Click the link above to watch the full interview with Granite State News Collaborative Reporter Meg McIntyre; Nashua High School North English teacher Walter Freeman; President of the National Education Association in New Hampshire, Megan Tuttle; and school psychologist and consultant Dr. Nate Jones on NH PBS’s The State We’re In.
Addressing School Violence
Even before the pandemic, schools struggled with eruptions of violence. As the pandemic wanes, those eruptions seem even more frequent. What’s going on in schools and what can be done to help? School psychologist and consultant Dr. Nate Jones joins The State We’re In host Melanie Plenda to discuss the issues.
This content has been edited for length and clarity. Watch the full interview with Granite State News Collaborative Reporter Meg McIntyre; Nashua High School North English teacher Walter Freeman; President of the National Education Association in New Hampshire, Megan Tuttle; and school psychologist and consultant Dr. Nate Jones on NH PBS’s The State We’re In.
Q&A w Dr. Nate Jones (school psychologist and consultant)
Melanie Plenda: Nate, what’s causing this violent and disruptive behavior in schools, and why does it seem so widespread?
Dr. Nate Jones: There is never one single cause. That’s an important message because it also means there’s no one single solution. Certainly the pandemic didn’t help in a sense that behavior is a skill kids learn, but it was very hard to teach how to be a member of a community when everybody was home by themselves on Zoom in their houses. I think we’re seeing that in different places because now our teachers are able to not only teach reading and writing and math, but they’re able to teach the behavioral skills our kids need to learn.
That’s just one part. There’s also trauma, there’s abuse, there’s all the terrible things we can imagine to happen to kids, and there’s kids who just have bad days and everything in between. It’s widespread because behavior is a skill every child has to learn. If we only think of the students who are already displaying these bad behaviors and we start pigeonholing bad kids, we’ve completely missed the point.
Melanie Plenda: We’ve focused a lot on older kids with school violence, but younger kids are also having problems. What does that look like?
Dr. Nate Jones: When I talk to just friends in all manner of the field, the ones who are feeling the biggest shift in behavior for their students are K2 teachers, K2 school psychologists, K2 speech pathologists, and K2 school counselors. Our youngest kids are really struggling, and I think it is because learning to be a productive member of a community happens in person. You can’t really learn that from a book. You have to practice it with other students. Now we have to do all the work that was missed for a year and a half as fast as we can. I think that one really important piece of this is asking the students. Even the K2, and all through 12th grade, that student voice is so important. We’ve received calls from all levels of schools looking for support for all of their students. The piece we always try to highlight is, what’s their voice? What are the kids saying? Not just the student council kids, not just the team captains, but the students in the behavior program, the students in special ed, the students we don’t usually hear from. Let’s go ask them what they think because we want to hear the voices of the ones who are struggling with these issues and get their ideas.
Melanie Plenda: What have you heard from the students? What are they saying? What do they need?
Dr. Nate Jones: A lot of what we’re hearing is relationships. If you think back to your favorite teacher, all of us as adults, who’s the teacher that made the biggest impact on you? Very few of us say Mr. Smith, Mrs. Peterson, because they taught me math really well. We usually say, because they helped me grow. They recognize my goals. They challenged me to become a better person, something about a relationship.
The second piece is that the kids have a sense for the teachers who are really in it to help them grow, to push them forward. It isn’t just a static, lovely, fun relationship, but a relationship that challenges them to become better. We like to accomplish things as humans. Every kid loves to sit around, have fun, but that’s not what school’s for. Kids know school is for learning, so they feel happiest when they have those relationships and when they feel the appropriate level of challenge.
Melanie Plenda: So what can we do to support teachers and paraprofessionals while schools work through these issues?
Dr. Nate Jones: One thing that happens all the time is exclusionary discipline: suspension, expulsion, removing kids from the environment. At the end of the day, while that may help stay safe tomorrow, it doesn’t teach kids anything. It has never been and will never be a long-term solution. We can’t punish our way out of this problem. It simply is never going to work. What we have to do is be proactive. We have to work with all students to build a strong foundation. We talk about what’s called social-emotional learning or SEL, and that’s the idea of helping from preschool and working all the way up through 12th grade so when our students graduate they’re ready for college, a career, the military, wherever they’re going, not just for the technical skills, but the self-management skills and the social-emotional competence to make it work. For students who need increased levels of help, there are increased levels of interventions available. It all has to start with good core instruction in social-emotional skills and taking care of yourself for all kids, and then we build the rest of the interventions on top of that.
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