How should teachers handle student violence?

Friday, 17 November, 2023

How should teachers handle student violence?

A study in the US has explored the strategies that teachers believe work best when dealing with student violence against educators.

Researchers from Ohio State University found that teachers rated suspending or expelling students as the least effective way of addressing violence — despite the popularity of ‘zero tolerance’ policies in many school districts.

Instead, teachers rated prevention policies, such as counselling for troubled students and improving school climate, as the best strategy for dealing with violence.

Data for the study came from a web survey, done in 2020–21, of 4471 pre-K to 12th grade teachers from across the United States.

“Teachers are the experts on the ground, and our results show that they believe prevention strategies are the ones that really work best in the schools, much more so than excluding kids who get into trouble,” said Andrew Perry, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Educational Studies at The Ohio State University.

Results showed that schools’ use of exclusionary discipline practices — such as expulsion or suspension of students — was linked to a higher likelihood of teachers reporting violence against themselves. That could include verbal attacks and threats, and physical and property violence.

That may be because suspending or expelling students makes them angrier and leads to more violence, said study co-author Eric Anderman, professor of educational psychology at Ohio State.

“Removing the student doesn’t make the school safer in the long run,” Anderman said.

“And it certainly doesn’t address the underlying issue of what caused the violent behaviour in the first place.”

Teachers reported on whether their school used 21 common safety measures. These measures fit into four categories. Along with exclusionary discipline and prevention measures, the other two categories were school hardening (such as use of metal detectors and security cameras) and crisis intervention (such as using physical restraint during violent episodes). Teachers also rated their school’s effectiveness at using the 21 safety measures.

Finally, participants rated how often they experienced 13 different types of violence from students in the past year. More than 95% of teachers reported that their schools used all four categories of school measures addressing violence.

Teachers rated prevention as the most effective strategy for dealing with violence. Crisis intervention was rated second, school hardening was third and exclusionary practices were rated as least effective.

In general, the more effective teachers thought strategies were at addressing violence, the less violence they reported against themselves, Perry said.

Overall, the results show that the experiences of teachers agree with previous research showing that suspending and expelling students doesn’t help make schools safer, Anderman said.

“There are some people who think that the answer to school violence is to get the bad kids out of school, but our data shows that teachers don’t think that works,” Anderman said.

He said teaching social-emotional skills in school — such as self-awareness, self-control and interpersonal skills — can be an important part of violence prevention, even though some critics want schools to only focus on “reading, writing and arithmetic”.

The study was published online recently in the journal School Psychology.

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