Disturbing, unbelievable, heartbreaking, shocking are some of the words that probably come to mind after viewing the YouTube video below.
However, the affirming words typical, fear, powerlessness, constant disruptions are definitely some the words the resonate with many teachers, principals, behavior specialists, superintendents, school nurses, special education directors, and security personnel in many schools located in countless states throughout the United States. These are the individuals who are confronted with unthinkable acts of student misconduct that violently erupt almost daily in many classrooms, schools, and school districts as well as on school buses. These are the professionals who are forced to find solutions to this problem which has become an epidemic is some places. While explosive student incidents have been documented in Iowa, this problem is not exclusive to that state.
What’s Really Going On Inside
While viewing the exterior of any school as a passerby, the image of a peaceful, serene, happy, and safe learning environment is seen. However, within many schools too numerous to quantify, the outside perspective is opposite of what is actually happening within classrooms, the principal’s office, the cafeteria, and other parts of the building.
Chaotic and violent events involving children and young people at all grade levels, even kindergarten, breakout almost anywhere. Desks, books, and chairs may be hurled across the environment with great force without any concern about others being harmed. Bulletin board materials may be ripped to shreds. Educational supplies may be tossed out of windows. Young children may scream through the halls as they run away from teachers through the halls, out of the building, through dangerous highways, into the woods, and onto railroad tracks until they are caught. Teachers, students, and other school personnel become victims as they are spat upon, punched, kicked and stomped on, stabbed, scratched, pinched, and hurt through other acts of assault. Students yell belligerent, lewd, profane, and threatening language against their peers and educators. Planned and impromptu student fights explode as unruly crowds of gleeful classmates push and clamor through the school to watch peers slam heads into lockers, throw bodies onto the hard floor as heads, backs, and chests are viciously stomped, and create a bloody scene filled with clumps of hair strewn about as the authority of adults within the learning environment becomes nonexistent. Many students make many schools extremely dangerous.
This is the reality in some schools today.
Stop Pointing at School Personnel as the Exclusive Blame
It is critically important for school systems, faculty members, engaged parents, board of school directors, and other stakeholders to examine the root cause of the eruption of extreme student behaviors at school. The worse response to this serious problem is for others to exclusively blame teachers, principals, and superintendents for the reprehensible student behaviors without understanding all of the associating facts, coming to terms with those facts, and taking aggressive steps to change the conditions that cause the behaviors.
My Supporting Story
I was a principal in several schools where a lot of the disturbing student acts much like the ones that I previously described represented common occurrences. Board of school directors, the superintendent along with other administrators, community members, and some staff members sincerely believed that I was the exclusive cause of the behaviors because I was the administrative leader in these schools.
These short sighted people actually thought that I single-handedly manipulated the students in some way into engaging in dangerous and questionable behavioral episodes.
I endured ridicule beyond what any professional should have tolerated. When I tried to urge them to find the solution to the problem beyond the behaviors that manifested and to provide supports to help, I was silenced…and the silence was deafening.
Even though I have long since moved on with my career, the extremely sad reality is that the same schools continue to experience even more intense behavioral issues with another generation of students.
This is proof that the deficit was not with my professional performance as the principal. My conclusion is that one person absolutely cannot be blamed for the serious disruptions that take place within a school or school district.
Understanding the Realities: Exploring the Root Cause
Unlike the employers that exclusively held me accountable for student violence and riotous conduct in the past, there now exists a degree of openness to understand the reasons why such antisocial student behaviors are pervasive in many places as well as to find solutions in the schools that experience this trouble. Also, there is a greater level of understanding the manifestation of some illnesses and conditions that challenge students. I will explore these realities.
- Mental and Behavior Health Problems and Medical Diagnosis: Many children and young people suffer from the results of living with disorders that were once ignored, ridiculed, hidden, and belittled while others have medical diagnosis that impact their behavior. As these conditions are becoming more understood and people are becoming more educated, schools are becoming more responsive to the unique needs of students who are stricken in these areas. Students who suffer with mental and behavior health problems and other health conditions may create some of the aforementioned concerns in schools, especially if they fail to receive adequate medical treatment. As a part of their Multi-Tierred System of Supports (MTSS), most schools today do their due diligence in directing parents to find appropriate assistance for their children. In fact, some schools provide on-site services. Despite what schools provide, parents must be willing to receive the supports for their children. The sad reality is that many parents deny that problems exist with their children and they refuse to secure the desperately needed help for them.
