Abstract and Keywords
School violence can be understood as any behavior that is intended to harm other people at schools or near school grounds. This may include bullying and victimization, or more severe forms of violence involving weapons. To respond effectively to school violence, school personnel and leaders must understand the influences on their schools that come from individuals, the surrounding community, and cultural and political spheres. Careful and ongoing assessment of the needs of any given school is also a prerequisite to effective intervention. The severity of violence, the exact location of violent acts, and how different groups on a school campus experience violence are all key details to understanding and measuring problems. With this information, schools are then able to choose intervention programs that will utilize a whole-school approach. Sometimes, existing Evidence Based Programs can address the needs of a particular school and surrounding community. Other times, schools need to either modify existing interventions or create their own to address the particular forms of violence that exist in their schools and communities.
Other than the home, schools are perhaps the single most important places for the overall development of children and youth. Schools promote social-emotional well-being and cognitive development necessary for success throughout the lifespan. Schools also provide opportunities for social mobility and encourage participation in a democratic society (Labaree, 1997). Being safe at school allows teachers, staff, and students to work together to reach academic milestones and develop social and emotional skills. Indeed, school safety is a prerequisite for staff and students to be able to engage in educational activities. A major focus of school personnel, then, is to promote safety and prevent violence in schools (Berkowitz, De Pedro, Couture, & Benbenishty, 2014; Cawood, 2013; Dupper, 2010; Gilreath, Astor, Estrada, Benbenishty, & Unger, 2014; Goodemann, Zammitt, & Hagerdorn, 2012; Johnson, Burke, & Gielen, 2012; Pitner, Astor, & Benbenishty, 2015; Pitner, Marachi, Astor, & Benbenishty, 2015).
School personnel, including teachers, administrators, counselors and social workers, can work together to shape and implement policy, interventions, and procedures that make schools safer (e.g., Astor, Capp, Moore, & Benbenishty, 2015; Astor, Guerra, & Van Acker, 2010; Benbenishty & Astor, 2005; Benbenishty & Astor, 2012a; Benbenishty & Astor, 2012b; Schiff et al., 2010; Schiff et al., 2012). School staff must therefore be aware of current empirical and theoretical issues surrounding school violence and of available effective school violence programs. This article presents an overview of a systematic approach to monitoring the needs and activities at schools that facilitate the adoption of a “whole-school” approach to school safety and the prevention of violence. Information about evidence-based programs (EBPs) or interventions is presented, along with examples of how systematic monitoring can help educators and other school personnel make school-wide decisions and changes.
School Safety, Bullying, and Violence
Recently, public attention in many countries has focused on lethal and tragic school shootings. These events dominate discussions about violence in schools and sometimes motivate drastic action relating to school safety. Events at places such as Sandy Hook and Columbine have become part of our cultural lexicon and both led to major changes in legislation and policies at many levels. Clearly, these are frightening and impactful events. However, bullying and victimization in schools are more common types of school violence. Defined as repeated psychological or physical oppression of a less powerful person by a more powerful person (Ttofi & Farrington, 2011), bullying has significant negative long-term and short-term effects on students, teachers, and schools. Extant literature suggests that beyond the obvious and immediate pain and suffering that accompany incidences of bullying, victims may experience psychological, behavioral, and somatic outcomes. These can include difficulty sleeping, abdominal pain, headaches, substance use, depression, loneliness, anxiety, low self-esteem, suicidal ideation, decreased academic performance, and school attendance (e.g., Espelage & Swearer, 2003; Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012). The link with depression may be especially powerful, as some research suggests that the probability of being depressed long after leaving school (up to 36 years later) was much higher for children who were bullied at school compared to those who were not (Ttofi, Farrington, Losel, & Loeber, 2011); this effect likely occurs before students leave school as well, as students who were bullied were more likely to be depressed even after controlling for other risk factors. Cyberbulling presents equally negative results and victims of these interactions also experience multiple negative outcomes (Cassidy, Faucher, & Jackson, 2013).
It is important to acknowledge that students are not the only ones in schools who may experience bullying and victimization. Teachers and staff also experience victimization (Astor, Behre, Wallace, & Fravil, 1998; Espelage et al., 2013; Reddy et al., 2013; Ziera, Astor, & Benbenishty, 2004). In a recent national study of teachers, 80% reported being victimized in the last two years, and 94% of these reports indicated staff were bullied by students (McMahon et al., 2014). This same study indicated that teachers reported being victimized by two primary groups of perpetrators—students and parents.
