The experience and recommendations for the work in the school
Introduction to the issue of violence
The violence is an ever-present phenomenon. Society’s perception is that violence is on the rise, including violence in schools, but the truth is more complex, since the perception is not always corresponding to the truth. There is a lack of systematic monitoring, and we cannot claim with certainty what is the trend of this phenomenon.
Anyhow, we can certainly say that violence in schools is not a new phenomenon, but in recent years more and more attention has been paid to this issue. Also, there is no single approach to studies of violence among peers. At the same time we have to ask ourselves what should be researched when we talk about violence. Is it bullying, antisocial behaviour, and vandalism, violations made by children in the conflict with the law, juvenile delinquency, or data on social exclusion? Obviously, there is a lack of systematic collection of data. However, during last years more and more attention is given to this issue.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), violence among young people is on the rise which among other factors, can be explained significantly by the emerging poverty as well as by the social and economic transition.
The WHO survey, conducted in 2002 on youth and violence, is emphasising four basic and interrelated causes: 1. individual, biological/psychological characteristics of personality, 2. relationships within the family and with peers, 3. community-level social cohesion and integration, 4. society, demographic and social changes, earnings and power structures.
Among other factors that affect the level of violence in schools, we can certainly include: the type of school and school climate, student-teacher relationship, peer group characteristics, characteristics of the student group, such as age, sex, ethnicity, type of families they come from, special needs in education, historical trends, etc.
The different forms of violence have an impact on victims in a way that they feel frustrated, angry, humiliated, isolated, and hopeless, hurt, scared, which further leads to the risk of poor school performance, social exclusion, low self-esteem, depression, and even suicidal thoughts or attempts. In any case, longer exposure to violence leads the victim towards the problems related to mental health and somatic disorders. Recent international research even indicates that a considerable percentage of the victims, within 3 years after experiencing repeated violence, can become a perpetrator, if not getting the needed attention which again leads to more violence.
According to some findings, every second child is exposed to some form of violence. Some research results have shown that 63% of the children in schools has been affected by peer violence, whether they were perpetrators, helpers, observers, victims, or those who defend them; it is known that all of them need some kind of professional help.
What can be done?
In response to violence different European countries developed diverse programs that aim to influence the reduction of violence in schools. These programs differ in many of their characteristics.
Various programs on the subject of reducing violence can significantly contribute to reducing the incidence of violence, whether be it through a group approach in art, literature, drama, role plays, films or use of multimedia materials. This approach can be helpful, but only if part of broader intervention program.
Some of the programs put their focus on individual support in learning social skills, assertiveness, strengthening self-esteem and change of behaviour.
But we can ask ourselves what school can do in order to reduce violence? An important role of the school can be the introduction of rules of behaviour in the school and in classrooms, development of general preventive measures, improvement and reinforcement of a positive school climate, teaching a variety of programs and stimulating activities, providing individual support to children at risk, support child victims of violence, support child perpetrators, introduction of security measures, developing referral mechanisms with the wider network and training of personnel.
Besides, an additional method can be the introduction of learning of social, emotional and behavioural skills and monitoring of their implementation (this program gives the best results at an earlier age 5-11 years). The program includes five key elements: self-esteem, empathy, managing feelings, motivation and social skills, including communication. Research in the UK showed that the implementation of these skills helps students not only to develop personal and interpersonal skills, but also has a significant impact on their school/academic performance, on decrease of absenteeism in schools, positive change in behaviour and reduction of violent incidents, and in general, it increases the degree of inclusiveness in schools.
Researches in some European countries show that peer support is not only used as intervention, but also as preventive measure aimed at reducing violence in schools. Peers know much better than school professionals what exactly is going on between children.
The students should have important role in the implementation of any preventive or intervention programs: they need to be involved and consulted on new initiatives. Their involvement directly affects the level of violence in schools in a positive way and makes new programs more addressed to the right problem in that school.
The role of students can be in the form of peer support and early intervention. Peer support promotes cooperation and good quality relations that are highly respected and appreciated. Through a system of peer support, students do get the chance to develop the capacity to channel aggression when it occurs, as well as to develop and experience the promotion of non-violent behaviour in the wider context. In relation to this, it is quiet important to stimulate a collaborative, peer group approach, to encourage pro-social behaviour and increase the level of cooperative behaviour that is based on trust. Students in that way acquire cooperation skills through structured activities. In addition, peer mediation, peer early intervention, conflict resolution, active listening skills or peer counselling can be used. In this way students can learn how to work together, how to reduce the impact of prejudices, how to gain skills in communication, how to share information and in which way to look at their accomplishments, but also how to learn and apply conflict resolution skills in conflict situations. School in that way becomes a place where students, in acceptable way can talk about their feelings and relationships.
