According to the United Nations Global Status Report on School Violence and Bullying, 246 million children worldwide experience school violence every year. Bullying often has an adverse effect on students’ education. It can increase incidents of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety, fear and suicidal thoughts. Missed education has a lasting impact into adulthood — because poor grades or education often result in lower earning potential and missed opportunities to escape poverty.

It’s up to school administrators and leaders to provide a safe climate for all members of the school, which means addressing children’s physical and emotional well-being as well as academic success. Programs to address bullying and causes of student conflicts, including fighting, can improve outcomes, but knowing how to address these issues proactively can feel challenging for instructional leaders. The good news is, help is available.

Types of School Violence

The United Nations report defines bullying as a pattern of unwanted and unwarranted behavior, rather than isolated incidents of conflict or violence. When not effectively addressed, this behavior will often increase, either in severity or occasions. Children are most often to be victims of bullying based on gender, ethnic or language difference, disability, sexual orientation or poverty, but no reason is acceptable.

School violence is most often thought of as physical altercations but can also include verbal abuse. And the prevalence of social media adds a new channel where school violence can take place. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7.8 percent of students have been in a physical fight on school property in the past 12 months, 5.6 percent have missed school in the past 30 days for fear of safety, and 15.5 percent have been bullied electronically in the past year.

The Causes of Student Fights

Bullying

Bullies are more likely to end up in school fights, have risky sexual behavior, use drugs or alcohol early and get into trouble as adults. A very small number of bullied children may retaliate through extreme violence. In 12 of the 15 school shootings in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied. Helping those who are being bullied express their feelings as well as offering outlets to those who are bullying can help break the cycle.

Cliques

Researchers identified six distinct categories of common social groups that start as early as elementary school — ranging from “very popular kids” to “rejected kids.” The latter are prone to be at risk of becoming aggressive. However, research out of UC Davis suggests it is not just those at the bottom rung of the social structure who experience bullying. The authors found that children became more aggressive as they climbed the social ladder because bullying was a way to gain social status. Instructional leaders and school administrators should look for warning signs and address problems with an entire school population, not just among children who are ostracized.

Bigotry and Prejudice

Schools have seen an increase in violence based on ethnicity, religion, sexuality and economic status. To address this type of school violence, administrators must strike a balance between educating and punishing offenders, NPR reports. Programs that train participants to recognize the harmfulness of bias, build understanding and confront racism can help lessen the role bigotry plays in school violence.

Keep students safe. Keep students learning.

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How Teachers Can Prevent School Fights

While there are clear causes of school violence, there also are steps instructional leaders can take. First, of course, is understanding the root causes of school violence.

Then, instructional leaders can design and implement school policies and create institutional legislation that protects and empowers students. “Universal, school-based violence prevention programs … have been proven to reduce rates of aggression and violent behavior among students,” the CDC says.

And in the long term, the National Crime Prevention Council recommends creating an anti-violence culture. That can include the following:

  • Principals, students, faculty and staff knowing their school’s zero-tolerance policy toward bullying and violence.
  • Administrators setting the tone by showing courtesy, respect and thoughtfulness as an example from the top down.
  • A committee of administrators, faculty, students and staff developing a safe school plan, which includes prevention, day-to-day procedures, crisis handling and crisis follow-up.
  • The school community being proactive through school leadership. Don’t wait until there is a crisis to act. Keep parents, staff and students aware of policies and follow through if and when a violent incident occurs.

It is truly possible and vitally important for school leaders to create a welcoming environment for all students. By understanding the causes and warning signs of bullying and by creating an action plan to implement policies, administrators can proactively and safely address violence. Learn how to be a more effective educator with the fully online Master of Education in Instructional Leadership degree from West Virginia State University.