A fight, harassment, act of disrespect, intimidation, threat of violence, or some other similar and unwanted behavior is more than just a disciplinary problem. It’s also an academic problem because it prevents or delays learning on the part of the students involved as well as drains the time and energy of the adults who must deal with the problem instead of investing that time towards some worthy goal.
We have to stop seeing disciplinary problems, violence, and the threat of violence as a standalone issue. It’s not. We may think that we can contain it in the space where it occurred or solve it in the main office where the problem is officially addressed, but that’s not how violence works. Those who deal with this kind of stuff every day know that violence is by its very nature disruptive and is not restricted by any boundaries. It seeps into every part of the school day and continues to cause problems and issues long after we think, and hope, that it is over.
Unfortunately, we can’t stop violence from ever happening again. Violence has been with us since the beginning and will be with us until the end of time, but we can prevent or minimize many violent acts. In fact, I think we can stop the vast majority of unwanted behaviors if we’re willing to do the hardest thing of all, which is to change ourselves.
Here are three things that we can change today about how we think and respond to violence that will have an immediate and positive impact in our schools.
Adopt Zero Tolerance.
This doesn’t mean that you have to put the hammer down on every kid that does something wrong. Zero tolerance doesn’t mean zero discretion. The kind of zero tolerance I’m talking about is an interior shift in how one sees violence. Violence is not a normal part of the school day and it’s not normal that kids act violently and it’s not normal that we spend hours every day dealing with violence. Violence has no place, zero place, in a public school and we can never tolerate kids hurting kids or themselves.
We must stop seeing violent and other unwanted behaviors as normal kid behavior and instead, implement zero tolerance. Don’t accept anyone hurting someone else for any reason. Period. Zero tolerance.
Violence is not prevented with intentions, it’s only prevented with actions. Saying you’re against violence doesn’t get the job done. You must intervene—do something—to stop it from happening. If you don’t then you’re not preventing violence, but managing violence and therefore allowing it to control your day as well as hinder your students’ ability to learn.
Now, be honest—which one have you been doing? Preventing or managing violence?
In my experience, the best schools with the greatest climates and the safest environments have a ‘whole school’ mentality.
Don’t let your school safety efforts become a stream. Don’t let it wither and trickle out. Make it a part of your day and build it into your academic process, which is your river. The addition of the safety efforts will only help to enhance your academic achievements because it will not distract from it, but be a part of it.
But rivers with defined banks and no streams become deeper and faster. And that constant flow of water all going in the same direction creates an unstoppable force of momentum.
Streams that branch off from the river are never as deep or as great as the river. Separated from the main body of water, the stream will slow down in intensity and often trickle out to nothing. With too many streams, the river will diminish and suffer.
Think of a river.
When it comes to school safety, one of the biggest mistakes that school leaders make is that they make safety a standalone function or a responsibility of a few people, instead of blending it into the day and making it a part of the entire school.
People who deal with violence on a daily basis are impacted by it. The degree that they are affected will vary depending on several factors. Besides the person’s natural disposition and the intensity and frequency of the violence, the two other factors that most affect a person’s response to violence is support and control. Those who have a high degree of support (family, faith, staff, friends, supervisor, etc.) will be less emotionally and personally impacted by it. This has been well researched and documented.
However, control is one factor that does not get enough attention. If you spend all day being surprised by violence, having bad things dumped in your lap, never knowing what will happen next, and fearing that something terrible is going to happen any minute—it can make for an anxious and unhappy life.
Superintendents, principals, SRO supervisors, and other school leaders – continue to give your support but also give them control. If you are reactive, you are not in control. If you are proactive and preventative, then you are in control because you’re taking concrete steps to prevent it. You are doing something.
The greatest control you can give your people is to create an environment (policy, training, and materials) that naturally keeps your people proactive. By doing this they will by default maintain greater control which will make them more resistant to the long term and negative effects of violence.