Identifying Pre-Crisis Indicators in Schools

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will identify several indicators of a crisis in order to predict and prevent potential problems. By anticipating a crisis before one occurs, teachers can help to eliminate or decrease the likelihood that something might occur in a school setting.

Hindsight is 20/20

Every time a crisis happens, someone will inevitably lament that 'we should have seen it coming' or 'if only we knew that was going to happen'. Unfortunately, there have been enough crises in school settings that we have begun detect a notable pattern of indicators preceding an incident. By paying attention to these indicators, we are able to turn that hindsight into foresight and potentially prevent a situation from occurring.

Rather than being reactive after an incident, schools can become more proactive by teaching these indicators and encouraging bystander intervention. Bystander intervention means that, if you see something, you should say something. Being able to recognize and identify these indicators should be accompanied by comprehensive training of school staff and students in effective bystander intervention. If all the staff are well trained in bystander intervention, then everyone will be ready for responding to these indicators as they arise.

Detecting Patterns

According to the document titled 'School Safety Leadership Curriculum Guide' from the National Center for School Safety, there are identifiable changes in student behaviors that precede the outbreak of some sort of crisis or conflict in schools. Because these behaviors predict any potential problems among students, this information can be used to reduce the possibility that a crisis will occur. Let's take a look at some of the behaviors that can lead to conflict or disruption.

Increased Behavioral Infractions

The number of behavioral infractions among individuals or groups of students may increase dramatically, especially fighting, bringing weapons, increased absenteeism, and property destruction. There may also be an increase of intimidation tactics.

Furthermore, when several students perceive consequences and disciplinary actions for infractions as unfair, this may also indicate an impending crisis. For example, let's say there is an increase in the number of fighting suspensions involving white and international students. Because much of the student body feels that some of those who fought did so in self-defense, the disciplinary actions for the fights are perceived as unfair by other students, which could lead to unrest.

Another precursor to a crisis is a notable increase in the presence of weapons in the school. It is critical to keep records on spreadsheets of the number and types of weapons confiscated at school in order to detect these escalations.

Sometimes schools will notice an increase in absenteeism before a crisis. Families may pull out their students from school if they know something's going to happen, so be cautious of any increase of student withdrawals. Students may also leave school themselves by skipping class, dropping out, or getting suspended.

Frequently, schools will notice an increase in disrespect for property rights, such as with graffiti, vandalism, destruction, or theft. In capitalist societies that value property, many may feel that damage to property is the best way to be heard. Graffiti or vandalism that is affiliated with or attributed to specific groups may be gang-related. Like fighting, property damage may also indicate an emotional immaturity among students who lack effective coping skills and the means of expressing their frustrations in more productive and effective ways.

Student Publications

Sometimes a crisis can be indicated by the presence of fliers or student-sponsored, independent newspapers. Emergence of underground communications may indicate an effort toward organization. If students are willing to do unassigned writing work, then you can guarantee they care about the topic.

Segregation and Clustering

Recently, there have been several strikes and protests resulting in high rates of absenteeism of students participating in the protests. Not unlike in the national political scene these days, schools that are at high risk of experiencing a crisis may notice segregation and clustering of rival groups.

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