Children spend an average of 180 days a year at school, and during a typical school day, they spend more of their time at school than at home. Parents assume that they’re sending their child somewhere safe to learn, but that isn’t always the case. School violence is a reality at many schools across the country, but it is also preventable. Teachers and school administrators need to do everything in their power to prevent school violence, and it starts with a few simple strategies.
Watch for Potential Warning Signs
There are certain signs teachers can watch for that may indicate that a child has the potential to become violent. Although the signs might not always mean the child is prone to violence, they should still be put on the radar of school officials so they can monitor the child and assess their needs before a situation turns violent.
Schools with effective violence prevention techniques train their staff on how to identify and understand their students’ behavior so they can get the child professional help. Teachers should pay attention to both early and imminent warning signs. Early warning signs include:
- Obsession with violent games
- Depression and mood swings
- Lack of interest in things they used to enjoy
- Inability to control their anger
- Talking about death
- Taking weapons to school
There are also imminent warning signs that a child is going to harm themselves or others. The signs that require an immediate response include:
- Physically fighting with others
- Damaging property
- Getting angry for minor reasons
- Detailing threats of violence
- Possessing or using weapons
- Threatening suicide
Addressing Warning Signs
While not all warning signs mean that a child will harm someone, taking note of them and addressing them early may prevent school violence from occurring later on. The way you address the warning signs will depend on the individual and the situation, and can include anger management training, mentoring, a change in the way the child is taught and family counseling. Realize that a child with the potential to become violent typically exhibits multiple warning signs, repeatedly and with greater intensity over time.
Bullying can also become violent as either the aggressor or victim can become agitated. Report school bullying every time it is noticed. No matter how minor it may seem at the time, it is likely part of a pattern that needs to be stopped.
Develop a Plan
Safe schools have a violence prevention and response plan. They also have a team accountable for ensuring that it is properly implemented. The program should address the unique needs of not only the teachers and students, but the entire education community. This includes all staff, school bus drivers, parents, etc.
An effective violence prevention plan includes the following:
- A list of the aforementioned early warning signs of potentially violent behavior
- Procedures for identifying children who exhibit early warning signs
- Intervention strategies for helping troubled students
- Procedures to take to report campus violence
- A staff training program
- A regular assessment of the plan, including what’s working and what’s not working
- A method in place to monitor and report school bullying
- A system for dealing with intruders who manage to make it onto the school campus
- A crisis response plan
Responding to a Crisis
Safe schools not only have a plan in place for how to react, but also ensure that all students and staff know how to behave when violence occurs. Such planning reduces the chaos and trauma of an incident. A crisis response plan should include:
- Evacuation procedures and identified safe areas where students and staff can go during a crisis
- An effective communication system to limit confusion
- A process for contacting law enforcement
- A system that allows staff to report campus violence immediately by sending an alert to the rest of staff
- A method that allows administrators to maintain real-time communication with school staff
School violence can be traumatic not only to those directly involved in the incident, but also for those who witness it and the parents who have to worry about the safety of their children on a regular basis. Instead of asking what could have been done to prevent school violence, plan ahead. By being prepared, school administrators and staff can find comfort in the fact that they did everything in their power to protect their students and themselves.