The need for schools to take action is loud and obvious as episodes of juvenile violence continue to dominate news headlines throughout the nation. Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to the problem of how to approach this complicated topic within the classroom for schools and instructors.
On the one hand, the bulk of violent conduct among young people occurs outside of the classroom, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Contrary to the preponderance of news headlines in the media today, the CDC also notes that juvenile violence, which is defined as a variety of behaviors ranging from robbery, assault, rape, and murder to bullying, slapping, and striking, has considerably dropped over the previous ten years. However, this does not excuse schools from the problem of juvenile violence. Schools cannot ignore the problem of violence in the classroom, whether it happens on school property or not, since it is a daily reality for many students.
The effects of poverty and exposure to violence on social and emotional development in early childhood and adolescence are the subject of assistant professor Stephanie Jones’ current research. “People may not believe that it’s the right thing to do or that schools should be responsible for kids’ behavior, but kids go to school,” she says. “School is a context or a platform for… altering youngsters’ conduct in ways that are more productive toward their learning and their future behavior,” says the author.
Since many school districts lack the extra time, dedication, staff, or financial support required to do so, deciding how to handle problems of teenage violence may be difficult to negotiate. Conflict mediator Chandra Banks, Ed.M. ’99, of Cambridge Public Schools, fears that these possible barriers to teenage violence education make it harder for schools to take preventative action before instances happen. “That expression, ‘shutting the door after the horse goes out,’ wasn’t simply coined yesterday; I believe that it describes who we are as a species. Nobody wants to take preventative measures because they are expecting that nothing goes wrong, according to Banks. But by examining statistics, we may predict future events. People often assert, “Not in my classroom,” “Not in my school,” and “If it occurs, it will only affect an isolated group of students.”
Create Connections and Become a Resource Research repeatedly demonstrates that violent actions among young people often precede them,and that schools may serve as the first line of defense in spotting warning indicators.
Betsy Groves, a former adjunct lecturer who is a licensed social worker and the program’s founding director at Boston Medical Center, frequently hears how adults find it awkward to talk about the subject, reinforcing the idea that we shouldn’t talk about violence. The program assists kids, parents, and educators in violent communities or domestic violence situations. This is the precise climate that schools should strive to avoid creating. Building relationships with students and making an effort to talk about violent events taking place in the community and the wider world, according to Groves, who teaches Childhood Trauma: Dynamics, Interventions, and Cross-Cultural Perspectives at the Ed School,is a good place for schools to start. According to Groves, “Our theory is that if children feel they can trust the adults in schools, then they will speak.” “Being a resource is more important in this.”
Schools and instructors may be able to spot pupils who are acting out of the ordinary. After all, instructors interact with pupils for many hours each day, form bonds with them, and are likely to be able to ask children about their concerns. Groves argues that schools ought to be places where students feel comfortable discussing these topics. Because exposure to violence interferes with atudent’s ability to focus and complete their work, we are unable to prevent it from occurring in classrooms. Whether or not instructors specifically address it, it always exists.
Groves is a strong proponent of instructors actively participating in conversations and keeping a close eye on local events. Take a moment to discuss it in class if something important is happening in the community, she advises. Giving kids the chance to express their thoughts about specific experiences or events—perhaps via writing or art—is equally important.
Groves asserts that “the seeds of aggressive conduct are sown at a young age,” stressing the enormous and crucial responsibilities that instructors play in the lives of their children. The purpose is to remind them that they entered this sector because they care about children and can be a resource for children, not to burden them with that duty.
Additionally, teachers have a special responsibility to model conflict resolution skills in their students. In charge of the classroom, teachers may impart empathy and anowledge of another person’s perspective while providing pupils with important role models.
“[It may be] as easy as a teacher calling on the student, asking a question, obtaining an answer without establishing whether the response was correct or incorrect, then going on to another student and asking, “Do you have a different perspective about that? Let’s hear another viewpoint,'” says assistant professor Hunter GGehlbach a psychologist who specializes in education and investigates how better learning environments might improve teacher-student relationships. It’s a way of recognizing that, deven thoughyou may not share their opinions, it’s important to give each one a chance to be heard.
Future behavior may be influenced by how instructors handle behavioral problems with students. As Gelbach notes, “[T]he teacher is modeling conduct for the other 24 children in the class as much as they are managing the one student who has been misbehaving if they treat [the situation] in an aggressive, confrontational type of manner.”
Create anti-violence strategies for schools Building connections and modeling acceptable conduct with students is an important part of responding to violence concerns, but educators sometimes struggle with how to bring lessons on violence prevention into the classroom without detracting from the time spent on academic education. According to Lecturer Mandy Savitz-Romer, director of the Ed School’s Prevention Science and Practice Program, the number of resources available to educators to help them prevent violence has increased significantly over the past ten years. These resources include curricular strategies, school policies and programs, and initiatives aimed at changing school culture.
Some educators work to develop both social and emotional learning and academic abilities at the same time. Jones advises, for instance, utilizing a book lesson to teach children about “complex” ffeelingswhile simultaneously expanding their vocabulary. Children acanbetter understand and control their emotions as a result, engage with one another, get along with others, and integrate into their classes and communities. Jones further adduces that it may lessen hostile responses to societal issues and disputes. “What kids need is this. Jones asserts that such lessons need to be taught in a very fundamental, developing fashion to children between the ages of three and eight, as well as in the adolescent years.
To regulate relationships with others so that students can learn what they are expected to learn is one of the roles of schools, Jones says. Children who struggle to control their interactions are more likely to be aggressive and have various issues to a larger extent than other children.
