What Works: A Dozen Strategies for Preventing Violence in Schools

by Dr. Christina Ager

Violence and behavior problems are the number one concern of teachers, parents, and administrators all over the country. Violence and brutality in the schools is also increasing, even with the implementation of new discipline policies and procedures. If more strict guidelines are not preventing violence, then what works? Years of research and practice by those who specialize in working with students who engage in serious behavior problems and violence, has shown there are 12 important and effective things schools can to do to prevent violence and behavior problems:

  1. Implement school wide positive behavior management plans: Recognize and reinforce 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. Establish and use consistent school rules: General rules should be the same in all the classes, 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, and hallways, arrival, dismissal, lunch, and recess. Most adults would not go back to a lunch place where they had to wait 15 minutes everyday 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% of problems by use of school wide and situational strategies.
  4. Train good classroom management strategies: While teaching is an art, there is a science to good classroom management. Teaching teachers "how" will prevent behavior problems.
  5. Employ the magic 5:1: Research in Los Angeles and other major cities show that the most effective way to eliminate violence and vandalism is for every adult to use the magic 5:1: Saying 5 praise statements to every 1 corrective statement. This intervention is almost free (except for training) and reduced violence and vandalism significantly in these inner city 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 what and 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: Using a spiraling curriculum, teach all students beginning in kindergarten and going through eighth grade these necessary skills. Have guidance counselors do small pull out groups with students who need extra support. Not all adults, let alone children know how to express anger without violence or to negotiate complex social situations. 
  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 to 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 engaging in the behavior.  What we get or avoid is called the function of the behavior and law mandates we use it to develop effective plans. More important: It Works!
  10. Develop school based behavioral teams: Schools need teams of people who are experts in behavior just like schools have teachers who are experts in reading, algebra, or science. 
  11. Provide ongoing support to teachers and administrators: Asking anyone to learn new and effective ways to deal with violence and behavior problems requires ongoing training and a system of support- adults and children alike. 
  12. Collaborate with mental health and community services: Community based agencies can provide needed supports to children and youth. Use only programs that demonstrate effectiveness.

Published in Philadelphia Public School Notebook,  December 2002

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