Our hearts continue to ache for those who lost someone they loved in the Newtown tragedy. Such violence creates enormous devastation for families and the greater community. This article is an attempt to understand the broad spectrum of aggression and violence that has, all to often, become part of schools in the United States and is not meant specifically to address the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The creation and fostering of an emotionally safe school climate is critical in not only preventing a range of aggressive behaviors (teasing, bullying, harassment, physical violence, dating violence, etc.) but in the cultivation of a caring, civil and emotionally connected culture. An emotionally connected school culture enhances the learning environment and promotes academic success.
An emotionally connected school environment fosters trust among students, faculty, staff, administrators and parents who are mindful when students are at risk and in trouble and may commit an act of violence. These courageous bystanders bring this information to the attention of those who can both act but also provide help to these students.
Research completed by Dr. William Pollack of Harvard Medical School, Author of "Real Boys" and Safe School Climate Consultant to the US Secret Service and the Department of Education has compiled ten key findings on school violence (school shootings).
- School based attacks are rarely sudden, impulsive acts.
- Prior to the attacks, others usually knew about the attacker's idea/plan.
- Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly prior to the attack.
- There is no accurate or useful profile of the "school shooter".
- Most attackers had seriously concerned others in their lives prior to the attack.
- Most attackers had difficulties coping with significant losses or failures.
- Many felt bullied, persecuted, or injured by others prior to the attack.
- Most attackers had access to weapons and had used weapons prior to the attack.
- In many cases, other students were involved in some capacity.
- Despite prompt law enforcement response, most incidents were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention. Most incidents were very brief in duration.
School climate does matter. Schools cannot take for granted that students will come forward and share information with adults, however, a positive, trusting, and caring school climate can encourage students to do so. While the current national focus and trend is on increased security measures within schools (i.e. metal detectors), this article is focused on "human detectors." As in families, when students, faculty, administrators, and parents demonstrate care, concern and trust for one another, students will come forward when they are worried about what someone is doing or saying. There are many factors in our society that contribute to school violence. I am hopeful that we do not begin and end with our physical surroundings but continue to examine school climate and the mental health of our children.