Necessary Components to Shift School Culture

Necessary Components to Shift School Culture
Nov 20, 2018

This Thanksgiving holiday we’re grateful for those whose actions are pushing forward positive cultural change in our schools. It is our hope that the numbers presented below and the social and emotional struggles in schools change for the better by Thanksgiving 2019, if not sooner. We know it is possible for a new trend of positivity to unfold when our leaders step up and begin to shift school culture.

We all have a duty to our students, our children and our communities to work together to prevent needless student tragedies and loss of life. As of today, there have been over 309 mass shootings this year in the United States. Over the last 19 years more than 225 students, teachers and school staff have been shot and killed in US schools. According to the latest Pew research study, 57% of students surveyed worry about a shooting in their school and 25% of students are VERY worried.

Because of the speed of broadcast media of these tragedies, sadly we are all now becoming conditioned to expect this type of deadly behavior to continue. Is today’s media and social media now, unwittingly, becoming resigned to student tragedy and death? Are we beginning to present tragedy as a way forward, as an acceptable course of action for those who are hopelessly disconnected and severely depressed? Has digital recognition of one’s final desperate, horrifying act become a reward? I am truly afraid for the welfare and education of today’s students. What will it take to change this view of school tragedies? What does it take to turn our empathy into a willingness to act? And how can we trigger more positive interventions to support those in need?

The sad fact is, we are not adequately equipped at identifying and measuring that which is most important - the safety of our children. The numbers we do gather are still awful and shameful. A staggering 71% of US school shooters had a history of being bullied, threatened or attacked and 98% felt a sense of failure or loss prior to the tragedy according to The Secret Service Study. These social and emotional struggles lead to significant disconnectedness, creating significant individual anxiety and stressors.

From 2011 to 2017 the number of reported sexual assaults committed by US students totaled 17,000. This is just the reported number; it is believed the number is much higher due to under-reporting and mis-categorization assaults as bullying by school administrators.

The annual amount of US K-12 students who engage in suicide ideation numbers in the millions. The annual amount of US students who attempt suicide each year numbers in the hundreds of thousands. The annual amount of students who succeed in killing themselves is over 4,500.

Despite the creation of more punitive laws by our legislators and punitive discipline required in our schools, the numbers of student lives being lost each year continues to increase. In the US alone, over the last 12 years we have lost over 50,000 students to suicide, and sadly the number of student suicides continues to increase. Student anxiety and depression remain at historic levels. And student fear of being hurt or shot by a disconnected student seeking revenge is at an all-time high.

In the US we have and continue to spend billions of dollars each year on security measures that are reactive and disconnecting in nature and are not designed to increase student trust. And they often reinforce implicit bias and prejudices, making it impossible to build healthy school cultures and safe learning environments.

It’s not just about banning guns; it’s about creating a school culture that forbids the acts of bullying, cyberbullying, fighting, student weaponization, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, abuse and loss of life. And it is also about supporting the disconnected students to reduce the anxiety and stress that drives their social fear and anger, that prevents them from creating and maintaining the healthy relationships required for them to contribute to a healthy school culture.

Student safety today is about being able to identify the disconnected student, regardless of whether he/she is the bully or victim. Remember every “bully” was once a victim. Bullying is not a genetic trait; it is a learned behavior.

So what are the necessary components to create safer schools?

  • Knowledge is the first step: knowledge of the types and causes of harmful behavior. Knowledge of restorative practices.
  • Leadership is the next requirement: having a leader who will spearhead a culture of safety and connectedness. A culture of inclusion.
  • Communication is critical to establishing and maintaining this culture today: constant modeling of proper behavior, constantly reminding students to respect, support, care for and be kind to each other and constantly messaging positive cultural values - reinforcing student safety and wellness. Creating safe channels of communication for students and parents to immediately address their fears.
  • Infusion of positivity into the school community: creating opportunities for positive student social interactions to build trust, respect and acceptance. Constantly, engaging students to provide support and build their self-confidence.
  • Monitoring and identification: leveraging the student body to immediately identify students at risk of harm, self harm or exclusion.
  • Data and mapping: the ability to map social and behavioral data in such a way as to immediately identify positive and negative social trends in a school community. Measuring the efficacy of restorative practices. Measuring cultural risk factors.
  • Timely interventions and supports: the application of the right teachable moments and the best supports to ensure social and emotional growth and success. The successful implementation of restorative practices.
  • Urgency: real time alerts to those who can help before something horrific happens. Real-time assessment and review of student social and emotional learning.
  • Creation of accountability: digital peer pressure through social and digital connection. Making communication and behavior “seeable” again. Creating sustainable, healthy boundaries.

In today’s world, to effectively provide safe learning environments and create caring school cultures we need to leverage the power of social communication technology and combine it with school leaders who understand how to engage. In doing so, positive cultural shifts become possible.

After 4 years Bridgit continues on its mission to figure this out, from the inside out - shifting the school culture is the key to increasing safety. We’re looking to connect with education leaders guiding their schools forward with this aim. Those who recognize their actions are pushing forward this trend to save lives and American education at the same time.