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Creating a Safe and Connected School Climate

Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to present this excerpt from the book Dropout Prevention Fieldbook: Best Practices from the Field by Franklin Schargel.

At a time when schools seem to be teeming with bullying and cyberbullying, teachers and administrators are often unsure of how to combat the problem. The following excerpt shows teachers and administrators how to create a safe and connected school climate while concurrently implementing a threat assessment program.

Some schools’ culture and climate can contribute to the prevention of violence. How does a school, its teachers and administrators, and its students work toward implementing a culture of safety?

Major Components and Tasks for Creating a Safe and Connected School Climate

Assess the school's emotional climate.
It is incumbent on those in positions of authority and responsibility to assess the emotional climate of their school. This perspective can be gained by systematically surveying students, faculty, parents, administrators, school board members, and representatives of community groups about the emotional climate of schools. Anonymous surveys, face-to-face interviews, focus groups, and school climate surveys allow school officials to gather valuable insights about the school’s emotional climate.

Emphasize the importance of listening in schools.
A school with a culture of “two-way listening” encourages and empowers students to break the ingrained code of silence. Listening also must be expanded beyond academic concerns. Communication between teachers and students should also include listening to feelings, especially those of hurt and pain. It is also important to “listen” to behaviors. Many students have a difficult time finding the words to articulate disenfranchisement, hurt, or fear.

Take a strong, but caring, stance against the code of silence.
Silence leaves hurt unexposed and unacknowledged. Silence may encourage a young person to move along a path to violence.

Work to change the perception that talking to an adult about a student contemplating violence is considered "snitching." Find ways to stop bullying.
Bullying is a continuum of abuse ranging from verbal taunts to physical threats to dangerous acts. Bullying is not playful behavior. In bullying, one student assumes power by word or deed over another in a mean-spirited and/or harmful manner. Schools must establish climates of safety and respect, which establish foundations for prosocial behavior. These climates teach conflict resolution, peer mediation, active listening, and other non-violent ways to solve problems. In a safe school climate, adults do not bully students and do not bully each other, and they do not ignore bullying behavior when they know that it is going on in the school.

Empower students by involving them in planning, creating, and sustaining a school culture of safety and respect.
Creating a climate of safety should be a collaborative effort.

Ensure that every student feels that he or she has a trusting relationship with at least one adult at school.
These trusting relationships evolve and do not magically appear simply because an adult, such as a homeroom teacher or a guidance counselor, and a student have been ordered or assigned to interact with one another.

Create mechanisms for developing and sustaining safe school climates.
A mechanism for developing and sustaining safe school climates should serve as a vehicle for planning and monitoring the climate and culture of the school. Questions to be considered in implementing this mechanism might include the following: What should be done to develop and support climates of safety? To what extent are teachers, administrators, and other school staff encouraged to focus on students’ social and emotional learning needs? How close is the school to achieving the goal of ensuring that every student feels that there is an adult to whom he or she can turn for talk, support, and advice if things get tough?

Be aware of physical environments and their effects on creating comfort zones.
Building structure, facility safety plans, lighting, space, and architecture — among other physical attributes of educational institutions — can contribute to whether a school environment feels, or is in fact, safe or unsafe. In large schools, administrators may wish to explore changes in the physical characteristics of the school that would permit the assignment of teachers and students to smaller, mutually intersecting and supportive groupings within the larger physical structure.

Emphasize an integrated systems model.
People support most what they believe they have had genuine input in creating. This requires the difficult but necessary task of bringing all of the stakeholders to bear on changes made for safety. Stakeholders include students, teachers, administrators, school board members, parents, law enforcement personnel, after-school and community-based groups, and others.

All climates of safety ultimately are "local."
Many local factors contribute to the creation of a culture and climate of safety. These factors include the following:

  • Leadership, i.e., "open door" role of the school principal;
  • "Empowered buy-in" of student groups;
  • Connections to the local community and its leaders; and
  • Respectful integration into the safe school climates process of "safekeepers," such as parents and law enforcement personnel close to school.

 

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