by Erin Frankel, author of the Weird series
Next week is National Youth Violence Prevention Week. Participating schools will provide students with the opportunity to engage in activities aimed at preventing violence in schools. Students shouldn’t have to go to school feeling fearful or stay home from school because they are afraid—which is why initiatives designed to prevent violence from happening in the first place are so important. We must work together to ensure that physical and emotional safety define school climates everywhere. In preparation for National Youth Violence Prevention Week, what can we do to help students feel supported as they work toward creating safer schools?
Empower students to take ownership of their school climate. Encourage students to understand that our actions and words do not stand alone. Everything we do and say affects others, and in turn, affects us. One hurtful comment or action can bring someone down, just as one act of kindness can lift someone up. Added together, actions and words create a school environment in which students feel either safe or afraid. Help students envision what a positive, violence-free school environment looks like. When we make positive choices, we form a safety barrier that keeps fear and violence out. Remind students that we don’t have to sit back and wait for something to happen, but rather we can stand up and make a difference. Now that is power!
Send a Message: This Matters . . . You Matter!
Think of violence prevention activities as one of your most important lesson plans, and commit to allowing time for students to engage in the activities. Prioritizing activities that promote tolerance, respect, and safety sends an important message to students: This matters . . . you matter. Remember that academic demands will always be far less challenging than demands brought on as a result of violent behavior. Think about the time you spend in different terms. How much time do your students spend worrying about violence at school? How much time do you spend on issues that involve the physical and emotional safety of your students? If we want students to feel safe at school, and subsequently increase their chances of learning, then we must take time to work on activities that lay a foundation for kindness and connectedness.
The Good News Is . . .
As you enter a week full of violence prevention activities, remember to balance discussions on youth violence with an awareness of the positive change that is taking place as well. News and statistics on violence can be frightening for students. Be mindful of this. Your objective is to reduce fear rather than create more of it. Remember, not only do students have the right to be safe at school, they have the right to feel safe as well. Students will be inspired to hear how other schools are approaching violence prevention and the positive impact these efforts have on school climate.
Be the Adult You Wished to See
The connection that students feel with caring adults in their lives is an important aspect of violence prevention. In preparation for National Youth Violence Prevention Week, think back to your own childhood and try to remember a time when you felt fearful at school. Did you witness a violent act? Were you the target of violent behavior? Perhaps you acted violently. If you had a caring adult to help you through that difficult time, consider how fortunate you were. How did that adult help you feel safe and make better choices?
If you didn’t have someone to guide you, take a moment to think about the difference that a caring adult might have made. You have an opportunity every day to be the adult you wished to see in the world when you were struggling as a child. Helping students resolve conflicts peacefully, manage their anger, treat others with respect, and support safety shows that you are a caring adult who stands for peace and against violence.
Run with It!
When National Youth Violence Prevention Week ends, it is important to remember that change is just beginning. Think of the week as a launch pad. Just as academic curricular components are built upon one another, picture the scaffolding that can take place now that you have set the groundwork for violence prevention. You’ve worked hard to introduce activities and discussions to help students feel safe and connected. You’ve empowered students to create a school climate that they can feel proud of. But most importantly, you’ve helped students understand that they do not stand alone, and violence prevention is not a stand-alone initiative. You’ve got the ball. Your students have the ball. Now—run with it!
What will you do to help students take ownership of their school climate during National Youth Violence Prevention Week?
Erin Frankel has an M.A. in English education and is passionate about teaching and writing. She taught ESL in Alabama before moving to Pittsburgh with her husband and three daughters. Erin knows firsthand what it feels like to be bullied, and she hopes her stories will help bring smiles back to children who have been involved in bullying.
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