As an administrator, dealing with violence in your facility is a grim reality. Although extreme incidents of school violence garner the most media attention, many educational settings have more commonplace—yet no less significant—activities that constitute incidents of violence. These include threats of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening, disruptive behaviour. Acts of violence not only affect those involved, they also disrupt the educational process, leading to absenteeism and poor academic performance from students and disenchantment and high turnover for teachers.
Recognizing the risk of violence and taking action is essential. The creation of a comprehensive violence-prevention plan is often the most important, yet least costly, portion of an institution’s safety program.
There are several actions you can take to protect students and employees from violence at your facility. School policies that clearly express zero tolerance for violent acts are an essential foundation, and effective communication of these policies to students and teachers alike is equally important. Improving security measures at your facility can further ensure safety.
Evaluate the design of your facility and identify security measures that can be instituted for your staff and students’ safety. Consider making the following adjustments to your facility to prevent incidents of violence:
- Control access to the building and grounds during school hours. Not only will students be discouraged from tardiness and absenteeism, but the facility will be protected from unwanted intruders.
- Use metal detectors. Students will be discouraged from bringing weapons to school.
- Use security cameras to monitor the premises. Not only can recordings of violent incidents be used for disciplinary purposes, but the mere presence of the cameras deters violence.
- Provide telephones in all classrooms. In the event of an emergency, a functional telephone will allow for immediate communication with administration and law enforcement.
- Install an electronic notification system for use in the case of a school-wide emergency.
- Require school uniforms. Uniforms allow anyone on campus to recognize outsiders and discourage signs of gang membership.
- Require visitors to sign in and out of the facility.
- Require students to wear badges or picture IDs. This practice facilitates identification of both students and intruders in the facility.
- Institute a zero-tolerance policy for school violence, and communicate the policy to educators and students.
- Include a student code of conduct that outlines expectations and disciplinary measures.
- Create and communicate a procedure for educators and students to follow when faced with violence or in the event of an emergency.
- Create a structured, anonymous threat-reporting system that allows students and teachers to warn authorities without fear of retaliation. Remind students often of the presence of this system.
- Train educators in mediation techniques and in recognizing the warning signs of violent behaviour.
Identifying Potentially Violent Situations
Numerous factors can trigger a violent incident between students, and no characteristics necessarily typify a perpetrator. However, there are often several red flags that can be detected before a student commits an act of violence. Be alert, and train staff to be alert for these indicators of potential violence, stressing the importance of reporting any suspicious behaviour:
- Intimidating, harassing, bullying, belligerent or other inappropriate and aggressive behaviour
- Frequent conflicts with other students or teachers
- Making idle threats or references to weapons
- Statements indicating approval of violence or identification with perpetrators of violence
- Desperate or suicidal statements
- Substance abuse
- Extreme deviation from normal behaviour
Train teachers not to overreact but also not to ignore these red flags. Discussing a potentially violent situation with experts on staff can help determine how it may be best handled.
Responding to Violence
No amount of preventive action can guarantee immunity from violence at your facility. It is essential that when a violent incident does occur that the response be timely and appropriate. After the incident, recognize that students and teachers could be traumatized, and provide appropriate counselling.
Proper training should increase awareness of school violence risks, emphasize the importance of adhering to protective administrative controls and encourage staff to immediately report any suspicious or threatening behaviour. Training, however, is only one component of a successful violence-prevention program. A comprehensive approach, including changes to security measures and administrative controls, is vital to your program’s success.
Get your free copy of our Education Employee Safety Manual for safety policies and procedures that support a safety-conscious work environment.