Harvard Educational Review
  1. Mapping and Monitoring Bullying and Violence

    Building a Safe School Climate

    Ron Avi Astor and Rami Benbenishty

    New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. 120 pp. $38.50 (paper).

    As a former school administrator, I was more likely to react to crises than work in advance to prevent them. This included making decisions about and responses to school safety issues. In Mapping and Monitoring Bullying and Violence: Building a Safe School Climate, Ron Astor and Rami Benbenishty examine why this common reactive leadership style may be less effective and make recommendations for how administrators can develop proactive plans for keeping their schools safe.

    In the last two decades, the safety of students in US schools has become a growing public policy concern. Despite extensive efforts to make schools safer, bullying and violent behaviors persist and, as a result, create perilous climates for teaching and learning. Students bringing weapons to school, threatening and harassing other students and staff, and social exclusion practices are just a few examples of violent acts that negatively impact teacher and student outcomes (Benbenishty & Astor, 2005; Espelage, 2014). Given the publicity of violent incidents in schools across the US, campus and district administrators are implementing multitiered measures to increase student safety and well-being; this includes the implementation of metal detectors, school security personnel, cameras, and new policies, to name a few. Several studies have documented the negative impacts of these measures (Kupchik, 2010; Milam, Furr-Holden, & Leaf, 2010; Nolan, 2011), while other research has shown that positive behavioral interventions and supports can make schools safer (Losen, 2015; White & Warfa, 2011).
     
    Mapping and Monitoring Bullying and Violence offers a clear, practical road map that can be implemented with ease by district and campus leadership teams to reduce bullying and violence while at the same time promoting safe climates for all school stakeholders. This book will be valuable to district and campus leadership, education professionals (e.g., school counselors and psychologists), current and future classroom teachers, policy makers, and researchers interested in school climate, social-emotional learning (SEL), data utilization, and accountability. Presented in a straightforward, step-by-step format, this text offers a prescription for collecting and utilizing data to create monitoring systems to inform bullying and violence issues, which include, but are not limited to, weapon possession, drug distribution, theft of personal property, and assault—all of which can significantly limit student learning.

    Astor and Benbenishty encourage education leaders and practitioners to consider a different approach to addressing school safety, one that integrates a wide range of data for individual school sites and utilizes multiple sources of information to make decisions about nonacademic issues students may bring with them to school. They suggest that the implementation and collection of school data address not only academic issues and concerns but also the current situation in, and reality of, the school. For example, campuses may consider the number of students victimized in the last month, the types of victimization, student perceptions of their social emotional skills, and insights on teacher safety. As I read these recommendations and reflected on my experience, I recognized that these were data sets I should have given greater consideration to in developing a plan that safeguarded my campus community.

    According to Astor and Benbenishty, before any surveys, focus groups, and/or interviews are conducted, campus leadership may consider the inclusion of voices from multiple stakeholders (students, teachers, parents, and community members). They advocate for participation on all stakeholder levels to aid in the development and implementation of an impactful monitoring system in schools. Defined as a social feedback mechanism that responds to current and emerging needs, monitoring seeks to impact decision making and lead to significant improvements in school safety. While school monitoring is not a novel idea in the education sector, how the authors recommend presenting it to the education community is a new contribution.

    Working with schools in US and international contexts (California, Chile, and Israel) to develop and implement school monitoring systems, the authors reported fewer incidents of school bullying and violence once the systems were functioning. They describe the monitoring systems as vehicles for ongoing data collection and feedback looping from administrators, teachers, school staff (secretaries, security guards, bus drivers), students, and parents about what is taking place on and around school campuses. Continual data gathering and analyses are cited as essential components of the bullying and violence intervention process; data are used to create awareness in and out of the school, mobilize various constituents, assess the extent of the problem, plan interventions, gauge program implementation, and evaluate program effectiveness. Not only can data offer a bigger and wider picture of the school environment, they can identify problem points and inform administrative decision making, which, in turn, can reduce bullying and violence.

    Along with data collection, the monitoring process involves mapping—making visual records of safety areas in the school—to identify specific areas of the building perceived as safe and those recognized as potentially dangerous. Astor and Benbenishty contend that maps are essential in a monitoring system, as they focus discussions on actual places and times and help avoid abstract discussions. When stakeholders are examining a school map, they are also assessing traffic times, times during the school day when students, teachers, and other stakeholders are traveling in areas identified as potentially dangerous. The idea is to pinpoint trouble spots and utilize that data to make effective decisions. For example, if stakeholders identify a trouble spot as being on the second floor of the southeast corridor near the restrooms, the campus leader could assign staff to monitor that area and/or redesign it to mitigate potential harm and improve students’ sense of safety and comfort. The outcomes of this mapping process can be used to involve students and staff in discussing their experiences with these places, understanding the underlying reasons for the various “hot spots,” and engaging the school community in finding ways to change the school (Pitner, Astor, & Benbenishty, 2015).

