My latest book, The Violence Continuum: Creating a Safe School Climate, was released a few weeks ago and is the featured title on the publisher’s home page.
It is now available online at:
Think back to your own childhood experiences as a student, preferably the age level you teach. Picture yourself as that child and what you liked and what bothered you, and why you felt this way. If I were doing this exercise I might think of my 6th grade classroom where I liked being allowed to work on projects with a small group out in the hall because it gave me freedom and a chance to talk and be creative. I also might recall how I did not like it when this same teacher punished the entire class with a surprise test when only a few kids were fooling around.
What kind of things did you recall? Did the associated feelings come back? Did certain teachers stand out as memorable while you wish you had never had some of them? Take this insight and apply it to the way you interact with your students. If you shared these findings with others and listened to their perspectives, you would likely discover universal experiences most did like (free-time, coloring, being read to, encouragement from the teacher) and most didn’t like (copying notes from the board, yelling, being put on the spot, sarcasm). You can use this insight as you make decisions about your own classroom.
Yet there is a twist.
You would also likely find differences in what others liked and didn’t like. While you might have loved recess because you were a good athlete and popular, another might have hated it because the some kids teased and excluded her at recess. Look at the implications of these differences. While you couldn’t wait to get outside, she got a pit in her stomach just thinking about it.
The primitive fight or flight part of the brain was at work and feelings like this likely interfered with her ability to participate fully and learn. Fear overrides the part of the brain where reasoning and processing happen. If I am afraid of spiders and you are afraid of snakes, we each click into panic mode when confronted with the source of our fear. In the presence of something scary, that is all we can think of. Our fears should be acknowledged and each of us treated accordingly.
Since we do not have the same history and might not share the same perceptions and feelings, we should, in kind, avoid assuming things about children. We have to observe, ask questions, and listen to truly know someone.
Find more on this topic and other useful ideas in my book, Teaching is a Privilege: 12 Essential Understandings for Beginning Teachers. (And you don’t have to be a new teacher to enjoy it!)
When we understand that violence is a continuum of hurtful, abusive behavior from subtle to overt, we realize that our students are suffering emotionally and physically, and that many of them are doing it quietly. Children react to hurtful treatment in different ways: they might act out, stop trying to learn, skip school, become physically or emotionally ill, drop out of school, and hurt themselves and others. If we acknowledge the common and pervasive forms of violence that happen on our watch, we can meet our obligation to give children the protection and support they need to be academically and socially successful.
What do we do about it? The antidote to school violence lies in a comprehensive safe school plan that builds a healthy school climate. This climate embeds in the hearts and minds of our children and our school staff the ideals of empathy, respect, tolerance, and compassion. With such a focus, violence of all kinds is recognized and prohibited. We take it seriously and intervene when students are being ostracized, taunted, teased, bullied, or harassed.
My soon to be released book, The Violence Continuum: Creating a Safe School Climate, will help individual teachers and whole schools define violence in terms of this range of hurtful behaviors, and then it will help them determine how and where their particular school needs to improve students’ experiences.
The resulting intentional effort we make to teach and model positive social skills as the foundation of everyday school life gives our children a safe place to learn. And it also teaches them to be good people in the process.
You can go to the Book: The Violence Continuum page for more information about school violence and how you can change the climate of your school and classroom.
And it’s also time to show my respect for the unique role teachers and principals play in setting a positive school climate and motivating students to learn.
For the past six years I have focused my energies on thinking, researching, and writing about education. I pulled from my experiences as a classroom teacher, building principal, staff development specialist, college teacher and supervisor of student teachers to write three books:
The unifying theme of these books is my belief that we owe our students a safe school climate and an engaging learning experience. The climate of a school–how it feels to be a member of the learning community–depends on how each student is treated, by their peers and the adults. When children feel emotionally and physically secure, have a teacher who genuinely cares about them and teaches with enthusiasm, and they are given an active role in their learning, they will grow socially and academically into good people who know how to make healthy choices.
This what this blog is about: making our schools a safe haven and a challenging learning environment for our students. From pre-K to graduation, we need to systematically teach and model positive social skills and attitudes, and expect students to choose non-violent, respectful, and compassionate behavior.