Violent incidents are on the rise in schools, leaving many educators feeling powerless. As union members, school personnel can push for the resources and procedures they need to keep our schools safe – and that includes professional development.
In fact, in its recent “Safe Schools for All” report, NYSUT’s safety task force recommended districts provide regular and ongoing safety training for all employees within the district. These safety courses should tackle both prevention strategies AND appropriate response tactics and they should be customized to meet the various needs of the staff members within that building.
In “Violent Incidents: What Can You Do?” Pam Thomas, ELT instructor and member of the Saratoga Adirondack BOCES Employment Association, teaches school-related professionals (SRPs) how to prevent violence by using their special relationship with students. Here, she provides some tips for frontline staff members like teaching assistants, aides, bus drivers, and cafeteria staff to help them recognize problems and head them off.
“SRPs work closely with students every day and so they are often the first staff members who notice changes in students’ behavior,” Thomas said. “If a student is not acting like themselves, there’s usually a reason.” Sometimes the issue is minor, and sometimes it’s more serious, she said. It’s important for SRPs to learn to listen to their instincts and trust their take.
SRPs should report any concerning behavior to the appropriate building representative and provide regular status updates, Thomas said. The designated chain of command will vary from district to district, but state law requires all districts to adopt district-wide safety plans that include reporting systems for potentially violent incidents, and all SRPs should know how to report suspicious behavior and to whom, whether it be to a social worker, principal, or School Resource Officer.
“Building and nurturing positive relationships with students is critical to an SRP’s job, and making students feel supported is key to preventing violent incidents,” Thomas said. Encouraging students to express themselves, demonstrate empathy, and build community can discourage harmful behavior and insulate students against destructive feelings. “SRPs are the backbone of the school, and their impact can’t be overstated,” she said.
ELT coursework is offered year-round and can be used for undergraduate, graduate and in-service credit as well as to fulfill Continuing Teacher and Leader Education requirements. For more information, go to elt.nysut.org.