Every parent wants to make sure that his/her children attend safe schools. The recent Newtown school shooting has elevated parent’s fears. These fears have led some to suggest off-the-wall solutions such as arming every teacher and placing more armed guards in all our schools.
The larger problem is how to keep the culture of violence that surrounds all our schools from invading them. We live in the most violent culture in the world, so it is a real challenge to keep our schools insulated from this violence. Certainly bringing more guns into our schools or turning them into an armed encampment is not the answer.
So how do we create safe schools. My solution is to consciously create a positive learning climate in schools to counter the negative learning climate that currently exists in most schools. Consciously recognizing acts of kindness by students toward each other is a good place to start.
I am aware that it will take conscious effort on the part of school officials to make this happen. Most school officials are not aware of how negative the school learning climate actually is. How do I know this? Well I conducted my own personal action research on this topic.
Key Question Points Way To Safe Schools
I got to speak to about 50 school assemblies over a period of about one and one half years. On each occasion, I asked the students directly the following question: “Is it easier to get noticed or recognized by your teachers for doing something positive or something negative?” I then said, “Let’s see the hands of those of you say, ‘positive.’” Usually only a few scattered hands were raised. Then I would ask, “Let’s see the hands for those who say ‘negative.’” Almost all the students would raise their hands and even some raised both hands for emphasis.
Why do you think I received this response form the students at these 50 schools? First of all, they are a true representative sample of how students feel about their school experience. These students were not coached or did they know why I asked them this question. I believe they responded honestly about how they feel about their school experience.
The place to start to create safe schools is to find out why students overwhelmingly feel their school experience is a negative one. That is where I started when I suggested to schools that they need to change their learning climate from a negative one to a positive one.
Research Leads to Program For Safe Schools
These and other research findings led me to create a program to create safe schools. It is called the Kind and Safe Schools Initiative. It’s main objective is to help create a positive learning climate in order to insulate the school from the larger culture of violence that surrounds our schools.
If you have a hard time believing that a school’s learning climate is mostly negative consider these facts:
the grading system in most schools is designed to point out student mistakes.
the school discipline program is designed to catch students doing something wrong.
School bullies terrorize other students (My research showed that over 80 percent of middle school students experienced hurtful put downs and bullying behavior in the past 30 days.)
Teachers who could protect students from this abuse often look the other way or blame the victim for provoking the teasing or cruel behavior.
Very few positive learning experiences are built into the school day to help counter-balance these built in negative learning experiences.
One of the basic laws of psychology is that what you pay attention to you will get more of. Because schools pay much more attention to negative student behaviors, that is what they get more of. KASSI is designed to focus everybody’s attention on the positive behaviors that are occurring every day in that school. We created curriculum materials to help schools with this task. We provide schools that purchase the KASSI program (available on this website for a school to download as a PDF file for $150) with over 280 classroom, small group and all-school field-tested activities all focused on bringing more attention to positive student behaviors.
So how can you as a parent determine if your children are attending safe schools? We have designed a set of questions that parents should ask the principal of the schools where their children attend. Here is that Questionnaire:
Safe Schools Quiz For Parents
These are questions for parents to ask the principal at the schools where your children attend. (Yes or No):
__ 1. Does this school have a plan in place to recognize and promote the positive acts of kindness by students every day at this school? If they say, “Yes”, ask to see the plan.
__ 2. Are there more opportunities at this school for students to be recognized for positive, pro- social behaviors than opportunities to be recognized for negative or anti-social behaviors? Also, ask your child to answer this question.
__ 3. Does the faculty or staff have established ways of recognizing and supporting the positive and kind acts that they do at this school? Ask for examples.
__ 4. Does the school have a school-wide policy for dealing with bullying? Ask to see a copy.
__ 5. Has the school developed effective ways to reduce or eliminate student- to-student put-downs? Ask for examples. How do they know these ways have been effective? Ask for data.
__ 6. Does the school teach all students effective conflict resolution skills? If they say, ‘yes’ ask them how.
__ 7. Has the school been able to significantly reduce the number of discipline referrals? Again, if they say ‘yes,’ ask them how they know.
__ 8. Does the school have a peer mediation program to help settle student disputes peacefully? Again, if they say ‘yes,’ ask them if it has been effective and how do they know?
__ 9. How many students are suspended or expelled each year? Ask them what % of the students who are suspended or expelled minority students?
__10. Does the school have a safety plan and an emergency disaster plan in place? Ask to see a copy of these plans.
Key: If the principal answers “No” to any of the above questions, ask him or her to contact the Kind & Safe Schools Initiative (KASSI) at the website explore ways to help change the climate of this school and help make the school safer for your child. In addition to helping create a more positive school climate where students learn to be more kind and respectful of each other, KASSI helps a school develop a bullying prevention program, a peer mediation program, a conflict resolution curriculum and a restorative justice program. These programs will help sustain the effort to keep the school’s focus on recognizing positive student behaviors.
How Can The Kind And Safe Schools Initiative Help Your Child’s School?
If your child’s school indicates an interest in starting this kind of program, here is where to start.
• Ask your school to purchase a copy of “Spreading Kindness: A Program Guide For Reducing Youth and Peer Violence in Schools.” Volumes I , II and III. Their only cost will be $150 to purchase downloadable PDF copies of the three Volumes. They can make as many copies of these three volumes as they need for their school without any additional cost.
• Volume I outlines a step-by-step process for implementing KASSI in your child’s school. It also contains the assessment instruments to use to assess the effectiveness of the program. The School Bullying Quiz that is available as a Free Report on this website will help a school assess the extent of the problem at this school. This can be administered before the school starts KASSI and then after it has been implemented to show the change in student behavior as a result of the program.
• The other two volumes are filled with filed-tested activities that the school can utilize to implement the program. These Guides have over 280 activities to select from for your school.
• Help your school create a school-wide Kind & Safe Schools Committee with parents, teachers & students to help design the program for the school year.
• Have students design posters with positive messages or slogans like “Kindness is Cool at ________ School,” or “School Kindness Zone–Kindness Happens Here.”
• Begin the school day by having students read “attitude booster” messages created by students, teachers, administrators and parents.
• Design kindness T-shirts or sweatshirts with positive messages on them. Have a “Kindness Day” each week where everyone is encouraged to wear his or her shirts.
• Create a Kindness bulletin board with pictures from kindness activities at the school.
• Ask the school to hold regular Kindness awards ceremonies in classrooms with periodic all-school Kindness Assemblies.
• Have a Kindness Drop Box to collect nominations of students, staff or faculty for Kindness Awards. Select winners each week and read them over the intercom.
• Have students write essays about how some act of kindness has touched or changed their lives.
• Develop an all-school bullying & put-down prevention program & policy.