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School Culture on School Safety
Many studies have been done on safety in schools. Likewise, many studies have been done on the culture of various schools. Unfortunately, there has not been significant research on a link between the two. This is not to say that these kinds of studies have not been done, but rather that there has not been enough of them. Many of the studies that have been performed in this area show that there is a definite link between the type of culture that a school has and what kind of safety the occupants of the school can expect. As with any research, there are critics of this opinion, and there are studies that would appear to indicate that there is no link between the two.
It is in the spirit of debate and discovery that this study has been undertaken. Children are the future of this planet, and they deserve to attend school where they are free from hostility and danger. There will always be some issues with students that just don't like each other, and this study is not attempting to show that all violence can be removed from schools if only researchers would spend more time figuring out why its there in the first place.
Violence in schools, like violence in society and life itself, will always be with us (Back, 2001). This researcher hopes to show not how to remove the violence, but that the culture of the school affects if there is violence, and how much violence. In other words, that the culture of a school is directly linked to the safety and security of that school. If this can be shown to be valid, then that opens the door to others who can then study not only the validity of the statements made in these pages, but also work toward a goal of cultural adjustment and change for schools that seem to spend most of their time dealing with safety instead of instruction.
This is a quantitative research study on the impact of school culture on school safety. It is based on the responses of teachers and administrators to two surveys. The first is the Inviting School Safety Survey or ISSS (Lehr and Purkey, 1996) which focuses on issues of safety, and the second is the School Culture Survey or SCS (Gruenert & Valentine, 1997), which is self-explanatory by its title. Both of these surveys provide insight about the shared values and beliefs, the patterns of behavior, and the relationships in a school setting, and are therefore good indicators of the relationship between the culture of a school and the safety within its walls.
While it would be possible to use only one survey, and researchers in the past have done so in several studies, it would be difficult to obtain an accurate picture of the culture/safety link by using only a cultural survey or only a safety survey. Since the two surveys mentioned in the above paragraph are recognized and widely used, this researcher thought it prudent to use both surveys, thus obtaining a much more accurate picture of the perceptions between culture and safety and the proposed link between the two.
Greenbaum, et al. (1989) believes the principal of a school is a critical factor in developing a positive school culture and a safe school. Greenbaum (1989) also stresses that principals who have succeeded in creating safe and peaceful schools out of violence-ridden campuses emphasize the importance of maintaining a high profile. The principal has difficulty gaining ground from a safety perspective or maintaining ground that has been gained if he or she is not easily visible. Students quickly forget the rules when there is no one around to enforce them.
Many teachers and students share this opinion, and those schools that seem to have the highest safety ratings also have the most interaction between the principal and the students. This is not to say that the principal is always visible, or that there are formal assemblies and such where the principal interacts with the students, although this may be the case in some schools. Instead, this interaction comes from walking the halls and speaking to students while they change classes, or sitting in classrooms to see what the students are learning (Dewar, 1999). It may also come from attending field trips, knowing many students by name, and projecting a general attitude of caring and support that is recognized by many students (Chang, 1999).
Another important point that is stressed when looking at school culture and safety is the fact that strong leaders generally make an effort to express sincere feelings toward students and their lives, and have a real belief that the students have the potential to become successful and productive adults (Kenworthy & O'Driscoll, 2000). Effective leaders create effective schools that are resilient to violence and other risks and promote resiliency in students (School Violence, 1999, p. 4).
Principals, teachers, and other faculty members can work to do this by being active in the lives of the students and being open and friendly to parents and guardians when there are questions or problems. Being active in the lives of students is not the same thing as being nosy or prying into the private lives of students. Allowing students to share what they want to share, and not demanding more from them, is one of the ways that effective school leaders help to maintain a relationship with the students without making them uncomfortable or driving them away. Being an effective school leader requires a great deal of balance where student thoughts, dreams, and opinions are concerned (Anderman, 1998).
Principals and teachers can remain closer to students if they allow the students the space that they need to be themselves. Even though not all adults may see eye-to-eye with young people, room to find oneself must exist. Smothering this impulse can lead to safety and violence issues that the schools are already fighting against and trying to avoid. Effective leadership must be able to balance so many things that most people seldom get it right. That does not mean that they should stop trying to find this balance, however. The importance of continued work in this area is evidenced by the results that are seen when this balance is achieved, or at least when the balance is close to where it should be (Wigfield, et al., 1991).
A school is an organization, and although it is not the same as a business organization, some of the principles are the same (Aponik & Dembo, 1983). One of these principles is the need for leaders that can be objective as well as see the vision and commitment that comes with their job. This is especially important for schools, because commitment and vision are vitally important for the future of the country and its children. This is much more true with schools than it is with other businesses, but at the same time, people must be aware of the fact that some aspects of the school life must be ran and operated as a business for the school to survive (Deci & Chandler, 1986).
In Reframing Organizations, Bolman and Deal (1997) discuss the modern organization's need for transformational leaders who have an objective perspective as well as the vision and commitment that wise leadership provides. Without this commitment, and without a vision for the future, leaders have difficulty creating a better organization and making sure that the organization they do create continues to grow and change as the times require. Schools are especially in need of this growth, because the culture of society, as well as technology and a myriad of other things, are all changing so fast. Principals that do not keep up with changing times are doing their students a great disservice (Athappilly, Smidchens, & Kofel, 1983).
Bolman and Deal (1997) also believe that transformational leaders affect organizational performance and that they succeed not because of inspiration but because they have the right design for the times and are able to get their changes implemented. Being strong in this area is very important, as a leader who can come up with the ideas for good changes but cannot get those changes implemented will not be effective in transforming an organization, including a school.
This is where the value of a particular principal truly comes through. Many principals see things that need to be changed in their schools, including improving safety. While noticing these things is important, it is only half of the battle, and it is the easy half. From that point, the principal needs to know what to do and who to talk to in order to get things done. Sometimes, there doesn't seem to be anything that can be done, but resourceful principals will find a way to get the job done, and this is what helps to make a good principal dynamic and important in the culture of the school. It also shows the students…[continue]
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