Approaching School Safety through Trust
By Daniel Blasher
It is reasonable to say smartphone popularity isn’t ending anytime soon among teens. Mobile devices put all the world’s information in the palm of teens’ hands and give them the tools to share information with whomever they choose. This unprecedented ease of accessing and sharing information seems to come with a price. How do you know what information can be trusted? How do you know what people do with the information you provide? A recent study by Columbia Journalism Review indicates that just because someone has access to information doesn’t mean they trust it. Students’ ability to share information about potential threats to school safety in a trusted environment might be one critical component to enhancing school safety. Researchers at IRIS Educational Media are tackling this challenge in Project SOARS, which focuses on using technology to engage students and build trust in the school system.
Project SOARS is designing an app and accompanying training intended to augment existing school safety networks by preventing violence and victimization. Our approach to school safety is driven by several well researched trends among adolescents: students know about potential safety threats before incidences happen, non-fatal acts of violence are increasing in schools, and peer pressure and desire for autonomy impact adolescent decision making. Approaching the challenge of preventative school safety is complicated, but you may be surprised how fundamental some proposed solutions are.
Our formative research to date appears to indicate that both school staff and students recognize communication and trust as two recurring themes for improving school safety. Clear communication regarding what to report, who to report it to, and what the end result will be is critical. The resolution of reports is surprisingly important to students, many of whom appear more inclined to report an issue if they trusted a solution would result from it. Promoting student ownership in the resolution of an issue appears to increase students’ sense of responsibility to report and accountability for their school’s safety. Restorative discipline approaches that make students integral parts of the resolution process could further promote this sense of ownership.
Even if a school has clearly mapped out the reporting paths for students and staff, lack of trust in those paths means little student buy-in and perhaps withholding of information until a potential threat becomes an incident. Access to an anonymous tipline could alleviate students’ immobilizing fear of retaliation; however, anonymous reporting prevents students from having control over the resolution while handing over potentially sensitive information. Wouldn’t it be convenient if students had a simple way of communicating with school staff they trusted and felt could advise and assist them on the best course towards resolution of their concerns?
Project SOARS explores precisely those connections among using technology to enable students to report safety concerns, building trusting student-staff relationships to motivate students to avail themselves of the technology, and involving students in the resolution of their concerns before they become serious threats.
How can we break down the barriers to reporting in schools? How do we replace a “code of silence” with student voice and ownership? Add your comments below.