Reducing the Violence that Permeates Through Our Schools
As educators, protecting and nurturing the health and well-being of our nation’s most precious investment—our youth—is always top of mind. Safeguarding their welfare and creating supportive learning ecosystems should be national priorities. Unfortunately, no one piece of legislation, no one initiative, no one activist, or caring teacher can bring that umbrella of safety to every student, everywhere, all the time. What we need to be talking about openly and often across the nation is prevention: training, learning, and preparing. This begins at the federal level with funding to equip our state and local leaders with the tools necessary to create and foster a safe and balanced learning environment for all students.
There are classrooms and schools in this country where teachers are armed with weapons. It is a dark reality, and one that AACTE does not support. Federal funds should not be used to arm teachers. Funds should instead be used to incentivize building learning communities through supportive training in social and emotional learning, and to prepare profession-ready teachers. Federal money would be better applied toward the training of school nurses, counselors, and other integral personnel on how to foster the health, wellness, and growth of our students as part of creating a safe space for them to thrive. It would also ensure the professional development needed for all teachers in the area of trauma-informed instruction. We must start looking at the school, holistically. Training like Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) should be alive and well within every school district. Initiatives like these could easily be federally mandated. This is part of creating a proactive approach to protecting our students and promoting a positive school culture.
Creating a safe school environment is much different in the 21st century. Although bullying has been around for decades, social media today makes it exponentially worse and, in some cases, tragically pervasive. And while the 21st century classroom affords resources and opportunities not known in other eras, it also brings devastating realities where our children, teachers, and school personnel are the victims of school shootings. As such, it is more important than ever before to prepare teachers and educators to go into our schools with the proper training and education about these problems that exist within our school communities.
What AACTE is Doing
AACTE advocates at the national level for many initiatives aimed at creating safe school environments. Some include
- Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act
- Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act
- Special Education Personnel Preparation program of IDEA
- Teacher Quality Partnership Grant program of Title II of Higher Education Act
- The SEED program (Supporting Effective Educator Development) of ESSA
- Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, and the IES Region Laboratories bringing research to practice initiative.
Many things can be done to make schools safer in states and local communities. Each plan or initiative differs depending upon the environment, number of students in the district, and other factors. Here is a good start:
- Being trained to catch the signals
- Seeing students from the point of care
- Focusing on the whole child
- Promoting a holistic approach to safety
School safety requires input from all members of the school community, which includes parents and families, teachers, administration, and personnel. The Education Commission of the States recently published some of its own ideas on how to cultivate a safe learning environment. Some of the key initiatives include
- Security Infrastructure that impedes or prevents school violence by making the school physically more secure.
- Safety Audits that are proactive assessments of the overall safety of a school district or environment.
Click here to read the entire guide that outlines other practical ways in which to foster and promote safety.
The Bottom Line
We will not have well-rounded, well-adjusted, and well-educated students who will grow into the leaders of this great country if we do not take an active and preemptive approach to protecting them, particularly in their formative years. Through advocacy and a relentless disruption of both the status quo and current legislation, we can transmute the fear and promote a holistic and safe environment in which our students and teachers can thrive.
Deborah Koolbeck is the senior director of government relations at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE).