School Violence: Safety of the School Setting from the Educator’s Perspective

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School safety is a complex problem without a one size fits all solution. Trauma associated with school violence can have a profound impact on schools, families and entire communities. The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention (2019) describes school violence as acts that disrupt learning and is a subset of youth violence. School violence has a negative effect on students, schools, and communities as it includes fighting, bullying, gangs, cyberbullying, and the use of weapons. It can occur at school, at school functions, or on the way to or from school or school functions.

Teachers and students cannot live in fear and must believe the system is doing everything possible to protect them from any form of violence happening in the learning environment. For learning environments to be safe sanctuaries there must be a collaborative effort between stakeholders to both reduce violence and improve the school environment. There is no one factor to isolate or prevent school violence several things have been learned, yet the only common denominator has remained there is no school that is 100 percent safe. Flaws remain in the system as time after time breaches in security occur. This leaves room for multiple prevention strategies to be explored. This proposed study is to investigate the safety of the school setting from the educator’s perspective. This study is needed to fill voids in current literature and to provide new information which can be furthers researched.

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Literature Review

To begin the literature review keywords including school safety, school violence, fighting, bullying, gangs, cyberbullying, and bullying will be identified. Then databases including ERIC, Google Scholar, Proquest, and SAGE were used locating sources for this literature review. Resources included peer-reviewed articles, books and journal publications. As articles were found the abstracts were skimmed to ensure relevance to the topic of school violence. School violence is evident in professional literature while the focus is on a variety of topics. There is a void on literature focusing on school violence from the perspective of the teachers.

While school violence may only physically involve a few students, the ramifications surrounding the issue can be too numerous to count. The first known act was a school shooting in 1764 known as the Pontiac Rebellion School Massacre 10 of the 13 students enrolled were killed (Dixon, 2005). While school shootings are the most lethal means of school violence, they have been a constant and have occurred in thirty-six of the states and the District of Columbia as established in research conducted by Woodrow-Cox & Rich (2018). Most people were unaware of such events until the Columbine shooting in 1999 became a nationwide media spectacle playing out live on television. Since Columbine, there has been a rise in school shootings as noted by Lee (2013) as they have risen from 23 to 245 between 1980 and 2013 and between 1760 and 2013 there had been 593 deaths associated with school shootings. Between the 1999 Columbine High School shootings and the 2018 Santa Fe High School incident there have been an estimated 141 individuals killed, and 284 injuries in school settings. Woodrow-Cox, Rich, Chiu, Muyskens, and Ulmanu, (2018) noted 214,000 students had experienced gun violence in more than 216 schools across the nation.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (2016), over 20 percent or one in five students have reported being bullied and they were bullied at least monthly. Modecki, Minchin, Harbaugh, Guerra, & Runions, (2014) reported traditional bullying consisted of 35% and cyberbullying involved 15% of students ages 12-18. Of those bullied the National Center for Educational Statistics (2016) note 13% were victims of name calling, 12% were victims of rumors; 5% were physically assaulted. They also reported the bullying event happened 42% of the time in the hallways, 34% in classrooms, 22% in the lunchroom, 19% on school property, 10% on the bus and 9% in bath or locker rooms. The National Center for Educational Statistics (2016) continued noting 43% of students that were bullied reported the incident to school officials.

Popp (2012) focused on student risk factors including the risk of students being bullied. The National Center for Educational Statistics (2016) noted 19% of students which were bullied had low self-esteem, 14% stated it affected their relationships home and school life and 9% indicated it affected their health. According to the Center for Disease Control (2017) students who were bullied had difficulties sleeping experienced depression and anxiety. Gini & Pozzoli (2013) suggested students who were bullied were two times more likely to have their health effected including stomach and headaches. Wynne and Joo (2011) noted victimization can be predicted using individual characteristics as well as family, and school characteristics and Harrison, Vannest, Davis, & Reynolds (2012) examined how behavior problems leading to violent school acts. This was backed by Jackson, Hanson, Amstadter, Saunders, & Kilpatrick (2011) as they investigated how constant exposure to victimization can lead to aggressive behaviors. Lee (2013) indicated over half of the attackers had no prior history of violence but when bullied they were left feeling humiliated and wanting revenge and actions taken against the bully were pre-meditated with the intent to harm.

Zaykowski & Gunter (2012) defined how school’s climate can reduce violent risk and Johnson, Burke, and Gielen (2011) work was based on developing violence prevention strategy and the relationship between school staff and students. Vossekuil et al. (2002) noted the importance of addressing potential signs associated with school violence and the need for immediate action if behaviors are identified. Others have devoted their research to combating school violence including Fahsl & Luce (2012) while Booren, Handy, & Power (2011) investigated how school environments impacted both violence and the prevention of violence. Lee (2013) added the attackers often engaged in behaviors which indicated a cry for help telling others of their intent prior to the actual event and Reed, Nugent, & Cooper (2015) suggested there was a strong link between bullying and suicide related. Watkins & Maume, (2011) studied the effect school climate had on students’ comfort in reporting possible violent crimes. Articles in the past have laid blame to tv and media as the cause of school violence as noted by Bushman & Anderson (2015) and Warnick, Kim, & Robinson (2015), article gun violence and schools, additionally, articles have focused on anger management skills and on the school shooters.


Previous research has examined school violence and there is limited research related specifically to the opinions of educators regarding violence in the schools. This qualitative study which is exploratory in nature will provide valuable information needed to fill the void associated with school violence and investigate school safety from the perception of the educator. This information will be evaluated to determine if educators believe adequate measures are being taken to ensure the safety of the students in the school. Then the information can be bridged and integrated when possible with existing literature.

School violence undermines both safety and security of the students which results in schools failing to be a productive learning environment as noted by Burdick-Will (2013). The occurrence of these negative behaviors has prompted schools to become more aware of and address the issues as noted by Bradshaw, Debnam, Koth, and Leaf (2008). Additional information is needed to in the review of current policies and the implementation of new policies as they address the challenges of preventing school violence. While there are many factors regarding school violence much of the existing research focuses on the shooters and their similarities which leaves several voids in the literature regarding school violence as noted by Vossekuil, Fein, Reddy, Borum, & Modzeleski, (2002).

With the number of school violence incidents increasing public schools are requiring school safety initiatives to create safer, supportive school environments. Teacher’s perceptions of school violence and aggression are critical in not only the development but the implementing of these policies as the teacher is the front line when it comes to understanding what is happening in the school buildings. Burdicl-Will (2013) stated when school violence is tolerated, the safety and security of students are undermined, and the learning environment becomes ineffective. Schools must address and identify the possible causes of school violence in order to develop effective strategies which are both proactive and reactive.

Theoretical Perspective

Broody (2001) explained Robert Agnew general strain theory (GST) and identified four categories of strain 1) failure to obtain valued goals, 2) disconnection between hopes and successes, 3) lack of positive stimuli and, 4) the beginning of negative stimuli. James, Brunch, & Clay-Warner (2014) noted the use of general strain theory (GTS) as a method of studying school violence since students which feel as though they have been treated unfairly are more likely to engage in such acts. This thought was backed by Agnew (2001) as he suggested the feeling of being treated unfairly is critical in GST. Included in GST is safety, acceptance, and support which can create stress. GST also includes anger and depression along with problem-solving skills and self-control which as Moon and Morash (2012) stated influence school violence. James et al., (2014) used GST as a survey to measure the unfair treatment of teachers from the students’ perception regarding students’ involvement in school violence and noted how research fell under the GST umbrella. When students feel as though the climate is not safe aggressive behaviors such as fighting occurs along with bullying, harassing, and insulting. James et al. (2014) stated how students that feel they are in unsafe environments are prone to carry weapons to school or retaliating in some form or another.

Research Questions

The goal of this study is to answer the question “What are teachers’ perceptions of school violence?” in order to help schools and school districts gain a better understanding of school violence and review current school violence policies and adopt new policies. The research questions will be specific, clear, and manageable. The following three semi-structured open-ended questions will be asked of participants in the study.

1. Describe how you feel about school violence.

The rationale behind this question is there is a fear of school violence which resonates in the back of many teachers’ minds as they have seen an overload of media regarding the subject. Not only responsible for educating a class of students they must now be prepared to defend and protect themselves and their class. Teachers must trust that everything possible is being done to ensure their safety and their students while at work. In order to maintain a conducive learning environment teacher must feel confident that the building is secure from intruders. They must also trust any discipline or emotional concerns are adequately handled and students receive the proper support, guidance, and referrals. Teachers need to be aware of all policies that are in place and the procedures that will be used to handle any unsafe situation. The following prompts and probes will be used if needed: tell me about a time when you were concerned about your safety at school, and what are your feelings about the violence Sandy Hook and Parkland experienced?

2. How are programs including school resource officer’s effective means of protecting a school campus?

The rationale behind this question is teachers should be aware if there are resource officers available at the school campus and what hours these officers are available. Additionally, teachers should be aware of the resource officer’s role on the school campus. If they are to contact the officer what method should be taken and any specific terms which should be used once contacted teachers need to be aware of response time and how the incident will be handled. Since one resource officer cannot be in all places always is their presence on the grounds enough for safety and adequate protection. Staff must feel a connection that the resource officer is adequately able to protect the staff and children throughout the day. Additionally, the teachers must feel they can utilize the resource officer and they are knowledgeable about what to identify and address regarding security. Prompts and probes for this question include: can you describe your school’s safety measures, and what precautions does your school have on the playgrounds, and what could you do to make the environment more secure?

