Investing in security systems can help prevent and mitigate attacks, but there’s other ways school officials can improve student safety.
Steve Hutton, who serves as the director of the Kentucky Center for Instructional Discipline at Eastern Kentucky University, believes creating an inclusive and supportive environment at school can be a more effective way to promote the health and safety of students by encouraging them to express their frustrations and concerns appropriately rather than lashing out or drifting into isolation.
“It’s about helping all kids feel capable, connected and contributing within the school,” Hutton says. “I tend to look to build relationships with kids as a starting place to help those kids who may feel like outcasts, to bring them into the fold and help them feel wanted. It’s all about connecting with kids.”
Steve Hutton directs the Kentucky Center for Instructional Discipline at EKU.
Hutton, who has worked in education for 42 years as a teacher, principal and superintendent, will be presenting at Campus Safety Conference East in Virginia this summer. With the Center for Instructional Discipline, he provides training for school officials to implement positive behavior interventions and support structures.
Below we outline one of his strategies for improving student safety. Hutton will be sharing a more comprehensive version of his approach, along with strategies to implement at their own districts, in his session titled What Does the Brain Have to Do with School Safety? at Campus Safety Conference East July 19.
Shifting to A Student Wellness Approach
School officials may understand the value of building relationships with students but still be unsure of how to start that process. Fortunately, Hutton believes simply asking students straightforward questions can make a big difference.
“The ‘Just ask’ philosophy doesn’t cost any money and it’s pretty simple to do,” Hutton says. “Kids are pretty forthright and honest and if you just ask them what you can do better or change to make them feel safer, that goes a long way. Student voice is at the forefront of helping them feel empowered. Kentucky school districts do a lot of work promoting the student voice.”
School officials’ approach to communicating with students can also have a huge impact on the relationships they build.
“If you want students to give respect you have to give them respect first,” Hutton explains. “That’s an important first step for adults, is to provide that respect first. What you give you get back; that way kids don’t feel alienated, they feel like they’re somebody.”
Adopting A System to Promote Student Wellness
As much as little things like asking questions and giving respect can help, Hutton believes developing a formal system at your school district can further enhance the effectiveness of those efforts.
“There needs to be some kind of a framework, like positive intervention and supports, in place to create the atmosphere that your school is safe, respectful and responsible. It needs to be a system where adults interact with kids and pay attention to them to ensure they’re exhibiting appropriate behavior.”
Having resources to invest in that system, of course, also helps. But putting funds toward more security solutions won’t address the root of the problem with student violence.
“For me, if I’ve got the money, I’m going to increase the counselors and mental health resources at my school,” Hutton says.
In fact, Hutton says guidance counselors and school nurses can be the most valuable people on campus when it comes to detecting problems with students.
“A school nurse can pick up on any kind of emotions,” Hutton says. “If a kid has too many trips to the nurses office then something is going on. Counselors and nurses have to be major players in any kind of committee that a school district might form. And if you don’t have those players, I’d say they’re well worth the money. They know the kids and are great at building relationships with kids.”
Overall, Hutton’s philosophy revolves around the idea that all students can thrive if the school environment is supportive enough.
“As we make these connections, kids know they can trust at least one adult in their building to report any kind of issues,” Hutton says. “Every kid in your building is just one caring adult away from being successful.”
Learn more about the Campus Safety Conferences here.