School shootings and suicides are two rare, extreme, and highly publicized potential outcomes of school victimization. Teachers, administrators, social workers, school counselors, and other staff are also aware of other kinds of violence and victimization that occur in schools but do not necessarily follow the above definition of bullying, or do not result in fatalities. Many other behaviors also fall into the category of school violence or victimization and have a powerful and negative impact on students, staff, and schools, including bringing weapons to school, sexual harassment and assault, threatening students and staff, and social exclusion, either in person or through online platforms (Benbenishty & Astor, 2005; Benbenishty, Astor, & Estrada, 2008). Thus, the promotion of school safety and violence prevention needs to address a range of challenges for a variety of school stakeholders.
Definitions of school violence have varied in recent years. In this chapter, our definition reflects a consensus among researchers that school violence includes a range of intentional behaviors that aim to harm others on or around school grounds (Astor, Benbenishty, & Estrada, 2009; Pitner, Astor, & Benbenishty, 2015). We are also guided by a recent American Educational Research Association (AERA) position that bullying is “part of the larger phenomenon of violence in schools” (AERA, 2013). While bullying and other forms of school violence are generally results of individual behaviors, the effects of violence reach outward into schools and surrounding communities.
Socio-ecological Approach to School Violence
Programs that aim to prevent violence are largely predicated on understanding causes, risks, and protective factors that are connected to violence in schools. Bullying and violence in schools have frequently been explained by theories focused on interpersonal and intrapersonal dynamics (Hudley Britsch, Wakefield, Demorat, & Cho, 1998; Rocque, 2012). These theories depend on understanding how and why individuals engage in particular behaviors or respond in certain ways. However, other theories have emerged that utilize a socio-ecological approach to understand school violence (Benbenishty & Astor, 2005; Bryk, Sebring, Allensworth, Easton, & Luppescu, 2010; Espelage, 2014). These socio-ecological theories are important for understanding influences within the school and outside of the school. School organization and decision making are increasingly recognized as key factors that help schools cope with violence (e.g., Astor, Meyer, Behre, 1999). In some schools, readiness for change and a willingness to learn are low (Berkowitz, Bowen, Benbenishty, & Powers, 2013, Thapa, Cohen, Guffey, & Higgins-D’Alessandro, 2013). In other schools, strong leadership helps to deal with external influences, including neighborhood poverty, crime, and oppression (Astor, Benbenishty, & Estrada, 2009).
Socio-ecological models of school violence integrate both external factors and internal characteristics and dynamics of schools. These models acknowledge that schools are nested within a community and a district, and each district is nested within a larger region, county, state, and country. Each of these ecological layers exerts some influence on the school, whether it be cultural, religious, or political influence. All of this creates a complex picture that must be understood to appropriately and effectively address school violence and victimization. This ecological understanding of a “school in context” allows school staff to consider what might be shared by schools in a particular context and what might be unique to individual schools (Benbenishty & Astor, 2012a, Benbenishty & Astor, 2012b). This model of a school in context also assumes that the individual behaviors of students, parents, teachers and other staff members contribute to the overall safety of a school (Benbenishty & Astor, 2005). In addition, the surrounding community is connected to schools in this model; violence that occurs in a school, for instance, may impact the surrounding community and may also occur in the surrounding community.
Fostering an ecological perspective is especially important for school staff who are planning interventions; this allows planning an intervention to include multiple constituents (e.g., students, teachers, administrators, etc.) and to address environmental or structural changes to make schools safer. For example, knowing the times and places at a particular school that are vulnerable to violence allows school leaders and personnel to develop an intervention focusing directly on the specific challenges faced by this school. Benbenishty and Astor (2012b) illustrate that interventions as simple as opening one more gate at the end of the school day, or placing a staff member at a bus station at a particular time of day, can prevent violence. In this example, the community is an important part of the school context, and interventions that address violence should not necessarily be restricted to school grounds.
Empirically Supported Prevention and Intervention Programs
This section presents examples of prevention and intervention programs that are available for schools. This is not a comprehensive list of all programs available, but we provide examples of commonly used and effective programs that help illustrate what an effective program can do for a school.
Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) Program
PATHS was designed to reduce aggression and problem behaviors and to promote social and emotional competence in grades K–5. Research and field testing has been in mainstream and special needs classes for students who are hearing-impaired, learning disabled, emotionally disturbed, mildly intellectually delayed and gifted (see Riggs, Greenberg, Kusché, & Pentz, 2006). PATHS focuses on five domains of student functioning: (1) friendship skills and pro-social behavior; (2) self-control; (3) emotional understanding; (4) conflict resolution and communication; and (5) problem solving skills (Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group, 2011). Teachers and counselors receive training, lesson modules, and ongoing consultation. PATHS also provides information and activities for parents to review and complete with their children.
