What Teachers Need To Know About School Violence

Armen Hareyan's picture
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School Violence

A fourteen year-old walks into a public school with two guns, kills two teens and injuries a pair of teachers before killing himself. How many times will we hear this story before we focus our nation's resources on improving our public schools? What do our teachers need to know and be able to do when challenged by student mental health? A recent summit of mental health and education experts at the National Association of Health Education Centers (NAHEC) in Milwaukee revealed some answers.

"Today's classrooms are very different from even 10 year ago," said Nanci Schiman, Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation, a summit participant. "Teachers need the tools to understand and support a diverse range of student needs and challenges. As a mental health professional, I have seen the tremendous successes that come in academic settings where staff recognize and support students with mental illnesses."

The summit attendees identified many critical competencies for teachers, including:

-- Awareness of the continuum of mental health - mental illness and early warning signs of mental health concerns

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-- Communication skills that work for connecting with all students - especially troubled students

-- As a member of a multidisciplinary team, who they can count on from the team to support/guide their work with students and to offer needed services to the students

-- Personal and professional limits - when to ask for help with a troubled student

-- The language and skills to communicate mental health concerns about a child to parents and colleagues in a context of trust and empathy, to improve academic performance, classroom behavior and their sense of belonging

-- Appreciation and awareness of diverse populations within the school and to embrace the importance of cultural competence

A number of key training methods for teachers also emerged including storytelling - sharing personal experiences, success stories; experiential learning, mentoring new teachers, learning communities, cross-disciplinary teams and online delivery - information, stories, models, courses, best practices.

"We can not focus once again on what we expect from teachers if we do not simultaneously address the ongoing decline of support for our nation's best public avenue for the development of our citizens - our public schools," said Sue McKenzie, Program Director for both NAHEC and InHealth WI.

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