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Collaborative Process in Safe Schools

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    Violence is a concern of every parent especially with reports of crimes committed in schools. Based on the data compiled by the U. S. Department of Justice (2006, p. 1), “the percentage of public schools experiencing one or more violent incidents increased between the 1999-2000 and 2003-04 school years, from 71 to 81 percent.” To promote school safety, schools have employed various security measures such as use of metal detectors and surveillance cameras, employing security guards, conducting body searches and locker checks.

                While sometimes effective, traditional law enforcement methods applied to schools carry major negative side effects. These include a significant financial burden, a reduction of time for classroom instruction, and a decline in teacher and student morale (Purkey & Novak, 1996). Additionally, according to the lectures of the course mentioned that “One concern for proponents of school safety is the idea that school safety is just another “add-on” that distracts from the academic mission of the school.  Our school systems are expected to meet or exceed mandated “high stakes” competency or assessment examinations.  School safety requires time and energy from many of the same partners that have a vested interest in students performing well on the “high stakes” examinations” (Week 4 Lecture Notes, p. 1). Furthermore, Elizabeth Berger, M.D. (2007), believes that “these stop-gap measures may help somewhat. The emotional health of our students is another important and neglected opportunity for intervention”. Funding, time and effort are placed on these methods rather than supporting programs that will address problems leading to violence such as alcohol and drug abuse.

    In an effort to promote safety in schools another approach called collaborative process was adapted by many schools. It involved the participation of the principal, the school board, teachers, students and parents.

    Overview and Purpose of the Paper

                The paper discusses on the practice of collaborative process, its meaning, its purpose, and the people involved (or stakeholders). It also touches on the importance of team dynamics and knowing the risk and protective factors for violence. Then it continues to talk about tactical and strategic planning in developing a safer school.

                The purpose of the paper is an attempt to discuss the importance of collaborative purpose and how it can be applied in creating safer schools. It is a new idea that hopes decrease the incidence of violence in the schools by the conjoint efforts of everyone in the community. This paper proposes some steps in achieving this goal then suggests some specific projects that have been created by some organizations in helping to keep the school safe.

    Collaborative Process

    Melaville, Blank, and Asayesh (1993) describe the process of collaboration: “Partners interested in integrating services must develop a process of change powerful enough to overcome multiple layers of resistance–in attitudes, relationships, and policies–within and across service provider institutions, among consumers, and throughout the community….The challenge is to develop a process of working together that is flexible enough to allow adjustments to new circumstances, while staying focused on long-term goals.”

    This process can be divided into 3 stages, containing a number of steps (Carpenter, 1990; Susskind & Cruikshank, 1987): 1) Getting started (Pre Deliberation); 2) Searching for agreement (Deliberation); and 3) After the agreement (Post-Deliberation).

    Stage 1: Getting started (Pre Deliberation) involves a) assessing issues (i.e. giving a clear description of the problem) e.g. acts of bullying or students possessing weapon; b) identifying stakeholders. Usually it is the students who fall victim to school violence and they are also a great part in preventing it; c) designing a strategy by considering the most productive format such as forming committees or group discussions; and d) assigning roles (i.e. leaders, committee members) (Carpenter, 1990; Susskind and Cruikshank, 1987).

    Stage 2: Searching for agreement (Deliberation) includes a) educating each other by discussing views and concerns of each participant and identifying the sub-issues (i.e. what makes a certain issue a current problem); b) specifying information needs by organizing the information brought to the table and prioritizing tasks; c) Brainstorming; d) developing an evaluation criteria which recognizes feasibility, fairness and efficiency when implementing a program through surveys and/or third parties; and e) developing a plan of action – what, how, when, where, and who (Carpenter, 1990; Susskind & Cruikshank, 1987).

    Stage 3: After the agreement (Post-Deliberation) involves a) ratifying the agreement – parties get support for the plan from organizations that have a role in carrying it out. Each organization follows its own internal procedures as it reviews and adopts the plan; and b) implementing the agreement (Carpenter, 1990; Susskind & Cruikshank, 1987).

    Safe School Stakeholders

                The participants of the collaborative process should include all concerned. It is actually everyone in the community who are affected by violence. Thence, a well established collaborative team should include the school superintendent, principals representatives (High, Middle, Elementary), teachers, students, parents, school support staff (Custodian, cafeteria, clerical, law enforcement, fire services, emergency medical, media, prosecutor’s office, public defender, school psychologist, school transportation specialist, school facilities specialist, elected official, real estate agencies, and private business (Week 4 Lecture Notes, 2007).