- Student Exposure to Trauma and Violence: Violence is an unspeakably sad reality in some communities throughout our nation. Some of the youngest members of society have been exposed to such terrible levels of violence that they are forever impacted. It may come to a surprise to some that a lot of students have witnessed heinous crimes against family members and neighbor which have included murder. These children and young people have been expected to carry on with their lives as they also bear the burden of the evil that they observed. Such students also carry anguish inside of their shattered hearts. Impacted students may receive mental health support, depending on what parents agree to. Those who simply cope day to day without help may be overcome with explosive emotions that erupt at anytime, even at school. Anger, rage, hurt, and grief are some of the intense feelings that may manifest at school. Many designated educators like the school nurse and guidance counselor are able to provide basic support to the students and teachers are able to provide the love that these learners need. However, parents must be willing to grant permission for their children to receive more intensive support by a certified provider either at school if it is available or at a dedicated facility. The reality is that many students never receive the help that the need and deserve for their exposure to trauma and violence.
- Educator Training: Many teachers today are not only content and instructional experts, they also engage in continuous training to ensure that they know how to teach, support, and encourage learners with diverse dispositions and needs. Whether it is Restorative Justice, Trauma Informed Care, Behavior Support Programs, Crisis Prevention Techniques, or Anti-Bullying Programs, and Character Education, the list is endless, educators tend to be engaged in professional development activities so that they are able to handle the most difficult scenarios with students. There is an unfortunate reality as it relates to school districts ensuring that educators receive the training that they require. Funding is the issue. Many times the school districts that need to provide the highest level of training cannot afford to do so. Policy and decision makers in these educational organizations must establish priorities that focus on meeting student needs first and foremost.
- Special Education: Students who qualify to receive special education services must. Once an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed for the students with the input of the parent(s) and other team members, strategies are put into place to enable him or her to receive their education within the most accessible educational program. For some students, this can be accomplished in the regular school and classroom environment, but for others it may require a smaller, more restrictive environment. If concerning and out of control behaviors develop, it becomes the responsibility of the school team, again, with the input of the parent(s), to revise and develop plans to better support the student even if it ultimately means a change in their educational placement. Finally, the student’s IEP restricts certain disciplinary measures.
- Student Suspension Rates Must Be Reduced: In recent years, national data sets from many special interest groups and school districts that pertain to the students who are suspended and expelled from schools the most have revealed that African American learners, especially males, are removed from school at disproportionately higher levels compared to other racial groups. This information has prompted the frequent use of suspension as the exclusive form of discipline at school to be greatly reduced. An outcome of this is that students, even the very young, view themselves as untouchable and able to do as they please at school without consequence. Because of this reality, many students resort to imitating students with various diagnosis and conditions by displaying destructive, dangerous, and highly inappropriate behaviors. In such cases, schools must become more diligent in holding students more accountable for their actions and for providing some level of consequence for these behaviors. Additionally, these schools must work to partner with parents so that solutions are found.
My BIG Question That School Leaders Often Hesitate To Ask
As a family engagement influencer, retired teacher, professor, and school administrator, my professional mission is to ignite family engagement in education. I published my first book called “Repair the Broken Pieces: A System to Awaken Positive Relations Between the Family and Educational Provider Through Engagement Fusion”. My e-learning course for educators is designed to help educators develop their professional capacity to build and sustain authentic relationship with parents so that higher levels of engagement results. Additionally, I utilize Medium to share my perspective on various topics including current events that are relevant to increasing family engagement in education. In doing so and simply stated, I speak my truth.
While I have reviewed the root cause and identified solutions that schools systems continue to rely on to bring relief in this area, I must delve into a another critical area of examination. Unfortunately, this area was not even mentioned in the YouTube video shown above that brought national attention to the concerns of the teachers in Iowa to light. Also, many school leaders fail to address this topic in a direct manner due to their concern about offending this key stakeholder.
What About Parental Deficits?
This segment is not directed at the parents who are highly engaged with their child’s educational providers or those who are partners with them as they work in solidarity with them to passionately seek support to find solutions for their child. This segment is not intended for parents who teach by example to demonstrate the meaning of good citizenship and maintain high expectations for their children to reflect this at all times, including school. This segment is not written about parents who are teaching their children behavioral and social boundaries and discipline as well as guiding their children with love to help them understand what is appropriate conduct. There are so many phenomenal parents who are doing a phenomenal job raising phenomenal children and young people. This segment is not devoted to these parents.
To conclude that it is the exclusive responsibility of any school district by way of providing differentiated interventions and mental as well as behavior health providers to give individualized services to the children who create the unsafe and questionable disturbances in classrooms and buildings establishes an unsustainable argument.
Parents hold the key to resolving many of the problems with students who display the questionable behaviors that have been highlighted in this article.
Parents Must Do Their Part
Here is what they must must do.
- Children must be taught appropriate conduct in their very early year. Discipline begins at home where children must learn that boundaries exist. It is not the responsibility of child care providers nor teachers when they enroll in school to do this. This is a critical function of parenting.
- It is not funny or cute when young children speak in lewd terms or use profanity. Parents should never permit this.
- If it is the professional opinion of highly qualified educators that a child needs to receive an assessment or evaluation for mental or behavior health concerns, parents must trust the educator and follow through.
