November 28 — 12:00 am, 2002

What works: 12 steps to prevent violence in schools

Violence and behavior problems are the number one concern of teachers, parents, and administrators all over the country. Violence and brutality in the schools are also increasing, even with the implementation of new discipline policies and procedures.

If more strict guidelines are not preventing violence, then what works? The B2EST Program of Arcadia University, through years of research and practice in managing classrooms with emotionally and behaviorally challenged students, believes there are 12 important and effective things schools can to do to prevent violence and behavior problems.

  1. Implement schoolwide positive behavior management plans – including reinforcement systems for students who are kind, generous, and well behaved. The key phrase is "Catch them being good." All too often adults wait to catch students being "bad."

  2. Have consistent school rules – that are the same in all the classes, that are stated positively ("walk" vs. "don’t run"), and that are taught, practiced, and consistently praised.

  3. Problem-solve difficult times of the day – schools need to think through places and times generally full of violence and behavior problems such as the cafeteria, yard, lockers, hallways, arrival, dismissal, lunch, and recess. Most adults would not go back to a lunch place where they had to wait 15 minutes every day and had 10 minutes to eat while those in charge were yelling at the top of their lungs for everyone to "be quiet." Schools can eliminate 60 percent of problems by use of schoolwide and situational strategies.

  4. Practice good classroom management – while teaching is an art, there is a science to good classroom management. Teaching teachers how will prevent behavior problems.

  5. Try the magic 5 to 1 – research in Los Angeles and other major cities shows that the most effective way to eliminate violence and vandalism is for every adult to use the magic 5 to 1- five praise statements to every one corrective statement. This intervention is almost free (except for training), and it reduced violence and vandalism significantly in these schools.

  6. Use an instructional approach – teachers and administrators would never give detention to teach reading, and yet schools consistently use punishment to try to change behavior. Teach students how we want them to deal with interpersonal situations using the same methods we use for teaching reading and math. Zero tolerance is fine as long as alternative behaviors are taught and practiced.

  7. Teach social skills and anger control – to all students beginning in kindergarten and going through eighth grade. The skills can get more advanced as youth get older (like "negotiation"). Have guidance counselors work with small pull-out groups of students who need extra support. Not all adults, let alone children, know how to express anger without yelling or out-of-control behavior.

  8. Make schools "Systems of Behavioral Support" – effective behavior change programs like Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous don’t demand behavior change. They use sound methods like self-management and provide ways to support people in changing their behavior. Students who fight when angry need help in developing new habits of reaction. Remember, everyone falls off the wagon and needs help getting back on.

  9. Switch from discipline to problem-solving – effective solutions to violent behaviors can be found by considering what students get or avoid by doing the behavior. This is called the function of the behavior, and law mandates we use it to develop effective plans.

  10. Collaborate with mental health providers – to provide needed supports to children and youth.

  11. Develop school-based behavioral teams – including experts in behavior, just like schools have teachers who are experts in reading, algebra, or science.

  12. Provide ongoing support to teachers and administrators – asking them to learn these new and effective ways to deal with violence and behavior problems will require ongoing training and systems of support for them as well.

The B2EST program provides training and consultation to schools on how to deal with emotional and behavior problems. The program has been implemented in seven different sites in the Philadelphia region, and the 12-point plan has resulted in increased attendance, decreases in serious incidents, and increases in reading and math levels.
These results show that there are more effective ways of responding to violence and behavior than with strict rules and punishments.

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