The benefits of the peer support are:
- peers discover the violence much earlier than adults
- young people reveal their secrets easier to their peers and more frequently than to adults
- peers more easily understand the language used by children that are not used to speak about emotions
- the victim of violence has someone to speak up to, an he/she sees that the school staff is doing something about that problem
- often the staff don’t have enough time to deal with all interpersonal problems
- in that way peers acquire skills that will be useful later in their life – during some period school is being known as the place where people take care of children
- peer support can often be a good connection between other systems of support
It is also important to include some other groups in the school work (like parents), as well as wider social community. A network of professional support can be very helpful.
Recommendations for the school administration
- Expectations of the school staff with regard to the behaviour of children at school should be made explicit in school rules and all children should know the rules
- Children should have a voice in establishing school rules, as they will be more easily understood and respected when children did participate
- The way school administration and teachers are dealing with students is very important for the reduction of violence among children
- If we want to reduce violence at school, it is important to include all school employees
- It is important to work on creation of a school climate which is promoting Zero tolerance to violence in school
- By knowing in which places in the school the violence are most present (f.e. classroom, playground) adequate measure is possible. It is important to provide safe places in and around the school in order to influence the reduction of violence
- Children in school need to know whom to address to and ask for assistance if they need it, which means that every school should have at least two persons in charge and skilled to talk with a child when violence occurs
- Classes where head teachers are more engaged in work and communication with children have less violence
- Every child has been affected by violence whether they were bullies, victims, helpers, observers, supporters or those who tried to defend the others, and all of them need an adequate professional help
- We have to talk about the violence, in an equal dialogue
- It is important to build an open relationship between students and teachers because it significantly reduces the violence in schools
- Good and quality relationships significantly contribute to reduction of violence
Recommendations for work with children
- It is very important to work on development of students’ social and communicational skills
- We should trust our children, listen to them, they rarely lie when they report violence
- Violent students should not be punished, we must work with them, provide them with support and help them to overcome the underlying problem why they act violently
- Recognizing violent and other types of unacceptable behaviour, and having insight in the kind of situations that will help to change the attitude and behaviour
- Learning how to learn and by achieving better school achievements can be one of the key factors that leads to increased self-confidence, positive estimate of self-efficacy and a positive self image
- Peer assistance is a very important resource that is not that often used
- When we want to reduce violence we should start at an earlier age-younger children
- When we work with children, we should use some simple, applicable techniques that are interesting for the children
- As play is a very important way of learning for younger children, the knowledge about violence will be acquired through role-plays, drawing, theatre plays etc.
- Drawing and creative workshops are very important as they can duly and timely identify the issue of violence among children
- Drawings and projective techniques are very useful for researching the issue of violence especially with children aged until the age of 10
- Children cannot recognize all types of violence so we should learn them what violence is
- The most acceptable way of awareness rising about violence among school children is through art, theatre, literal and similar ways of creative expression.
- The head teacher and the other teachers should pay special attention on the shy, withdrawn children, as they usually have some very unpleasant, traumatic experiences, and can develop into future perpetrators.
Recommendations for the research of violence
- It is very important to research violence as it will help us to assure parents and staff of the school that we must do something to decrease and prevent violence
- Research should not only look at the occurrence of violence, but also on attitudes of children
- Teachers who work with school children should learn and gain new skills to be able to solve problems
Recommendations for the work with parents and local community
- It is necessary to work with students, parents and the local community
- We should work on the development of emotional intelligence, i.e. understanding of emotions of other students, and developing empathy which will lead towards the reduction of violence among the children
- It is important to talk to parents and make them aware on the existence of violence among the students, and the reasons behind it
- We recommend to the parents that issues related to violence should be solved together with the class master and pedagogue
- It is important to talk with the parents why violence occurs, so they may get insight into their behaviour and understand important role it plays
- The parents should be actively involved
- Other stakeholders in the local community should be informed on the project activities, approach and aims
- A referral system with the local stakeholders should be in place
- We must talk about violence
“We recognize that violence, in whatever form manifested, is a sign of failure.“