    Following the introduction of, and elaboration on, monitoring systems, Astor and Benbenishty offer three important considerations: who schools should monitor, what should be monitored, and how to monitor them. The “who” might include students, teachers, noninstructional certified and para-professional staff, and parents. The “what” could encompass school climate, SEL, perceptions of school policies and practices, and student attitudes and backgrounds. The “how” would include tools like surveys, focus groups, interviews, structured observations, administrative records, photos, videos, and other technologies (e.g., social media). The authors invest time in identifying methods for monitoring systems that work, expand on each of the methods presented, and offer recommendations for the frequency of monitoring during a school year.

    Interesting is the book’s concentration on social-emotional learning as a part of the data-gathering process and monitoring. Given the widespread attention to SEL integration in schools, and a nationwide shift to infuse positive school climate with campus and district objectives, the authors’ link of SEL integration with the monitoring systems is a valuable addition to the literature. They also offer direction on how schools can collect data that make the most sense for that building and on the formats that are most applicable to the school’s ecosystem.

    Astor and Benbenishty importantly assert that monitoring systems will not look similar in every school. The opportunity to customize monitoring systems to each school’s contexts and needs, while veering away from the one-size-fits-all philosophy, makes these recommendations feasible. Other plausible outcomes for implementing ongoing monitoring systems include:
    • shifting perspectives on accountability systems. By making monitoring systems a part of the school culture, accountability systems are not viewed as an oppressive external measure but, rather, as a path toward responsive and responsible education that is simultaneously based on values and is data driven.
    • building an invested community. Including multiple voices creates a thoughtful community and can be instrumental in diminishing violent behaviors and creating an atmosphere for learning for all students.
    • getting comfortable with data. Many administrators and practitioners either fear data or dread them based on their correlation to punitive discipline when student achievement is low. If data are thought about alternatively, it could provide tremendous benefits to addressing safety issues. Not only can data be helpful in making key decisions, but they can also be a driver for a school to obtain additional resources to support school safety measures. 
    The takeaway from Mapping and Monitoring Bullying and Violence is a message to district and campus leaders to not continue to address bullying and violent behaviors by reacting to them when they occur but, instead, to work in advance to prevent these behaviors from occurring. The monitoring system outlined in this text is a tool that can be tailored to the needs and strengths of schools serving various populations and one that can be useful for schools in varying contexts (urban, suburban, rural, international) working to mitigate instances of bullying and violence. The authors acknowledge that the creation of a monitoring system can be costly; hence, administrators and policy makers should conduct research on sources of available funding before finalizing the components of a monitoring system. Yet, while constructing a robust monitoring system may pose a challenge to underresourced schools, campuses can still implement monitoring systems on a smaller scale that create safe environments for school communities. By seriously considering these recommendations, administrators, practitioners, and other stakeholders can identify a strategy that will contribute to the creation of safe school environments, allowing all students the capability to develop to their fullest potential. As Benjamin Franklin advised, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

    André S. Morgan


    References

    Benbenishty, R., & Astor, R. A. (2005). School violence in context: Culture, neighborhood, family, school, and gender. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Espelage, D. L. (2014). Ecological theory: Preventing youth bullying, aggression, and victimization. Theory into Practice, 53(4), 257–264.

    Kupchik, A. (2010). Homeroom security: School discipline in an age of fear. New York: New York University Press.

    Losen, D. J. (2015). Closing the school discipline gap: Equitable remedies for excessive exclusion. New York: Teachers College Press.

    Milam, A. J., Furr-Holden, C. D., & Leaf, P. J. (2010). Perceived school and neighborhood safety, neighborhood violence and academic achievement in urban school children. Urban Review, 42(5), 458–467.

    Nolan, K. (2011). Police in the hallways: Discipline in an urban high school. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    Pitner, R., Astor, R., & Benbenishty, R. (2015). Violence in schools. In P. Allen-Meares (Ed.), Social work services in school (7th ed., pp. 265–296). Boston: Pearson.

    White, R., & Warfa, N. (2011). Building schools of character: A case-study investigation of character education’s impact on school climate, pupil behavior, and curriculum delivery. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41(1), 45–60.
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