Do Restorative Justice Practices Increase School Safety?

Restorative justice practices were put into place in many of our nation’s schools a number of years ago. These programs focus on alternatives to exclusionary discipline practices such as suspension and expulsion. They include conflict resolution, relationship-building, and fostering empathy, forgiveness, and self-reflection.

But, do they help create safer schools and a more positive school climate?

Chicago Public Schools adopted the program during the 2013-14 school year. Researchers at the University of Chicago Education Lab gathered and analyzed data from before the practices were implemented (2008-09) and after they were in place for 5 years (2018-19). They found that the practices resulted in a 35% decrease in student arrests in-school and a 15% decrease in student arrests outside-of-school. Out-of-school suspensions were reduced by 18%. Students perceived improved classroom behavior among their peers and a greater sense of safety and inclusion at school.

Philadelphia High School reported that in the year of restorative justice implementation, “violent acts and serious incidents” dropped by 52%. The following year, they dropped by 40%.

Denver Public Schools reported that over 7 schools, the number of expulsions dropped from 23 to 6, and in-school suspensions improved by 13% after 3 years of restorative justice practices implementation.

While there are many anecdotal accounts of success from these practices, there is little scientific research, and we could benefit from additional studies. To be fair, a Google search will reveal that some studies fail to demonstrate the effectiveness of restorative justice practices in schools. However, the potential benefits of restorative justice practices range from a decrease in discipline referrals and racial disparities to improved academic scores and an increased sense of safety among students and staff.

Is it worth trying in your school?

Studies suggests that the program may need to be consistently in place for 3-5 years before we begin to see the impact If you have been implementing these practices over a number of years and have noted changes, I’d love to hear from you, so I can share your successes (or challenges) with others.

Source material:

The University of Chicago Education Lab,

Goodwin, B. ASCD, October 2021, Vol.79, No. 2 

Davison, M. NWEA, December 2022

Achievement Despite Trauma

I often hear from educators that the number of students in their schools affected by traumatic life experiences is climbing. How do we bring out the best in these students, and help them find success and achievement, despite trauma?

It begins with an understanding of how trauma affects the brain. When a child is suffering from the aftereffects of trauma, his or her brain is in often in fight or flight mode. When the trauma continues over time, this pattern can become chronic. It becomes difficult to learn when our brains are in this state. Learning, memory, emotion and language skills are all affected.

If we can begin to calm the brains of trauma-affected students, we may have a chance to help lower this barrier to learning. One strategy includes teaching mindfulness to our students. When we are truly mindful and present in the moment, we can begin to leave the fight or flight response behind, if only for a few moments. That may be long enough to refresh the brain.

All of our students can benefit from daily breathing, stretching or yoga breaks to relax their bodies and minds. Some students have a low threshold for triggering fear, or shutting down and tuning out. Creating safe spaces in our schools and classrooms can provide a respite from the stress, overload and confusion that these students experience.

Consider creating a corner of the room where students can go to calm themselves. If you can block off an area with shelves and add soft furniture, pillows, fabrics, tactile objects and dim lighting, students can give themselves a break when needed. You can work out a system where either you or the student provide a cue that it’s time for a sensory break. A great benefit is that this helps the student learn to self-monitor and head off a more intense response by acting preventively.

For some additional resources on supporting kids who’ve suffered trauma, check out NEA’s Teaching Children from Poverty and Trauma handbook. One great tip is to greet each student authentically. If you haven’t already seen it, this video of a teacher in North Carolina is a great example of doing just that, and it will make your day.

Thinking about training your school staff in safety practices and behaviors to watch for?

For a limited time, you can get a free preview to see if the online Everyday School Safety course is right for your school. Contact me before March 5th for a free preview voucher.

Bullies in the Workplace

Schools are workplaces as well as institutions of learning. Bullying in the workplace occurs in all professions and across education levels.

Does your school safety plan include a protocol for addressing workplace harassment, bullying and violence?

I recently spoke with the principal of a school in a district where I’m training and developing violence threat assessment teams. This principal has concerns about the negative relationships she’s seeing between some staff members. Workplace bullying is its own problem, but at times, it can lead to violence.

Here’s how to avert that progression.

The first step is to put a workplace bullying or harassment policy in place. This will give you something to reference and enforce when you are faced with a bullying situation. It will also provide an opportunity for you to learn about the legal issues involved in workplace harassment. For example, it is illegal for someone to harass or discriminate based on gender, race, religious affiliation, disability and other protected categories.

If you are witnessing active bullying or harassment between employees or staff members, it’s important to intervene immediately and let the bully know that his or her behavior is unacceptable and violates workplace policy. This behavior should never be ignored. Boundaries should be put in place and monitored. Whether the person chooses, or is able, to respect those boundaries will tell you a lot about his or her mindset.

