In order to create a safe and responsive learning environment, prevention efforts are implemented school-wide. As the old adage "A rising tide lifts all boats" suggests, such efforts can be beneficial for both the general student population, and for those students more at-risk of violence.
In the face of pervasive violence in our schools and society, many schools have begun to consider making violence prevention and conflict resolution part of their curricula. Such programs rely on ongoing instruction and discussion to change the perceptions, attitudes, and skills of students. A number of these curricula have become available since the mid 1980's, including conflict resolution, violence prevention, and social problem solving curricula (see Resources). These curricular approaches are typically integrated into a broader program, often including components such as peer mediation, cooperative learning, schoolwide behavior management programs, or anger management.
A number of conflict resolution or violence curricula have documented promising changes in student attitude and behavior. Whole school efforts, like the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program have shown a number of positive outcomes, including teacher reports of decreases in physical violence and increased student cooperation, and lowered suspension and dropout rates. Consistency and commitment are highly important; students appear to show favorable outcomes in direct relationship to how often the curriculum is taught.
Increasing the chances of success for conflict resolution/violence prevention curricula requires attention to a number of planning and training issues. First, since there are only a limited number of curricula, it is important to carefully examine each curriculum to make sure it meets the needs of students in our district: Is the material appropriate for students in our type of geographic area? Is the material and presentation style age-appropriate? Second, conflict resolution and violence prevention curricula require teachers to implement a variety of instructional approaches, including modeling, discussion, videotape and roleplay. Before implementation, staff should understand the time and effort involved, and be trained adequately in the proposed curriculum, in order to ensure commitment to a level of instruction that will be effective in changing student attitudes and behavior.
SRS Fact Sheet: Violence Prevention and Conflict Resolution Curricula
In peer mediation, a cadre of student mediators are taught an interest-based negotiation procedure, along with communication and problem-solving strategies, to help peers settle disagreement without confrontation or violence. Students come to mediation voluntarily, and are guided by peer mediators to move from blaming each other to devising solutions acceptable to all parties. While some peer mediation programs mediate only in informal situations, such as the playground, others bring peer mediators into the classroom to help resolve student disputes. Peer mediation is most often implemented as part of a broader conflict resolution program.
A wide variety of studies have found peer mediation to be a promising strategy for improving school climate over time1. The use of peer mediation can substantially change how students approach and settle conflicts: students involved in peer mediation often express a greater willingness to help friends avoid fights and solve problems, and are less likely to believe that certain individuals deserve to be "beaten up." There is also evidence that implementing peer mediation programs can be associated with fewer fights, fewer office referrals, and a decreased rate of school suspension. Finally, for the mediators themselves, learning the mediation process has been shown to increase self-esteem, and even improve academic achievement.
Yet peer mediation is a complex undertaking; success in implementing peer mediation depends in large part on the adequacy of planning, training, and monitoring of the program. A number of logistical decisions must be made before beginning a peer mediation program: Which students will be eligible to be mediators, and how will they be chosen?; where and when will mediation occur? To deal with these and other logistical issues it is probably necessary that there be a facilitator or school team assigned responsibility for planning and implementation. In addition, training student mediators in the assumptions and processes of peer mediation is critical; it has been estimated that initial training of peer mediators requires at least a 12-15 hour commitment. Finally, even after peer mediation has been established, ongoing monitoring of the program is essential. Thus, successful programs include ongoing weekly or bi-weekly meetings with student mediators to provide ongoing training, and ensure that mediators continue to be enthusiastic and effective. With adequate attention to the details of planning, training, and follow-up, and implemented as part of a broader school-wide program of violence prevention, peer mediation appears to be a promising tool that can help teach students methods to settle their conflicts without resorting to violence.
While some incidents of serious violence seem to "come out of nowhere," most incidents of school violence or serious disruption start as less serious behavior that accelerate to the point of requiring attention. Many aggressive or disruptive behaviors spiraling out of control might have been de-escalated by early and appropriate responses at the classroom level.
Thirty years of study have resulted in a well-documented knowledge base regarding what works to prevent escalation of misbehavior at the classroom level2.10 In the last ten years, a number of programs have become available integrating those findings into accessible and user-friendly classroom management packages (see Resources). While the programs differ in their emphases, all tend to focus to some degree on the following principles of effective classroom management:
School-wide classroom behavior management programs have been effective in decreasing suspension, expulsion, and dropout, reducing teacher burnout, and improving student on-task behavior and academic achievement. Effective classroom management programs require commitment and perseverance, however. Student misbehavior may escalate with the introduction of a new system, as students "test the limits." Yet most teachers and schools find that the additional time needed to prevent or de-escalate classroom disruption is more than made up by the savings in time of lower office referrals and overall improvements in school climate.
Resources: Classroom management
The fact that many of the school shooters of the last three years had in fact been persecuted or picked on by their peers highlights the importance of attending to bullying in schools. Bullying is prevalent in schools-almost one-third of elementary students, and about 10% of secondary students report being bullied. Yet studies have found that school personnel commonly underestimate the extent of bullying present in their school compared to students; students are also often concerned that no action will be taken if they do report bullying3.
Individual level interventions do not appear to be sufficient to bring bullying under control. Rather, a whole school effort may be necessary, including interventions at the school, class, and individual levels. First, such programs raise the awareness of teachers, parents, and students about bullying through discussion, programs, and even videos. Second, school and classroom policies against bullying that are enforced send a clear message that bullying is not acceptable behavior. Increasing adult supervision in areas where monitoring is low appears to be effective, since the majority of bullying incidents occur in these areas. Finally, individual interventions such as assertiveness training for victims or counseling for both bullies and their victims appears to resolve a large percentage of such incidents4.
The difficulty in implementing effective programs to deter harassment and persecution is not one of knowledge; there are abundant studies that have shown that schools with a commitment to bullying prevention are able to reduce its occurrence. Rather the problem may be one of awareness and attitude. For bullying prevention to take hold, students, parents, and teachers need to come to an awareness that victimization of some students by others is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. With such awareness, and a school and community commitment, such multi-component approaches appear to be able to both reduce bullying and improve school climate.
See other topics under Understanding School Violence:
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