- If a parent exists in complete denial, continuously blames educators for their child’s deficits, or ignores the problems that they have, there may be consequences that the parent may need to confront later in the child’s life because of their refusal to believe that their child needed specialized assistance.
- Parents must take any incident of any level of misconduct at school seriously without minimizing or ignoring the occurrence. Any offending student must know with certainty that their parent will definitely seriously deal with and respond to their behavior.
- Parents cannot be verbally combative either at school, in front of their child, or while engaging in a conversation with the principal, teacher, or any school employee as it relates to their child’s behavioral choices. Children will never learn from their mistakes if the parent does not believe that their child did anything wrong.
What Schools Must Do to Build Parental Accountability
School districts and schools struggling with violent, unsafe, continuous student behaviors should work in a unified manner to boldly communicate to spread the word about the need for parents to hold their children accountable. The best way to approach this is through community outreach activities that connect educators to parents within the communities where they reside. It is important for funding to be provided so that eliminating student incidents will become a priority. Here are some suggestions that I endorse and believe in.
- Create parent education programs that will educate parents about relevant topics as genuine relationships are built with them. Workshops, parent university activities, and resource fairs will definitely help make a positive difference in educating parents.
- The Home Visit is a powerful research-based strategy that has the capacity to produce the desired result. I created BFF (Bonding Face-to-Face) Visits in a school district that I once worked in to promote relationship building between parents and educators. This involves making arrangements with a small team of educators to go to where parents are within their community. This includes meeting parents at their home, during a work break, at a local shop over a cup of coffee, or by going for a walk with them. In doing so, honest conversations are established as the school need is discussed. Each visit takes about 15 minutes to complete and allows just enough time to engage in a meaningful discussion with parents.
- Make follow up and check in calls with parents periodically after the BFF or Home Visit to affirm trust and the establishment of a partnership. This will also provide educators with a chance to further discuss concerns pertaining to the student of the parent. Doing so will open the door to parents following through with the expectation for them to hold their children accountable, too.
- Encourage school conferences with students and their parents to honestly talk about the concerns and to develop strategies to promote changes in student behaviors. Student contracts may be developed to reinforce all of the expectations.
- Create opportunities for parents and the local community to share concerns and offer suggestions. Round Table Discussions, Focus Groups, Online Gatherings, and Town Meetings are viable strategies that can be implemented. Special guests may include individuals who are able to offer a strong perspective like members of law enforcement and mental health providers.
- Keep parents and the community informed of successes in the area of the reduction and elimination of serious incidents no matter how small the change is. Students must be informed as well. Be sure to celebrate successes with parents and with students. Events like free ice cream social for families and a student incentives like a pajama or movie day are great ways to honor the efforts of the learning community.
- Engage student in contests to develop a slogan, to create a billboard, or invent a character to eliminate student misconduct. Solicit the support of local businesses to provide rewards to winning students.
Student behavior is an extremely serious problem in many classrooms, schools, and school districts throughout the United States. Serious acts of misconduct prevent students from learning and teachers from providing seamless instruction. In the most dangerous cases, student aggression jeopardizes the safety of other students and school personnel. Many schools have worked tirelessly to train their staff to prevent and respond to student behavioral outbursts. Sadly, this is not enough.
School leaders must confront the reality that the student behavioral problems are not exclusively their own. Parents are critical stakeholders in solving this terrible problem.
Schools must grow to value the power of family engagement. In doing so, they must establish all parents as partners. Family engagement initiatives have to be developed and must include parent training initiatives. These efforts must teach parents how to be stronger parents who teach their children self-discipline and behavioral boundaries.
Ultimately, when educators work together as a team, negative student behaviors will decrease.
What are your thoughts about the state of some of the schools is Iowa? Do you have other suggestions that will provide this state as well as other schools experiencing similar problems with relief?
The pandemic has significantly altered the educational process these days. Students are either educated at home by virtual means or they follow safety protocols and attend in-person school. Additionally, some student receive their education both ways by participating in a hybrid learning program.
Regardless of these changes, educators are still confronted with various challenges applicable to student behavior. The Washington Post published a relevant online article on September 15, 202 that is related to this topic. The story is called “Student Discipline Enters New Realm with Online Learning.” A link to this article is shown below.
If you found this topic interesting, I have attached the links to other stories that I published that are consistent with student behavioral concerns.
Not My Child
Parents who deny that their child’s unacceptable behavior exists at school destroy the capacity to build adequate…
Some Teachers Have Nightmares While They Are Awake
This is what goes on at some schools when parents don’t care
Complaints About Dangerous Student Behavior At Schools Is Rising
But who links family engagement to solving this problem?
Thank you for reading this story.
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Dr. Deborah M. Vereen is a retired teacher and school administrator. Her website is www.Drdeborahmvereen.com and her YouTube channel is https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCS1DPhBeA29UlybU9jzDkdQ.