This is not to argue that older students who have not directly experienced social and emotional learning in school are hopeless, but as Jones points out, as kids become older, the method for teaching these skills may need to change.
The integration of curriculum-based interventions into the school day as a component of history and, in some circumstances, health education are other ways that schools approach the problem of violence in the classroom.
According to Gehlbach, instructors may successfully integrate methods into their courses. In reality, certain tactics for social learning and violence prevention might ahift the emphasis of how students are taught. For instance, rather of having the instructor lecture on a subject, students can work in cooperative groups to solve problems. A classroom exercise called “Constructive Controversies” is another example of how to spark debates and innovative problem-solving. In this activity, students are chosen to argue one side of an issue before being invited to debate the other. A really crucial and proactive thing that schools can do, according to him, is to use these pedagogical approaches where students actually get to practice understanding the benefits and drawbacks of various points of view on various topics.
According to Gehlbach, addressing social dynamics, especially with high school kids, may significantly reduce violence. Different social groupings based on ethnicity, background, or social interests sometimes form inside schools, particularly high schools. Schools may actively seek to reduce how significant such group disparities seem to children by using cooperative group work in the classroom, which drives students from various cliques to work together cooperatively. Students begin to view one another much more as individuals when this is done, according to Gelbach, rather than based on their preconceived notions of what the other students in that group are like. Not to add that cooperative group work tends to provide superior learning than other classroom teaching methods.
Gehlbach cites Jigsaw as an illustration of a cooperative learning strategy. Students are split up into smaller groups for the jigsaw activity. Every group member is tasked with conducting research on a different aspect of the teacher’s complex problem. Each student then presents their portion of the issue to a different group before reporting back on it to their initial small group. According to Gehlbach, “from a psychological perspective, you create multiple group identities so you are all working toward common objectives.” One of the significant results is that it enhances student learning beyond teacher lectures or independent student work.
To prevent aggressive and disruptive interactions between students, many schools also teach conflict resolution, which is a method of resolving conflict rationally. A peer mediation program using conflict resolution as its central tenet was put in place in the high school three years ago by Banks, the sole conflict mediator in the Cambridge Public Schools.
For instance, a teacher or other adult at the school would refer a situation where two students were yelling at one another to Banks. She meets with those students and explains the mediation procedure, which entails the parties sitting down alone to discuss their issues without adult supervision. Banks claims that she makes it clear to the students that participating in the mediation is entirely voluntary, that no adults will be present, and that they are free to leave at any time. She points out that because of this and the fact that they are in charge, students frequently decide to use mediation. Even more telling, in her opinion, is the fact that, in contrast to what one might anticipate if two irate teenagers were left alone in a room, the students frequently rise to the challenge.
Although it was questioned whether teenagers could settle disputes on their own, according to Banks, 98% of the students who had issues with threats and name-calling, two of the most frequently reported problems, adhere to their agreements. However, positions like Banks’ that focus on conflict resolution or violence prevention are relatively uncommon in school districts.
It’s a significant undertaking, she claims. Problem-solving skills can be taught in the classroom very effectively. Let’s teach problem solving in relationships as well if we’re going to teach it in math. Why not? We have the kids, so why not?
Develop Resources to Maintain School Motivation Schools appear willing to adopt violence prevention initiatives, but many schools have trouble putting them into action and keeping them going. Many teachers are finding it difficult because they are under pressure from the principal, the school board, and the state, according to Gehlbach. There simply isn’t room for it in the curriculum, so it isn’t usually given priority in those settings if it doesn’t improve test scores.
Former New York City private school teacher Grace Kim, Ed.M. ’10, is aware of the challenges involved in implementing such curricula and programs in the classroom. Kim spent months working as a counselor intern in Boston Public Schools during her time in the Risk and Prevention Program (now the Prevention Science and Practice Program), where she collaborated with fellow HGSE alum Cory Perlowitz, Ed.M. ’10, to revive the Peace curriculum, a school-based initiative that teaches children the importance of peace through literature and service learning.
The lesson plan was implemented in Boston almost 15 years ago in response to the death of 15-year-old student Louis D. Brown from Dorchester, who was killed in gang crossfire. Kim claims that Brown’s story is essential to the curriculum and for starting conversations about loss, as well as for extending social-emotional learning outside of the classroom and school environment. However, as time passed and staff and administration changed, the classroom curriculum was no longer being used.
Kim is conducting research to determine the most effective ways to implement programs like Peace in classrooms. Kim learned how crucial it is for school administrations to give the curriculum top priority through her meetings with teachers and principals. To get teachers’ support for these programs, she says, “the administration needs to engage teachers, faculty, and staff in conversations about them. Teachers ultimately carry out these programs, so it is essential that they value implementing such curricula in the classroom if these programs are to continue.
According to Kim, schools can accomplish this through professional development that includes the entire staff, booster sessions for seasoned teachers, and annual trainings for new teachers on the goals of the curriculum and how to implement it.
In the end, it is the job of educators to make schools a safe environment, but it is also crucial that schools not be seen as the only way to address the problem of youth violence. Groves emphasizes that “it is a real shared social problem.”
Despite the fact that schools are not the only place where violence occurs, schools can have a significant impact in addressing even the most basic aggression, which will ultimately be to the long-term benefit of all students. According to Gelbach, “students are not applying those cognitive resources toward their learning when they are worrying about aggression from other students.” “In that sense, it’s a problem that schools have to deal with because it affects our core purpose of assisting students in learning.