    Team Dynamics

                Schools cannot accomplish this mission in isolation. Success depends on everyone working together (Crime and Violence Prevention Center, 2000). To work effectively as a team, communication must be a key. Teams are individuals at first where there will be different personalities and attitudes toward solving or approaching a problem. As a member of the team, one must be aware of him/herself, assess his/her strengths and try to overcome conflict with others through open and honest communication (Berens et al, 2001).

          Whenever people come together as a collaborative, with competing agendas, for the purpose of planning we can expect that it will be time consuming, and at times frustrating.  Everyone in the “community team” has to exercise patience, courage, honesty, and a commitment that they will build consensus for the group toward a common goal.  Leadership will plan a vital role as various partners come to the table in the interest of planning for school safety.  The role of a leader in a collaborative effort underscores the ability to “make sense” out of the ideas that come to the table and find a way to “fit” competing and comparable ideas together.  The leader must be a strategic planner with a long view of the future and a concern for long-term program evaluation.  While the leadership style is critical, the concept of consensus, within the community team can be equally as challenging (Week 4 Lecture Notes, 2007).

                When a census has been made, those opposed to the idea must find in themselves to participate in the conformed program or rule and then may later give suggestions for improvement (Berens et al, 2001).

          Consensus building and planning by the collaborative often means that change is on its way and that will cause challenges for everyone.  Every member of the team has to understand that maintaining momentum for school safety change does not follow a constant linear progression, but rather the nature of the change process is cyclical.  Everyone involved must have a sense of ownership and appreciate that the change process is an up-and-down process that will call upon a commitment of purpose over a period of time (Week 4 Lecture Notes, 2007).

    Risk and Protective Factors

    As an individual grows, one must bear in mind that people undergo stages of development that are influenced both by biological factors and human experience (Arofreed, Bayley, Bellugi, Birren, Bissell, Bower, et al., 1971). The three stages of development as described by Development Psychologists that are part of the traditional school system are:  later childhood (elementary level), adolescence (middle level), and youth (college level). Understanding concepts involved in each stage of development can explain certain behaviors and identify risk factors that may lead to violence.  These information can aid in the formulation of some strategies that can be applied in promoting safe schools.

    In the elementary level (Grades 1-5) as the child starts school, s/he makes friends by identifying and expressing feelings. Usually the child is self-centered and the parents and teachers must make sure that physical abuse is prevented. Then s/he grasps the concept of supporting others and accepting differences. Resolving conflict without violence must be reinforced. At the later phase of this level, the child develops a personal identity that may come in conflict with his/her current relationship with parents and peers (Arofreed et al., 1971). Risk factors for violence at this level includes aggression, substance use, antisocial behavior, exposure to media violence, poverty, broken family, poor parent-child relationship, abusive or neglective parents, poor school performance, and peer pressure. Protective factors on the other hand include, intolerant attitude toward deviance, high IQ, perceived sanctions for transgressions, warm, supportive relationships with parents or siblings, parental monitoring, commitment to school and having friends who engage in conventional behavior (Potter, n.d.).

    In the middle level (Grades 6-9) and college level, the teen-ager is more aware of the bigger part of the environment surrounding him/her. S/he no longer deals with only conflicts of self and immediate peers but the community as well. Ideals will be different among individuals and it is his/her self-concept that will influence thoughts, feelings and behaviors towards others. It is this time that the teen-ager must explore the relationship between self-esteem, vulnerability and body image; identify the variety of feelings that arise during conflicts such as teasing, bullying, and arguing; and identify a variety of strategies that can be used to resolve conflict (Arofreed, et al., 1971). In addition to the risk factors stated in the elementary level, individuals are subject to another set of risk factors at the middle school and college levels. These risk factors include: risk taking such as possessing a weapon, crime against others such as stealing or bullying, low parental involvement, family conflict, academic failure, gang membership, and neighborhood crime (Potter, n.d.). Protective factors are the same as those stated at the elementary school level.

    Importance of Strategic Safe School Planning

    A safe school is one in which members of the school community are free of the fear of harm, including potential threats from inside or outside the school. The attitudes and actions of students, staff and parents support an environment that is resistant to disruption and intrusion, and ensures a constant focus on student achievement (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2004).

    Identifying and isolating risk factors is a difficult task for analysts. “Research indicates that minorities are over represented in the area of disciplinary actions, suspensions from school, and with regard to the severity of discipline for inappropriate behavior.  School safety, student conduct, and academic achievement have a high correlation; consequently minorities have a great deal to gain from the positive results of a safe learning environment (Week 4 Lecture Notes, 2007).

