Fatalities from School Shootings Down, Lower Level Aggression Appears to be Increasing

The Twin Cities Press reported that a 17-year-old student attacked an 18-year veteran teacher and injured him badly enough to require transport to the hospital by ambulance. The teacher reportedly was cursed severely and then savagely attacked after instructing the student to remove headphones as required by school policy. Though not as horrific as an active shooter situation in a school there is an important aspect of this type of event. Many educators can relate something similar in a school they have taught or worked in if they have been in the field for more than ten years. Though fortunately, most of these incidents do not escalate quite to the level of this incident, verbal and physical attacks on school employees are disturbingly common in relation to many other types of school safety and security incidents.

While school shootings often dominate the media coverage for school safety topics, there has actually been a well-documented reduction in the per capita homicide rate on school property in the United States. There are a number of reasons this may be the case including:

• Improved emergency medical care

• The development of the multidisciplinary threat assessment approach for schools

• Improved school security and access control practices

• Increased utilization of weapons detection strategies such as random surprise metal detection, gun detection dogs, visual weapons screening and pattern matching and recognition

• An increased awareness among staff, students and parents about the dangers of school violence and the need to take school safety more seriously

• Improvements in policies relating to weapons on campus, violent behaviors and triggering behaviors such as fights

• The addition of thousands of school law enforcement officers in public and non public schools that previously did not have this valuable and effective resource

• Increased consistency in application of consequences for serious violations that can precede weapons use by students

• Improvements in school design

• Improvements in school climate

• Efforts to reduce bullying

• A variety of other techniques

While we still have much room for improvement, tremendous strides have been made and many gains achieved in our efforts to reduce weapons violence in our schools. At the same time, educators in many schools and districts often report a significant increase in lower level forms of aggression by students, parents and visitors. Though not a valid research approach, informal polling via a show of hands during keynote and training sessions for more than 50,000 attendees at my sessions in the past few years has revealed that a lot of hands go up when I ask people who have been in the field of education for more than ten years to raise their hands if they perceive significant increases in these types of behaviors. When I contrast the number of people in the room with those who keep their hands up when I ask about the perception that this type of behavior has increased, the overwhelming majority of attendees indicate that they do see a worsening in this area.

Though these types of events do not dominate the national news discussion relating to school safety and school performance, they have a very significant impact on both. I have met many former educators who have decided to change fields due to these types of incidents. Schools where reports of physical and verbal aggression are a regular type of event to any degree should work diligently to address this aspect of school safety. We have seen a number of schools successfully address lower level aggression through a comprehensive and thoughtful approach combining evidence based strategies with other techniques that are not as deeply rooted in solid research but have shown improvement nonetheless.

If lower level aggression is a regular problem in your schools, make it a priority to address this corrosive problem head on to reduce risk, reduce distraction in the classrooms, enhance the ability of children to learn and teachers to teach while making all safer.