Five conceptual models provide the foundation for PATHS (Greenberg, Kusché, & Mihalic, 1998). The first conceptual model, affective-behavioral-cognitive-dynamic (ABCD), informs developmentally appropriate skill building. The second model, an eco-behavioral system perspective, focuses on allowing the teacher to use these skills in building a healthy classroom atmosphere. The third model emphasizes the importance of neurobiology and brain organization for understanding development. The fourth model is influenced by developmental psychodynamic theory. Finally, the fifth model is based on psychological concepts of emotional awareness or emotional intelligence. These conceptual models are used in concert in the PATHS curriculum to create a comprehensive and developmentally appropriate program that addresses students’ cognition, emotion, and behavior.
Research from at least six groups across the nation has demonstrated that PATHS is a model or effective program for violence prevention. Results showed decreases in aggressive behavior, conduct problems, violent responses to social problems, and increases in emotionally expressive vocabulary, self-control, frustration tolerance, conflict-resolution strategies, and cognitive skills (SAMHSA Model Programs, 2003). These findings are based on teacher reports, student self-reports, and child assessments and interviews. PATHS is one of the highest-rated social-emotional learning programs, and is recognized internationally because of the strong evidence base, theoretical foundation and ease of implementation. Both the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention have also recognized PATHS for its effectiveness.
Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP)
OBPP is another school-wide, comprehensive program designed to reduce and prevent bullying in grades 1 through 9. This EBP has been translated into more than 12 languages, implemented in more than 15 countries, and is based on a systematic restructuring of a school environment. This restructuring redirects bullying behavior and rewards pro-social behaviors. The conceptual framework for this intervention is based on research on the development and modification of aggressive behavior, as well as positive child-rearing dimensions (Olweus & Limber, 2010a). The goal of OBPP is to structure a school environment where adults are engaged, caring, set limits regarding unacceptable behavior and provide negative consequences for violence, and where adults act as authorities and positive role models (Limber, 2012).
The success of OBPP is largely due to the integration of these principles into the school environment. Students and adults participate in nearly all the program’s components, which means that the success of this program does not rest on a few individuals in the school. Through their involvement, and through assessments of the school, staff and parents should become aware of the extent that bullying is present in their school and understand the significance of bullying and resulting harm, as well as being active in enforcing rules and discouraging bullying behavior (Olweus & Limber, 2010a). In many cultures, schools implementing this program have observed significant reductions in bullying, including fighting, vandalism, truancy, and theft. Beyond these reductions, student reports indicate improvements in order and discipline, attitudes toward school and school work, and social relationships (Limber, 2012; Olweus & Limber, 2010a).
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)
PBIS is a comprehensive, proactive, whole-school intervention that was designed to create positive school environments, promote student success, and reduce student problem behaviors in elementary, middle, and high schools. Guided by principles from applied behavioral analysis, the PBIS model consists of teaching, modeling, and reinforcing pro-social or desired behaviors (Horner et al., 2009). PBIS utilizes three levels of intervention within each school: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary intervention includes teaching, modeling, and reinforcing behavior and expectations for all students. For example, a school-wide token system might be used to reinforce specific prosocial behaviors. Secondary level interventions are intended for either specific school settings, like a cafeteria or hallway, or for students who continue to be at risk for problem behaviors after primary level intervention. Tertiary level interventions are individualized for students with chronic behavioral problems (Pugh & Chitiyo, 2012). One critical aspect of PBIS involves the ongoing collection of data in order to monitor progress, solve problems, and make decisions about behavioral challenges in schools (Solomon, Tobin, & Schutte, 2015). Several studies show that PBIS implementation, utilizing a school-wide model and associated monitoring, is effective for reducing problem behaviors in schools (Bradshaw et al., 2012; Horner, Sugai, & Anderson, 2010; Horner et al., 2009; Molly, Moore, Trail, Van Epps, & Hopfer, 2013; Szu-Yin, 2015).