    Tactical Planning for Safer Schools

    In a study conducted in 2001 by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, data on school-associated violent deaths; non-fatal crimes against students; non-fatal crimes on teachers; and carrying a weapon and fighting were pooled to identify components that are essential for creating safe schools. From this research the following were found to be the best strategies, 1) creating schoolwide prevention and intervention strategies; 2) developing emergency response planning; 3) developing school policies and understanding legal considerations; 4) creating a positive school climate and culture; 5) implementing ongoing staff development; 6) ensuring quality facilities and technology; 7) fostering school/law enforcement partnerships; 8) instituting links with mental health/social services 9) fostering family and community involvement; and 10) acquiring and utilizing resources (Pollack & Sundermann, 2001).

    The approach to achieving these goals should involve all individuals in the collaborative process in order for the program to work. Educators must ensure that the programs are appropriate and eliminate the risk factors rather than exacerbate inappropriate or violent behavior. Another study conducted in 2005 by Bucher and Manning, identified the best strategies to promote safe schools which included:

    1. Provide a positive process-based rather than a negative product-based approach to safety. Rather than a product-based concept of school safety (such as metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and guards), a safe school should be process-based with an emphasis on a positive school climate, student and staff support systems, and counseling opportunities. Product-based school safety may actually increase misbehaviors and jeopardize positive relations between students and educators. Educators must realize that they do not need to respond equally to all threats or even provide the same consequences. While apologies, retractions, and explanations can disarm many threats, not even substantive threats have to lead to expulsions or suspensions. Even when schools develop zero tolerance policies, these measures must be equitable and reasonable, reflective of the social and cultural contexts in which students live, and must change from being primarily punitive to offer alternatives to suspension or expulsion such as community service, school service, or alternative education. The most successful programs to prevent school violence are those that involve all stakeholders and are tailored to fit the specific needs of an individual school. In contrast to safe school plans developed in the United States, plans developed in Australia and Europe

    • fit the plan to the specific school,
    • empower both students and teachers,
    • create a democratic environment,
    • are proactive
    • are data driven, and
    • focus on the whole school—not the individual student (Bucher & Manning, 2005).

                Develop a school climate that nurtures all students. The climate should be characterized by “warmth, tolerance, positive responses to diversity, sensitivity to others’ views, cooperative interactions among students, teachers, and school staff, and an environment that expects and reinforces appropriate behavior” (Dupper and Meyer-Adams 2002, pp. 360–61). In a school with a positive climate, adults act as role models, staff actions are consistent and coherent, positive messages go beyond statements on bulletin boards, and democracy is in action throughout the school. In addition, the school must make connections with the community that it serves, provide opportunities for community service learning and student engagement, and have a strong, supportive school administration. A negative school climate with poor communication between administrators and faculty, unclear rules and reward structures, ambiguous consequences for misbehaviors, feelings by students that they are not valued or respected by educators, low expectations for student achievement, little engagement of students in the learning process, low morale of students and educators, and disorderly classroom environments can have an impact on school safety. Thus, educators must make a concerted effort to reach out to disenfranchised students as well as those who have no friends or peer support. School counselors can provide leadership in a collaborative effort that utilizes the mental health resources of the community to supplement those of the school (Bucher & Manning, 2005).

    . Involve the students themselves in making policies and programs for a safer school. This strategy instills in them a sense of self-worth in being involved in something important that can affect their lives. In the public schools of Ontario, Canada, civic engagement is being taught as part of the curriculum in character development.

    “Civic engagement is a deliberate effort to nurture democratic ideals. It is yet another avenue through which students can further develop respect for self, others, property, the environment, diversity, human rights, and other qualities upon which we can find common ground. It creates and expands opportunities for students to learn about, and contribute to, the building of their communities, our nation and the world.” (Ontario Education, 2006, p. 5)

    It was also found out that young people who develop an understanding of governance, how organizations function, how decisions are made and the importance of casting one’s vote during their schooling years are far more likely to develop positive attributes of global citizenship (Ontario Education, 2006, p. 6).

                Establish continuous preventative programs for school safety. The most successful programs used to create safe schools combine intervention with continuous preventive actions.  By using strategies such as conflict resolution programs, educators are able to create an environment that fosters the development of resiliency by helping students preserve relationships, control their behavior, and resolve conflicts peacefully. Peer mediation, with its reliance on peers for implementation, fits well with the developmental characteristics of adolescents who are shifting their alliances from adults to peers. Research has also shown that school-based family counseling with individuals involved in fighting incidents at school and their families can reduce the rate of recidivism, make a positive impact on student behavior, and increase communication within families (Bucher & Manning, 2005).

