I have been intrigued by a recent study conducted on violence prevention programs in middle schools. The study focused on the middle grades as the rates of violence and victimization peak in US schools during this grade span.
Over 40 middle grades schools in 13 districts participated in a study to determine the effectiveness of classroom based, whole school and hybrid violence prevention programs. While I won’t go into the details of the study the results are noteworthy: There were no significant differences found between schools implementing the interventions and the control schools– those that had not– on violence or victimization. In addition, there was no significant impact on student safety concerns, teacher victimization and safety concerns, student pro-social behaviors, student coping strategies, student perception of behavior expectations, and attitudes toward violence after three years of the interventions.
Again, I was intrigued.
I just happened to be teaching a class about student and families of students at risk in the Thomas masters in education program when this report was published. I considered the information on resiliency that we were studying at that time and wondered how it might apply to school violence. There are six factors that determine student (and some would argue adult) resiliency. I wondered to what extent these violence prevention programs took these factors into consideration.
First, what is resiliency? Research over the past several years has revealed that there are certain conditions that exist that enable those children and adolescents faced with extremely adverse situations to succeed. Several factors need to be in place to foster this success, including six factors in the school environment.
1. Academic efficacy: Every student needs to feel that they are able to learn.
2. Academic self-determination: Every student needs to have choices and control over their learning.
3. Behavioral self-control: Every student needs to feel that they have the ability to control their behaviors.
4. Positive Teacher/student relationships: Every student needs to have a positive relationship with their teacher.
5. Positive Peer relationships: Every student needs to have positive peer relationships.
6. Positive Home/school relationships: Every student needs to have positive relationships between home and the school.
Instead of looking at the issues related to violence in isolation, what if we considered this more systemically? In other words, to what degree did the violence prevention programs in the study intentionally foster positive relationships and learning?
Research on resiliency is pretty clear: in order to really affect the ways in which our students treat one another, we must include strategies for enhancing all of these elements. To pick and choose some and leave others out results in… failure.
Schools that have been successful supporting our students most at risk should also provide us with how to best interrupt the cycle of violence and victimization in schools. It stands to reason that schools where every student feels connected, has positive relationships with adults and peers, and fosters connections with the home will have low incidents of violence.
Australia has devoted many resources to enhancing our understanding of the importance of building resilient schools and communities. Perhaps we should look to them to learn more?
Some good resiliency links from Australia: http://www.resiliency.com/htm/research.htm