Characteristics of Successful Interventions
The three programs presented above provide examples of successful interventions for bullying and school violence. Some researchers posit that there are characteristics that are the foundation for effective interventions (Pitner, Astor, & Benbenishty, 2015). Pitner et al. (2015) examined evidence-based violence prevention/intervention programs and note that successful school-wide interventions share core characteristics: (1) they are comprehensive interventions enacted in all ecological layers of a school community; (2) they raise awareness, investment, and responsibility from students, teachers, and parents regarding the types of violence in schools (e.g., fighting, sexual harassment, weapons); (3) they establish clear expectations and rules for the whole school; (4) they increase supervision and monitoring outside of classrooms; (5) they use faculty, staff, and parents to plan, implement and sustain the intervention; (6) they often fit naturally into the flow and routines of the school; (7) they create clear expectations and procedures before, during, and after incidences of violence, and (8) they include continuous monitoring in order for schools to tailor interventions to their unique environments and thus increase the potential for success (Pitner et al., 2015). The complexity of these characteristics and the number of evidence-based school violence interventions available for schools to use raise important questions. Perhaps the most pressing question is: How do school staff decide which program is the best fit for their school?
Selecting the Right EBP for a School
As school leaders look for programs to address violence and bullying, it is important that they search for interventions with strong empirical support. Model programs with large-scale research studies demonstrating their effectiveness have a better chance of working in schools (Marachi, Astor, & Benbenishty, 2013). One important consideration, though, is to determine whether or not a particular violence prevention program will be as effective in one particular school as it was elsewhere (Shlonsky & Benbenishty, 2014). Thus, schools need to ensure that any intervention matches the resources, needs, and values of a school and the surrounding community.
Often, evidence-based programs that address school violence or bullying are introduced to schools through “top-down” approaches, with little or no attention to variations that exist in local school contexts (Pitner et al., 2015). This approach has important limitations to consider. Each school has unique sociocultural influences, a unique school climate, and may not share the same problems or the same severity of problems with other schools that are implementing the same intervention. Thus, implementing a single program to address school violence in schools that have different needs is unlikely to adequately and effectively address issues of violence. All of this indicates that any adoption of an intervention needs to be preceded by a careful assessment of a school’s problems, values, needs, and available resources. There may already be staff members, such as teachers, school social workers, school counselors, or principals who are particularly suited to assessing a school’s needs. Based on their experience and professional training, staff members may have valuable information that enables them to assess needs and problems in their schools. This preliminary assessment would indicate the suitability of implementing an EBP in a school or district. Furthermore, even though fidelity is a crucial component for effective EBP implementation, evidence suggests that programs require some adjustment to fit with local contexts (Sundell & Ferrer-Wreder, 2014). Thus, it is appropriate to identify these adjustments that allow a particular program to retain its effective components, while tailoring it to the needs of a school. Again, one challenge for schools is finding people that are available to do this work; schools can designate a staff member or create a multiprofessional committee of school staff to focus on this process. In addition, school social workers and school counselors may be an especially valuable resource for these activities (Franklin & Kelly, 2009).
One important element of choosing an intervention, then, is a careful and accurate assessment of the target school, and the identification of specific violence issues that a school may be facing. In some places, discrimination-based violence or conflict between groups may be the most salient issue, other schools may have problems with social exclusion, and still others could experience high levels of weapon use and gang activity. Along with an assessment of what problems exist, there should be consideration of what the school community views as a priority. This information becomes the foundation for choosing an EBP and making any necessary adjustments.
It is possible that after a thorough assessment is completed, and after available EBPs are examined, existing programs may not be the best fit for a school. Sometimes schools or school districts have developed “grass-roots” programs or interventions that seem promising but do not have empirical evidence. Despite this lack of evidence, these programs are still implemented and sometimes yield promising results. It is essential to document these programs and monitor their effectiveness. Whether a school implements an EBP or a locally developed grass root intervention, it is essential to assess the outcomes of such implementation. Like any other intervention, data is needed to assess whether these programs are meeting the needs of schools and communities. In the following sections, systematic monitoring is presented as a way of continually assess schools and their needs.
One additional caveat is warranted here as well. In many schools, school social workers or counselors may be available to oversee the assessment of a school and subsequent evaluation of whether a particular school safety/violence intervention is effective. This is not true in all schools though. One challenge then is who will do the work to gather this information. Given that whole-school interventions are critical, and that buy-in is important from all stakeholders, it is important for schools to collaboratively develop ways to gather this information.