During your conversation with this person, you will want to observe him or her for unusual mood, behavior and language – something that is out of character for this individual. I recommend chatting a bit about successes and challenges the person is facing to gain some insight into anything particularly stressful or difficult in the person’s life. If you have an employee assistance program, now’s the time to offer it. While you are setting a boundary, you also want to convey that you are there to help and work with the person so solve the issues. Teaming up will help both of you, and will go a long way toward diffusing any anger that may exacerbate a grievance.

It’s vital to document all reports, conversations and interventions, and continue to check in and monitor the situation with all parties involved. If things escalate, you will need to take additional steps which may include mediation, suspension from duties or contacting law enforcement.

School Safety: 5 things you can do now

School Safety 5 things you can do now

Small changes really can add up to greater school safety. As we begin the new year and embark on the second semester of our academic year, I find myself thinking about what it really takes to create safer schools for our students and staff. Over the past two decades, increasing research has taught us a great deal about best practices in preparedness, response and intervention.

Here are 5 things you can do now to improve your school safety:

  • Take a critical look at your school’s emotional climate to determine whether you are truly providing a safe haven for children and teens. Consider implementing a school climate or safety survey for students, staff and parents, to pinpoint areas that need attention. An extra benefit of this survey is that the data it provides will be extremely valuable for any grant funding you seek.
  • Foster a sense of belonging in your school community. Celebrate differences and offer a diverse menu of activities, mentoring and connectedness programs, so everyone has a place to call home.
  • Train your staff to identify the signs of those who are struggling so they can support and refer those needing help.
  • Review your crisis response plan. Ideally, this should be done every year, and no less frequently than every 3 years. We learn more every day in this field – you’ll want to be sure your plan reflects current recommendations.
  • Add a new type of drill. If you haven’t done a reverse evacuation or a lockdown drill in awhile, schedule one today. Then, review the results with your staff so everyone can make adjustments if needed.

This year, I will continue to dedicate myself to working intensively with school districts so each of them can rest assured that they have done everything they can to make their schools a safer place. I limit the number of schools I work with so I can provide highly targeted services. I will have the capacity to add a few selected districts over the next few months.

If you have a school safety question or just want to know more about how I can help your district, simply contact me here.

Preventing School Vandalism

Preventing School Vandalism

Did you know that the number one predictor of school vandalism is a lack of bonding and attachment to school and school staff? When students feel connected to their school community, they are far less likely to deface or destroy the physical space around them.

Preventing School Vandalism

Here are some creative ways to build connections and a sense of ownership in your school:

  • Create a “vandalism account.” To provide an incentive to students, schools can designate a specific dollar amount that would ordinarily be used for vandalism-related repairs. If the building remains clear of damage and graffiti, the funds can be used at the end of semester for something students desire such as a pizza party, field trip or dance (Idea courtesy of Center for Problem Oriented Policy, 2015).
  • Have all classrooms adopt a location in the school and maintain it regularly. For details and a free downloadable “Adopt a School Location” poster, visit Intervention Central.
  • Allow students to create artwork, murals and other welcoming spaces in the school to facilitate ownership and bonding.

Of course, a good deal of vandalism occurs after school hours, so you’ll want to be sure you also have adequate lighting, cameras, signage and controlled entry during the off-hours. Putting all of these practices in place will go a long way toward preventing school vandalism and promoting a more positive learning environment.

Principals’ Top 7 Goals for the New School Year

Principals' top goals for the new school year

It’s nearly the end of July, with the start of another school year just a few weeks away. Along with the excitement of the new school year, administrators are very busy making preparations.

Here are principals’ top 7 goals for the new school year, as outlined in education journals:

  1. Motivating teachers
  2. Improving morale among staff
  3. Building a team atmosphere
  4. Creating excitement for learning
  5. Increasing parent involvement
  6. Creating a positive school climate
  7. Ensuring that the school is a safe place to learn

If you’re thinking about improving any aspect of your school’s safety, I would love to talk with you.

Here’s why

I’ve worked successfully with schools nationwide to help them to significantly improve their safety plans and I’ve provided students, staff and parents with highly effective safety awareness training. I’ve also established and trained violence threat assessment teams, with outstanding results.

I limit the number of schools I work with so I can provide individualized and highly targeted services to meet each district’s specific needs.

Because of this, there’s a limit to the number of schools I can work with. The reason I am writing to you, is that I have just 3 places 2 places available, starting in September. If you’ve been thinking about proactively improving safety in your school, I’m here to help you.

To find out more or secure 1 of the 2 remaining places, get in touch using the contact form here or call me at 505-313-1092. I’m happy to answer any questions you have. To avoid disappointment, get in touch as soon as possible.


