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Identifying whether previous punishments have reinforced the behavior would also be important to design an appropriate punishment strategy.
Fostering Positive Relationships with Students
Developing a close relationship with children is associated with improving the positive outcomes of that relationship (Birch & Ladd, 1997). This indicates that as a school psychologist every effort should be made to develop a close relationship with each and every student. While it is acknowledged that this may be impossible, particularly in large schools, the protective impact may be achieved through ensuring that each child has such a relationship with at least one member of staff. The school psychologist should therefore develop a close relationship with as many students as possible, but focus on those which are identified as not having positive relationships with other members of staff. There are certain characteristics which are likely to be associated with a positive relationship with students. For example positive relationships are likely to be those which are characterized by warmth, trust and low degrees of conflict (Baker et al., 2008). Therefore to develop a positive relationship with students the school psychologist should ensure that they maintain these characteristics.
Advocating for Other Staff part of advocating other staff within the school to foster positive relationships with students may be advising them in activities which may build those relationships. Bay-Hinitz et al. (1994) found that playing cooperative games fostered better relationships between peers than when engaging in competitive games. They also discussed the fact that increased teacher attention was given to students playing competitive games, and suggested this may be due to the increased conflicts which they created. By advising teachers on the use of cooperative games as opposed to competitive games this may encourage more positive relationships as they may be of a more supportive nature as opposed to the disciplinary nature they may take when supervising competitive games. This is only one example, and it is possible that by advising on other activities it may also be possible to increase positive interactions between teachers and students. In addition to advising other staff, the school psychologist may also advocate for positive relationships by offering workshops to offer guidance on the importance of positive relationships and methods for their development.
School-wide Mental Health Support
The school system plays an important role in ensuring that all children and adults receive mental health support, as many would otherwise not access appropriate services. One of the main reasons why the school mental health support system is so important is that it may offer a less formal means of accessing help, reducing the stigma with which it is associated (Stephan et al., 2008). The fostering of positive relationships with students is instrumental in this, as students are more likely to consult in an adult with which they have already fostered a positive relationship. One particularly crucial element of those relationships is likely to be trust, as children are more likely to seek advice, guidance and support from an adult with whom they have built a trusting relationship (Watson & Ecken, 2003). Once a child has sought support from that one particular adult with whom they have developed this positive relationship it is then important that there is a hierarchical system in place for that adult to seek further assistance. This ensures that the trust of the student is not endangered, while ensuring that mental health services have access to the student and are aware of their needs.
Prompting a Threat Assessment student threat assessment may be completed by a school whenever there is a perceived risk of violence to any other member of the school community, whether that be students, teachers, parents or other members of staff. There are a number of warning signs which were included in a federal government guide which may indicate a student who could pose a potential threat. These signs included a history of discipline problems, use of drugs and alcohol and excessive feelings of rejection (Dwyer et al., 1998). In another booklet produced by the American Psychological Association (APA) signs such as increased risk-taking, increased alcohol or drug use, significant vandalism, and loss of temper on a daily basis were listed as immediate warning signs (Cornell et al., 2004). Therefore any of these behaviors may prompt a threat assessment to be conducted. At the present time there is little evidence as to whether there is any difference in the probability of transient or substantive threats being carried out. At the present time therefore, even threats which are communicated as jokes, sarcasm or angry rhetoric may prompt the completion of a threat assessment.
Performing a Threat Assessment
FBI guidelines suggested that a multidisciplinary team be constructed by a school to conduct threat assessments. They advised that these assessments take into account four factors: a) the personality and behavior of the student being assessed; b) the family situation of the student; c) the culture and climate of the school and d) the social dynamics of the community (Cornell et al., 2004). In particular, guidelines issued by the Secret Service indicate that there are five different elements of information which the threat assessment inquiry should collect (Fein et al., 2002). The first of these is the facts which identified the student as a threat initially. In this instance that would the facts surrounding the incident in which the threat of violence was made. Secondly, information about the student should be collected, including identifying information, background both in terms of school behavior and their past mental health, and also information on their current life situation. In particular the report highlights that information may be particularly valuable if taken from an adult with whom the student has developed a positive and trusting relationship.
The third element of information which should be collected is that relating specifically to violent or 'attack-related behaviors'. This would include information on specific incidents which have occurred previously in which any other person has been targeted, self-injury has been planned or implemented, or weapon-seeking behaviors. Information on motives for an attack should also be sought. For example in this case there should be an inquiry into whether there may be a reason for the student to wish to cause harm to the particular teacher in question. The final element of information is that of target selection, which has already been made clear in this instance.
The information which is collected is likely to come from numerous sources, including school records, interviews with staff and students or observers, interviews with the student's family and with the student themselves. If it is concluded in the threat assessment that there is insufficient information to reach a conclusion or that the student is an imminent risk of attack, then the matter must be forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement agency (Fein et al. 2002).
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