Systematic Monitoring as a Method and Process
Merely implementing a violence prevention program is not enough to ensure long-term success. Using data in an ongoing and interactive manner is important for successful interventions and continuous improvement (Astor, Benbenishty, Estrada, 2009; Astor, Rosemond, Pitner, & Marachi, 2006; Benbenishty & Astor, 2007; Benbenishty & Astor, 2012a; Benbenishty & Astor, 2005; Benbenishty, Astor, & Estrada, 2008). Data collected during the process of assessment and intervention can be used for many purposes: to build awareness; motivate and mobilize constituents; assess the extent of problems; monitor the implementation of interventions, and evaluate their success. School-specific data should continually be provided to various groups throughout assessment and implementation. This way, schools can identify their needs, strengths, resources, and limitations. School communities can then discuss and choose how to work toward achieving their goals.
Toward this end, systematic monitoring is a way of using data. Schools are dynamic organizations that change constantly, and systematic monitoring is a way to continually assess and share with school constituents what is happening with issues of violence or bullying. Ongoing collection and sharing of data creates a “whole school” approach to understanding and addressing a problem. Part of the assumption is that tailoring an intervention to a school requires some grassroots participation from all stakeholders, and empowers students and teachers to deal with the problem. Pitner et al. (2015) extend these ideas and argue that democracy is an important element of violence prevention and that schools should champion a “proactive vision” about violence problems. For example, school staff can work with students to create maps of their school and mark places and times that are more dangerous to particular groups of students. Students and staff can then discuss the results of this activity and explore reasons that these trouble spots exist and then collaborate to find solutions (Pitner et al., 2015). Given the importance of local influence, and the unique dynamics of individual schools, the implementation of interventions is expected to be slightly different at each school site.
What makes systematic monitoring valuable is the customized contextual information for any given school. For example, describing the frequency of certain behaviors at one specific point in time, and then over an extended period, can be understood as the first step in using systematic monitoring. Then, schools can compare this information within and between settings. In selecting and adopting a violence prevention/intervention program, it is necessary to determine which kinds of violence are more prevalent and problematic, as well as which grade levels experience more victimization. Recent media attention and research emphasizes the importance of understanding how different vulnerable groups experience violence. Gendered violence (Carrington, 2013; Oliver, Soler, & Flecha, 2009), racism, sexism, and homophobia continue to put particular groups of people at risk for increased violence (Peguero & Williams, 2013). There are many vulnerable groups in any school, and issues of gender, race, and religion are key areas of study and are the focus of research around the world (Benbenishty & Astor, 2012a; DeBarbieux, Blaya, & Vidal, 2003; Oliver et al., 2009; Smith, 2004). These considerations may seem like common sense, but systematic information often remains elusive for schools. In the United States, schools frequently purchase and implement expensive violence programs without understanding the nature of problems in their schools. This can lead to difficulties in implementation and subsequent evaluation. For instance, if the problem was not clearly established, it will be difficult to determine whether an intervention was effective.
Much of the discussion in this article has addressed the importance of monitoring for school-based decisions. There are many advantages when monitoring is conducted similarly and consistently across levels (e.g., districts, regions, and even states). Schools that are part of a multilevel system can compare themselves to other schools. This perspective is important both for assessing the presence of violence and in evaluating changes that may come from an intervention. Further, resources and experiences can be easily shared between schools within a particular system, including locally developed interventions or adjustments made to existing EBPs. Multilevel monitoring is also an important tool for generating policy and research. These systems allow researchers and educators to identify schools and particular student groups that may be doing better or worse than others and then to consider reasons for these discrepancies and adjust practices and policies accordingly. As data accumulates over time, research can examine longitudinal trends and changes that help schools understand and address changes in populations, identify trends related to violence and bullying, and lead to better interventions.
Applications of Systematic Monitoring
Using Monitoring to Address Bullying, School Safety, and Weapon Use
Previous research from the United States, Israel, France, and other countries describes in detail how systematic monitoring can be used to collect and interpret data from multiple ecological layers (see Benbenishty & Astor, 2012b; Astor, Benbenishty, Wong, & Jacobson, 2014), and to quantify and explore issues of concern in particular communities or regions (Astor, 2013a; Astor, 2013b; Astor & Benbenishty, 2014; Berkowitz et al., 2014; Cederbaum et al., 2013; Cederbaum et al., 2014; De Pedro, Esqueda, Cederbaum, & Astor, 2014; Esqueda et al., 2014; Gilreath, Astor, Cederbaum, Atuel, & Benbenishty, 2013; Gilreath, Cederbaum et al., 2013; Gilreath, Estrada et al., 2014; Gilreath, Astor et al., 2014). In the United States, for example, 145 schools used monitoring data and identified the following areas of concern that required intervention: bullying, school safety, weapon use, and substance use (Astor, Benbenishty, Wong, & Jacobson, 2014). Data collected from students were provided to each principal and vice principal, along with members of the teaching staff for each school. These data included comparisons to other student reports from their districts, regions, and the state. Each school then chose various EBPs to implement for their particular school needs. Among the interventions chosen and implemented were: the OBPP, Second Step, Student-to-Student, Safe School Ambassadors, and Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS) (Astor, Benbenishty, Wong, & Jacobson, 2014). Other schools implemented grassroots interventions developed with the surrounding community. As schools were part of a multilevel monitoring system, many school sites shared successful programing and interventions. In addition, schools were able to support the sustained implementation of programs by utilizing military, community, and university resources.
