The calendar year is coming to a close, but we are far from the end of the road when it comes to student behavior challenges. While the winter break will hopefully bring relaxation and restoration to many, it also has potential to stir up trauma and triggers for some. This is especially true for students, who may find themselves missing the structure the daily school day had provided, and remembering the isolation and loneliness that characterized last year’s holiday season.
As schools start up again in January, it will be imperative to have systems in place to track behavior changes in students and monitor threats on campus and online. Equally important is the ability for faculty and staff to proactively address these behavior issues and threats with compassion, understanding, and a genuine interest in building connection.
As schools consider ways to prepare their campuses for the new year, there are three simple practices that can help:
Daily Data Dialogue
What does this mean? Setting up daily touchpoints to collect and discuss data on student behavior can go a long way toward getting ahead of any percolating issues, and making a plan of action to address them.
What would this look like? This could be as simple as a brief huddle after dismissal every day with the school leader and director of operations to review the day's data and map out any changes that need to be made. It doesn’t need to be a long meeting - 5 minutes will work just fine. As long as it happens with regularity and covers three key questions:
What happened today? Were there any abnormalities during the day?
If so, what might have caused those abnormalities?
What do we need to do to address them?
Why is this important? As a school leader recently told me: "I've seen more fights/problems in the past five months than in my entire tenure at this school pre-Covid". This is a unique moment in time, and we have nothing to compare it to. Our old pre-Covid data is wholly irrelevant to today’s reality. Collecting regular data gives school leadership a new barometer - a new understanding of where students are as a whole, and where they might need intervention as individuals. After tracking for long enough we can begin to compare days to days in order to spot improvement or deterioration, and recognize trends.
Monitor Social Media Channels
What does this mean? Monitoring online content can be a helpful way to understand what students are saying and feeling, and identify any potential threats.
What would this look like? You can start by building a list of keywords that are relevant to your school, and plugging them into a ‘social listening tool’ - a platform that monitors the web for comments, posts, etc. Google Alerts is the easiest way to go, as it’s readily accessible and free, but it’s also imperfect. Other platforms like Mention and HootSuite offer greater accuracy, but have a cost. Once you’ve identified the platform you want to use, be sure there is a designated staff member who can monitor alerts, and a protocol in place for elevating any posts that need attention. For a high-quality staffed option, consider contacting an organization like The Jane Group for additional support.
Why is this important? Recently, more and more issues are starting on social media and ending up in our hallways. Listening to what’s online is important for getting ahead of it. We have heard questions about and strongly discourage school leaders from creating fake “Finsta” accounts (which is at best inefficient, and at worst potentially illegal). Instead, we want a mechanism to sift through what's out there and be informative, but not conclusive. Once we have the information, we need our threat assessment teams to analyze and decide on what to do.
Prioritize Professional Development Focused on Student Engagement
What does this mean? Building in training for staff on positive student engagement can help drive stronger connections and relationships within your school community to prevent issues from escalating.
What would this look like? Start the new school year with a plan for student engagement professional development. Dedicate a full PD day to focusing on this, or look for ways you can build it into existing PD sessions. Either way, making this a priority can help build confidence among staff, and build trust among students.
Why is this important? We're hearing that some students are experiencing isolation while on campus. We're also seeing less staff-to-student engagement than we did pre-covid. There are a lot of reasons for this including smaller staff, larger student body, great academic demands, and safety protocols that require social distancing. We’re also hearing that adults are "out of practice" when it comes to this type of engagement. Our aim is to give staff the tools they need to notice students and to ensure that they notice us noticing them.