How to Prevent School Violence

These days, we are all focused on how to prevent school violence. First, it’s important to note that there are multiple types of school violence. This post focuses on preventing targeted school violence.

The motivation for a targeted school attack is related to many factors and often makes no sense to observers. With this type of violence, we are looking at a multitude of factors including marginalization from peer groups (or perception of marginalization), societal scripts for violence, fascination and experience with violence and weaponry, possible personality disorders and/or mental illness, recent or long-held grievances coupled with a lack of alternatives to solve them, a default to coping through violence, recent humiliation, and a number of other aspects.

Individuals responsible for school violence have been studied extensively. Most share a number of the characteristics noted above. Any approach to prevention and intervention must include a process for identifying troubled and troubling individuals and sharing information with others who have knowledge of the person.

Taking away the weapons helps, but it is not a cure. Mental health treatment can help avert a crisis, but mental illness is not the sole cause of violence and the majority of mentally ill persons are not violent. Sometimes individuals with a grievance are determined to exact revenge and will intentionally resist therapeutic efforts.

Many variables determine whether a rigid and hateful view of something in the world will be turned into action. Easy access to weapons, lack of mental health treatment options for many, violent video games, television and other media, loss of funding for prevention programs and overly strained social service systems all contribute to the problem.

You can be a part of the solution by applying these simple strategies:

  • Build relationships with staff and students
  • Identify troubled individuals and provide appropriate resources and monitoring for those who need them
  • Teach your students and staff to report concerns about someone’s words or behavior
  • Connect with students one by one and let them know that you take their concerns seriously and will follow up with appropriate action

Once they trust you to do that, word will spread and the student network will open up to you. This is vital. In 80% of prior school attacks someone knew about the plan before the attack. Be the person students want to tell, and you’ll be able to keep your school much safer.

Taking another look at school climate


This morning, I was disheartened to read about two high school runners being disqualified for helping another girl who had fallen, cross the finish line.  According t0 the article, the students violated a high school league rule prohibiting the helping of another student.

I understand that rules are typically put into place for very good reasons, but we may want to take a second look at what this one teaches our youth.  If we want to improve our school climate, we need to look critically at the way things are, and the way they have been.  We need to focus our efforts on changing some of the rules according to what matters most…treating people kindly, helping others, and doing good deeds.

Making Your School Safer With Limited Funds

Making your school safer with limited funds

Those of us who work in schools are intimately familiar with the process of pinching pennies. Educators routinely tap into their personal reserves to provide much-needed supplies for students. They often dig into their own pockets to provide snacks and lunches for students in need. They cover field trip costs without complaint. Educators are accustomed to hearing, “that’s a great idea, but where are we going to get the funding to implement it?”

Making your school safer with limited funds

It is with this reality in mind, that I want to talk about where we invest our limited dollars to help make our schools safer places for our students, staff and parents. There is a lot of talk these days about training staff and students on how to respond in an active shooter situation. I support training and drills. They are paramount to school safety practices. When under duress, we experience physiological symptoms that can render us unable to think quickly, thereby necessitating a conditioned response. I strongly believe drills and response protocols are a critical component of any school, home and workplace safety plan.

But, when we have limited funds and can’t cover all the bases at once, where should we start? Consider this: even though mass violence is on the rise, school shooting attacks remain rare. The chances of your school being involved in one are roughly 1 in 50,000.

However, research shows that a safe and positive school climate fostering communication, relationships and a sense of belonging improves academic performance, reduces risk factors and minimizes problem behaviors. This is something everyone benefits from on a daily basis.

The keys to building positive school climate are getting all staff members on board, implementing positive, asset-building programs and having a process in place to identify students and staff who need social, emotional and psychological assistance. Beyond that, we must facilitate help for individuals who need it so they can rise out of a place of struggle, frustration, anger and depression. It is those very feelings that nearly always precede acts of violence, from bullying to verbal harassment to an after-school fight to a full on attack of the school community. By addressing the needs of individuals with empathy and crafting a plan to resolve the difficulties, we will make our schools much safer for everyone, every day of the year.

Preventing School Violence – Are you paying attention to the right things?

Preventing School Violence

You work hard at preventing school violence. But, are you paying attention to the right things?

You have a crisis and safety plan in place.

You’ve addressed your physical site vulnerabilities.

You’ve trained your students and staff on response protocols.

But, have you taken a good look at your school climate, from the perspective of your students?  School bonding and sense of belonging are critical elements of school violence prevention.

Consider this:  Students who have a positive attachment to school are not likely to attack fellow students or staff members when they are troubled.  Students who have experienced a sense of alienation from their peers or a lack of acceptance by school staff may be more likely to do so.

If you’re ready to assess your school climate, you can find a list of valid and reliable surveys right here.