praise them in even the smallest ways so that the exemplary behavior is reinforced and rewarded. Doing this often and in the presence of other students is most important. For example, simply providing a few words of praise for the kind act of one student sends a clear message to others that this is one way to win the positive recognition that all students seek.

9.     The degree to which the building is truly secure and holds everyone accountable for his or her presence. Those in charge of security (principals, asst. principals, resource officers, security guards, school- assigned police, etc.) should be confident that the building is safe and secure. Every employee in the building should feel responsible for maintaining a safe and secure workplace. Employees should feel confident that anything they report will be investigated  and that they will receive feedback on the outcome of their reported concern. Students should be taught to feel that they, too, are welcomed in maintaining safety and that their input is encouraged and appreciated. The rules of accountability for everyone being where he or she should be at all times (teachers teaching and students in class) will bring about a sense of order and security for all members of the school community.

10. The presence of an ongoing safety committee focused on what is happening and what needs improvement. The idea of focusing on a safe and secure environment at a quarterly or semi-annual safety committee meeting will not help very much in maintaining safe schools. A truly representative safety committee that meets monthly and takes a careful look at what needs to be done to maintain and improve safety is critical to assure safe schools. The resources to support the safety committee's efforts are a must for the group to feel that their suggestions are worthy of consideration. A reasonable safe-schools budget line can accomplish this goal. The committee also needs to have a rotational membership so that all employees and students share the experience of being the overseers of school safety over time. The prime mover in the effectiveness of a highly functioning safety committee is the building principal, who needs to either be at every meeting or know exactly what took place and buy into the action recommended at each meeting.

Reprinted with permission from American School Board Journal. Copyright 2008, National School Boards Association. All rights reserved. 

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal, medical, or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.

This article may not be duplicated, altered, distributed, saved, incorporated into another document or website, or otherwise modified without the permission of the author, who will be contacted by TASA.

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