    Specific Safe School Programs

                Specific programs that target the above mentioned risk factors (i.e. drug abuse and violence) and making use of protective factors are also available and can be availed by any school. Such programs include “The Truth About Drugs Education Kit”1; D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education)2; “The Mind Body Awareness Project”3; and “Across the Ages”4. Funding for these programs are also available which can help build-up programs for the school and provide data on its efficiency as used in other schools, such as the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Discretionary Grant provided by Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools5. Other agencies provide manuals to guide schools in implementing specific programs such as the “Safe Schools Manual”6 which is a manual of self-inspection checklists covering environmental, health and safety regulations for secondary occupational and career orientation programs in New Jersey public schools. It was developed by the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute with support by the New Jersey Department of Education, Office of Vocational-Technical, Career and Innovative Programs.


    Schools should be a welcoming place for students, staff, and parents. Using the collaborative process gives the students and other members of the community a feeling of belongingness and each one can relate to one another in positive, supportive ways. In creating programs for school safety, identifying risk and preventive factors for violence aids this process by addressing and prioritizing problems and developing strategies that are appropriate for the school. Strategies include: 1) provide a positive process-based rather than a negative product-based approach to safety; 2) develop a school climate that nurtures all students; 3) involve the students themselves in making policies and programs for a safer school and 4) establish continuous preventative programs for school safety. By involving the students in the process, a sense of civic duty is instilled upon them that builds character and contributes to responsible citizenship in the future. Success of the programs depends on everyone working together – students, parents, school staff, law enforcement, community service organizations, social service agencies, businesses, local government, faith community leaders and all other community members. Success requires partnerships, cooperation, strong will and commitment.


    1. Arofreed, J., Bayley, N., Bellugi, U., Birren, J., Bissell, J., & Bower, al. (1971). Developmental psychology today. Del Mar, California: Communications Research Machines Inc.
    2. Berger, E., M.D. (2007, July 2). On school violence. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Blog. Retrieved August 17, 2007 from
    3. Berens, L.V., Ernst, L.K., & Smith, M.A. (2004). Team dynamics: Defining the team essentials for team success. Telos Publications. Retrieved August 29, 2007, from
    4. Bucher., K. T., and Manning, M. L. (2005). Creating safe schools. The Clearing House, 79 (1), 55-60.
    5. British Columbia Ministry of Education. (2004). Safe, caring and orderly schools: A guide. BC Ministry of Education Standards Department. Retrieved August 17, 2007, from
    6. Carpenter, S. (1990). Solving community problems by consensus, program for community problem solving. Washington, D.C. Retrieved August 16, 2007, from
    7. Crime and Violence Prevention Center Attorney General’s Office. (2000, June). Attorney General and State Superintendent of public instruction, safe schools task force: Final report. Sacramento, CA. Retrieved August 17, 2007, from
    8. Dupper, D. R., & Meyer-Adams, N. (2002). Low-level violence: A neglected aspect of school culture. Urban Education, 37 (3), 350–64.
    9. Melaville, Blank, & Asayesh. (1993). Collaborative process. Retrieved August 16, 2007 from
    10. Ontario Ministry of Education. (2006, October). Finding common ground: Character development in Ontario schools K-12. Toronto.
    11. Pollack, I., & Sundermann, C. (2001). Creating safe schools: A comprehensive approach. Retrieved August 25, 2007, from
    12. Potter, B.B., Risk factors for youth violence. In Youth violence: A report of the Surgeon General (Chap. 4). U.S. Public Health Services. Retrieved August 25, 2007 from
    13. Purkey, W. (1999). Creating safe schools through invitational education. ERIC Digest. Greensboro, NC: ERIC Counseling and Student Services Clearinghouse, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Retrieved August 16, 2007, from
    14. Saskatchewan Learning. (2005). Addressing bullying in the context of health education. Retrieved August 17, 2007 from
    15. Susskind, L. & Cruikshank, J. (1987). Breaking the impasse, consensual approaches to resolving public disputes. New York: Basic Books, Inc. Retrieved August 16, 2007 from
    16. U.S. Department of Justice. (2006). Indicators of school crime and safety. Retrieved August 17, 2007, from
    17. Week 4 Lecture Notes. (2007). Collaborative partnerships, team dynamics, strategic planning,  leadership, difficulties of change.

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