Violence in schools: building understanding

Community input, respect and understanding have been the vital first steps in addressing violence in our schools.

Last term, in a joint project between Council and the Education Directorate, a series of workshops considered ways to reduce and better respond to violence in our schools.

“We gathered together specialists and experts, parents and principals so that we could better understand the complexities of violence and what might help reduce its impact in our schools,” explained Council’s Policy Officer, Veronica Elliott.

“Our thinking was that, as violence is a community problem that we see reflected in our schools, it will take a community approach to find solutions,” said Ms Elliott. “We are so grateful to the parents who gave up their time to be involved and have their say.”

The first two workshops of the project came up with 27 great ideas to reduce or better manage violence. In June, parents were invited to attend a two hour Ideas Xchange to hear what these were and provide their experience and thoughts on whether these ideas might be effective, or what would be needed to make them work in their school.

“Overall we’ve had 119 people have their say in the project, with 56 participating in the Ideas Xchange sessions and we thank them all for their insights,” said Ms Elliott. “At the Ideas Xchange people appreciated seeing the work that had already been done. They were able to tell us which of the ideas are practical, achievable and likely to have high impact.”

Although Council and the Directorate are still sifting through ideas and collating all the input from the Ideas Xchange, it is clear that reducing and better responding to violence in our schools cannot be solved with a single quick-fix solution. From Council’s perspective, we see the need for a range of measures. 

For a while now Council has heard that some people are having vastly different experiences when it comes to the management of and responses to violence in our schools. We also know that a number of people within school communities can be affected by violence. The project built on this by using scenarios based on real-life experiences in the workshops.

“The scenarios allowed participants to sensitively explore violent incidences from all perspectives and identify what works well, what could be improved, all whilst building empathy for others,” said Ms Elliott. “From my perspective, the best part of the project has been bringing a diverse group of people together, united by the goal of reducing and better responding to violence in our schools and asking them to consider the issue of school violence from all perspectives.”

“We’ve seen some light bulb moments, but mostly we’ve seen an increase in understanding, respect and appreciation for others, that may not have been there before.”

“Initially, I think people were really concerned that this would be another talk fest and not result in on-the-ground change,” she explained, “After coming along to a workshop, I feel that most people could see the project’s commitment to exploring school violence from all users perspectives, where no one’s experience is more or less valid than another.”

The feedback from participants reflects this observation. One principal said they felt “privileged to have participated in the project.”

“Together with the Education Directorate we’ve heard how important it is to have real, positive change happening in our schools,” said Ms Elliott. “That’s why Council would like to see some of these ideas happening before the end of the year – although we appreciate that the Directorate will need to follow their processes.

Going forward, Council believes the suggestions for improvement from the workshops which were refined at the Ideas Xchange will be empathetic to all user experiences and therefore more likely to achieve the goal of reducing and better responding to violence. 

This article appeared in ParentACTion Magazine, Term 3, 2019.