What Can Be Done To Prevent School Violence?
What Can Be Done To Prevent School Violence?
Based on an interview with Marie Emond, CSSMB
With statistics showing an increase in incidents of school violence since the pandemic1 and the media regularly reporting alarming news, you may feel helpless and think that no effective solutions exist to control this phenomenon.
However, some very promising initiatives have been implemented in some schools in Quebec.
We met with Marie Emond, who is in charge of the “Positive Behaviour Support” program at the Marguerite Bourgeoys School Service Centre (CSSMB). Responsible for implementing this innovative program in collaboration with researcher Steve Bissonnette (Téluq University) since 2016, she has seen very encouraging results in schools that have adopted the program.
What strategies are effective in preventing school violence?
Emond, from the Marguerite Bourgeoys (CSSMB) School Service Centre, explained that the Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) program allowed school staff members to take positive action in dealing with certain disruptive behaviours such as incivility, refusal to work, defiance, verbal violence, etc.
In fact, to allow students to study comfortably and fully develop their potential, we must ensure that the school environment is calm and caring.
The program is based on the establishment of three intervention levels:
👉The first level, which resolves 80% of situations, consists of applying preventative measures to help all students adopt the behaviours expected by the school.
👉For the remaining 20% not responding to school-wide interventions, work is done in sub-groups of students displaying the same behavioural issues (level 2). If this is insufficient, students are met with individually (level 3).
Level 1 applies to the entire student body and is achieved through teaching and positive reinforcement of good behaviour throughout the year. Thus, behavioural expectations (in social spaces, the gym, classroom, etc.) are established by a committee in the school made up of about a dozen people, including teachers from each school grade, a psychoeducator and members of the school’s management team.
Once preferred behaviours have been established, the committee will develop a decision-making tree that will help the school’s staff decide how to act. Thus, as a rule, teachers will be responsible for managing minor inappropriate behaviours, while serious ones will require the removal of the student and the intervention of the school’s management team and school youth workers.
These guidelines and training will help the school team teach the behaviours expected of students in a consistent manner and reinforce them over time. In fact, Emond told us that, unfortunately, schools still too often believe that certain behaviours have to be acquired by a certain age and that it’s useless to teach them or to praise students for good behaviour. She believes that “if all you do is manage misbehaviour and neglect to praise students, your strategy won’t be successful. And if you only offer praise to reinforce behaviours but you fail to manage when students misbehave, your strategy won’t work either.”
What concrete tools exist to reinforce students’ positive behaviours?
To encourage good behaviour at school, Emond told us that the CSSMB has used many methods, including the following:
💪 Individually acknowledge students’ successes and progress.
For example, a student who has to made fun of other students in class, but later begins to adopt a constructive, respectful attitude, should be congratulated.You can also use tools such as point cards or tokens, which are quite popular with younger students. By accumulating them, students can trade them in for school supplies, uniform shirts, discounts for the prom or for their yearbook.
💪 Celebrate successes but don’t overlook group efforts.
A class or grade that has achieved a goal (for example: making less noise in the halls to avoid disturbing other classes), should be allowed to enjoy a special activity, such as playing outdoors, playing bingo, etc.
Every time you reward a student’s good attitudes, you are creating a connection with the teen, you’re telling them that you’re proud of them, and you are thereby increasing their sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem. The stronger the connection, the more positive interactions there will be, and the more receptive the young person will be if you have to manage their negative behaviours. Emond emphasized that “you have to have four times more positive than negative feedback in classes or in school in order to maintain strong connections with students”.
Moreover, the school’s staff also reaps the benefits of this reward-based program. In fact, it is much more demanding to correct a teen’s negative behaviours than to acknowledge their successes. Many teachers feel less exhausted because an increase in the use of positive reinforcement not only reinforces students, but also reduces the number of problems teachers have to manage.
How can the Positive Behaviour Support program’s impact on a school be measured?
Emond first explained that the committee meets once a month to take stock of the actions implemented. In fact, the challenges schools have to deal with are constantly changing and it is important to make adjustments if you want the initiative to be relevant over the long term. The school’s staff is informed of the decisions made at this meeting through the school’s general assembly or through weekly informational emails.
In addition, all significant problem behaviours are recorded in a centralized file so that every student’s situation can be monitored over time, regardless of the circumstances or the staff members present at the time of the incident.
This also makes it possible to:
• avoid the leaking of information concerning students;
• comprehensively monitor each situation over the long term;
• take more relevant corrective action;
• be able to more effectively communicate with students’ families;
• get an overall picture of the school, by grade, by group or by common social spaces in the school.
Lastly, the information collected is assembled and analyzed statistically to verify the impact of the Positive Behaviour Support program. The CSSMB has seen an average 70% decline in incidents of serious misbehaviour2 since the implementation of the Positive Behaviour Support program, even in the context of the pandemic3.
What are the conditions of success for a Positive Behaviour Support program?
According to Marie Emond, it is crucial that at least 80% of the school’s staff agree to participate in the program. Each school needs to put the program to a vote to be sure of the staff’s commitment prior to implementing the program. In addition, strong leadership is needed at the school management level if the school team wants to effectively transmit the program to students.
To conclude, Marie Emond offers us her 3 great pieces of advice:
👉Don’t think that students will always have the behaviours you expect of them, even the oldest ones, because age is not a guarantee of competency.
👉Manage misbehaviour through direct and indirect interventions for minor behaviours. A good way to be positive is to teach replacement behaviours and set clear boundaries.
👉Use data and facts to make decisions instead of relying on impressions.
3This data comes from schools that had data from before the introduction of the PBS program and where approximately 4,000 students were exposed to the system.