When I was an SRO, my middle school suffered 80 fights a year and nearly all of them involved sixth graders. The fights were not brutal, they seldom caused physical injury, and the ‘victim’ was overwhelmingly just as guilty as the instigator. The fights proved to be nothing more than a massive time suck for me and the sixth grade principal, who by the way was the best administrator any SRO could ever hope to work with. She was smart, engaging, totally fair, and completely proactive minded. She knew that this problem would only be solved by being proactive. Not to mention that we got tired of hearing each other mutter, “You’ve got to be kidding me” every time we were called to a new fight.
So this is what we did to stop it…
Near the end of the school year, we visited each of our ‘feeder’ schools and spoke to every fifth grader transitioning up. We’d assemble them in the gym and together we’d talk to them for 15 minutes. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but our message was focused, positive, and crystal clear.
Here’s what we told them…
Who We Are—To You:
To most students, it doesn’t really matter who you are and what you do—what matters to them is how you impact their lives. So we’d start off by saying, “My name is Officer Shomette and I’m going to be your school resource officer” or “I’m going to be your principal.” Our tone like our message was personal. I belong to you and you belong to me and what I do matters to you and what you do matters to me. It’s a relationship. It’s how we viewed things and we wanted them to see it the same way.
Congratulations and Welcome:
Next we’d tell them how proud we were of them and how much we were looking forward to our time together. “So much so,” we’d say, “that we wanted to come down here and personally say hi as well as to introduce ourselves to you. We’re going to be working closely together for the next year and together we can make that time safe and successful.”
Next, we’d hit them with what we expected. “So what do we mean when we say safe and successful? Three things. First, there is absolutely no fighting permitted. Period. If you fight, we promise you that there will be consequences (we always left it open so we had some wiggle room). We expect more from you and we will never settle for less. Second, if you are afraid for any reason at anytime, tell the first adult you see. Don’t come looking for me or Mrs. H. Tell an adult and they know how to reach us instantly. We don’t want you to wander the halls looking for us if you are afraid. We’ll come to you. Third, if you know someone who is thinking about hurting themselves or someone else, again, tell the first adult you see. They know how to contact us and we’ll come find you. If we do these three things, we’ll have a safe and successful year.”
We’d interact with the students as much as possible by asking or answering questions, we’d say goodbye and leave—telling them not to forget to say hi when they see us in the halls next year.
To reinforce our message, we’d also meet with those same students during the first week of school and tell them the same thing again for another 15 minutes, this time pointing out our offices and passing out our contact numbers. Some of you might say, “We do this at student orientation,” but it’s not the same thing. It is a requirement that everyone attend student orientation, including the adults. There is no obligation to do what we did and the students knew it.
We repeated our talk at each of the five schools and we got it done in one day—one busy day. From that year on, the typical 80 fights a year was reduced to only 4 a year and we never had a problem with fighting again. I know there was more to our success then just our brief talks. Mrs. H had great follow through, she responded immediately to any hint of trouble, and the students knew she really cared because to her it was all about relationships.
But without a doubt, it all started with that one little thing and it made a big difference.
Maybe it could work for you as well.