Systematic Monitoring to Address Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors
One area where systematic monitoring has been applied to address widespread concerns is suicide. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that in 2013, 17% of 9th to 12th grade students seriously considered suicide, and that nearly 14% of 9th to 12th graders made a plan about how they would attempt suicide (CDC, 2015). In a research project in California, secondary schools received information containing student reports of depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation (Astor, Benbenishty, Wong, & Jacobson, 2014; Benbenishty, 2014; Benbenishty & Astor, 2012a; Benbenishty & Astor, 2012b; Gilreath Estrada et al., 2014; Gilreath et al., 2015). Consistent with principles of systematic monitoring, schools received information about their own students and comparisons with other schools in their district and across the state. The rates of suicidal ideation surprised some administrators and teachers, but the ability to compare their schools to other schools in the region allowed them to see that students in nearby schools were reporting similar experiences. Additionally, when administrators examined subgroups of students, they discovered that military-connected students (those with siblings and/or parents serving in the military) had higher rates of suicidal ideation than other groups of students (Astor, Benbenishty, Wong, & Jacobson, 2014; Benbenishty, 2014; Cederbaum et al., 2013). Educators could use such information to seek interventions that would address general concerns about suicidal ideation in students and to hone interventions in specific regions to target military-connected students.
Current concerns about school accountability systems that may penalize rather than support schools can lead to a reluctance to participate in monitoring. These examples about suicidal ideation and violence provide a potent alternative viewpoint to the positive and empowering use of data and monitoring systems. The same principles and ideas are applicable to concerns about school violence. When school communities are given the opportunity to see information about their students, they can take meaningful action. School district personnel, county organizations, and parent groups can organize and share resources to find ways to provide needed supports for schools and their students. The ability to understand the scope of the problem and the relevance to specific schools is necessary to build coalitions and expand a school’s capacity to deal with various challenges.
Implications for Schools and Educators
School violence remains a pervasive concern for schools around the world, and coordinated efforts are necessary to make meaningful changes in how school communities address violence and other problems. While concerns about violence are pervasive, every school is different. Some of these differences are obvious, including schools in different countries and on different continents. Culture, religion, socioeconomic status and ethnicity also influence the dynamics within a school, and may vary within a country, city, district or even a school. The socio-ecological model addressed in this chapter helps to frame the importance of understanding the influences that surround a school (Benbenishty & Astor, 2005). A school’s surrounding community, including the influence of culture and religion or socioeconomic status, is a key influence on the behaviors of individuals who attend the school. Thus, interventions to address dynamics and interactions within a school necessarily must consider the surrounding community and influences.
Whole-school interventions are powerful and effective ways to address violence and victimization, and require the participation of all people who work in any given school. The EBPs presented in this article require different behaviors from everyone involved in these interventions, meaning that it is not merely one act of violence that is targeted but that the school’s mission in general is shifted. This kind of large-scale change is difficult and complicated by the already rigorous demands for teachers and school staff.
Given the complexity of school communities, the nature of violence, and the demands of interventions, it is even more important that decision makers understand the nature of problems in their schools, and the relevant context. Just responding to violence in a school is not enough. Instead, school leaders and stakeholders must have access to data that allows them to hone in on specific problems experienced by specific groups of people in their schools. It is then possible to assess whether violence and victimization have decreased.
When everyone in a school—including administrators, teachers, staff, parents, and students—clearly understand the scope and severity of violence and other problems, they can work together to find solutions. This requires a conceptual and practical shift and the adaptation to “whole-school” approaches for all staff members and stakeholders. This process will allow for the understanding of the different strengths and possible contributions of each member, while also encompassing the nested nature of schools in districts and regions. Using systematic monitoring to gather and share data allows a school community to pursue a shared mission of a nonviolent, safe environment where social, emotional, and academic progress are fostered.
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