Thursday, May 6, 2004

Educators can feed violence problem in schools, expert says



By Karen Vance
Enquirer contributor

UNION TOWNSHIP - Sometimes teachers and administrators contribute to and escalate school violence.

That message and what steps school officials can take to avoid being part of the problem was the emphasis of what Randy Copas of the No Disposable Kids organization was teaching in a school violence seminar Wednesday at the Eastgate Holiday Inn.

"Oftentimes as adults we don't like to look at ourselves as the problem," said Copas, a trainer from the Michigan-based children's organization that conducts about 60 such workshops each year. "Whether teachers like it or not, their roles are changing and they're asked to be behavior managers and counselors in addition to being educators."

Copas taught about the cycle of conflict - a four-part description of crises in a student's life that asks adults to look at emotions that lead a child to misbehave, as well as the behavior and how the interaction with an adult can send the situation spinning out of control.

He said teachers and other adults working with children are well-intentioned, but often don't realize their efforts at discipline can lead to worse behavior and reinforces a child's negative image of himself and the world. It's important to step back from the behavior and examine the child's emotions that led to the behavior, Copas said.

David Braukman, superintendent of Harmony Community School in Roselawn, said he's seen circumstances where instead of calming the situation, the teacher becomes emotional and actually escalates the tension.

The training "shows the importance that we need to get the message to teachers that if the student and you are both in your emotional brain, you have two irrational people and you'll never solve a problem that way," said Braukman.

He and Principal Deland McCullough both attended the conference from the charter school that deals primarily with at-risk students who have not been successful in public schools. McCullough has had similar training before as an employee of Starr Commonwealth, the parent company of No Disposable Child, and hopes to bring the training back to his teachers.

"At our school it's about building relationships with students, and sometimes the adults need to step out of their comfort zone," he said.

Stephanie Patton, the assistant principal at Mount Healthy High School, also participated in the workshop and found the conflict cycle to be a helpful tool.

"As administrators we have to let our staffs know that counter-aggression is not an acceptable way to deal with a misbehaving student," she said.

One of her tasks as assistant principal has been to address the dropout rate at the high school, and she feels by addressing how students are disciplined, she can create an environment where teens want to stay.

Copas said the idea of working through major behavioral problems with students by addressing the emotions that caused the behavior is a shift in thinking in many school districts.

But some - like the Whitehall City School district east of Columbus - have implemented system-wide changes and are being successful in teaching staff to prevent escalation and violence.

To learn more about the No Disposable Kids training program, visit www.ndk.org.




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