3. How effective is school safety training?

The rationale behind this question is training needs to be conducted in a formal manner and teachers given the opportunity to address concerns. Once a concern is addressed actions should be taken to solve the concern and there should be follow up as to what actions were taken. Staff needs to feel the training is adequate and covers topics as it relates to the matter. Is training provided hands-on or simply a lecture-style presentation. Staff should be knowledgeable of the key stakeholders involved and their roles. Once training has taken place there should be practice training developed and implemented along with different case scenarios. Practice drills should be reoccurring, and any issues associated with prior scenarios addressed. The system needs to be second nature to all staff involved as well as stakeholders along with knowledge of who is responsible for what and how to follow the chain of command regarding communication procedures. Prompts and probes would include tell me about your school’s security and/or crisis preparation procedures in the event of a violent intruder and are practice drills established and routinely performed and revised as needed, along with how prepared do you feel you are if such a situation occurred.


The intent of this qualitative case study will be to explore and understand the perceptions of teachers regarding school violence. The study will allow for a clear connection between the problem school violence and the research question What are teachers’ perceptions of school violence. The research topic will be the teachers’ perceptions of school violence and the unit of analysis will be the teachers as participants. Once approval has been granted from the IRB the Board of Education for Atlanta and the surrounding counties will be sent letters asking them to participate in the research study. Once permission is granted by the school board, school principals in the districts will be sent a letter asking them to participate in the study. Once the principals grant permission teachers at the schools will be emailed asking for volunteers to participate in one-on-one interviews. As pointed out by Reinhartz (1992), one-on-one interviews provide the researcher with the opinions, thoughts, and ideas of the interviewees rather than those of the researchers. This process allows the researcher and the interviewee a chance to both share and learns in an equal manner.

Guidelines, as established by the Institutional Review Board (IRB), will be followed to assure participants’ rights were protected in this research study. Since humans are involved there will be ethical considerations. The interviews will take place in conference rooms at local libraries which are considered neutral environments. The interview will last approximately one hour. Once the interviewee arrives, they will be advised of the study and the purpose and benefits of the study and will be told notes will be taken and the interview will be audiotaped. Each participant will be told all information provides will be kept private and confidential. Information will be electronically stored on a password-protected desktop computer and any notes or audiotapes will be kept in safely locked files for five years before destroyed. Interviewees will be allowed to give me a pseudonym to ensure their privacy. They will also be told the interview is voluntary and if at any time they do not feel comfortable answering a question just let me know and if they want to end the interview at any time to tell me. They will be advised there are no risk involved with the study and there will be no cost nor will there be any compensation for the study. Prior to the interview participants will be asked to sign an informed consent agreeing to participate in this research project. There will be a short time of building rapport followed by the interview questions. My role in the study will be that of a researcher.

In addition to the one-on-one interview, participants will be observed for body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. If available qualitative documentation including newspaper articles, emails, or personal journal entries from participants regarding school safety concerns will be obtained. The study will be completed over a two-semester period.


After interviews are completed, transcripts will be completed using both the observation notes and the recording of the interviews. The transcripts will then be read quickly, and notes will be made concerning the first impressions. Content analysis will be analyzed as transcript are reread line by line using open coding identifying relevant and specific words including bullying, harassment, safety, security. These words will be color-coded and organized into categories, patterns, and commonalities such as bullying and harassment as a form of violence and safety and security as a solution. From these emerging themes will be developed. Coding will also be conducted on changes of tone, body language and other cues which take place during the interview. Once the coding is complete and axial codes will be defined.


School violence affects virtually every school in the United States, in some form or another. For that reason, data will be collected and analyzed from teachers to gain an understanding of their perceptions on school violence since they are at the forefront of the matter. This will allow for the framework of the recommendations to be research-based and data-driven and designed for student’s academic success. School districts can use this information to design training for teachers which can be both efficient and effective. Teachers will be able to use the info to minimize disruptions in the classroom thus decreasing violence associated with schools. Data will be collected analyzed and interpreted systematically based on the field of research and the research problem. Data will be coded by hand, highlighting transcripts then categorizing into reoccurring patterns and emerging themes.

The content will be verified for accuracy using triangulation of data which includes the interviews, the current policies and the observations conducted during the interviews. The reader will be the one that determines if the research is transferable to a different setting. This will be determined as the descriptions will be noted as rich in detail and the triangulation will confirm the data. The dependability of the research will be determined if there is a noted change in conditions during the study. Confirmability will depend upon other researchers being able to confirm the findings. This will be accomplished through control of interpretation bias.


There are several limitations to this exploratory study. Expected limitations include limited participation in the study by districts, schools, and teachers which could limit possibilities of generalizations. The results of this study are specific to teachers in the greater Atlanta area, therefore, limiting the number and scope of participants. Additionally, the number of participants’ perceptions of school violence and the study only of Atlanta and its suburbs and not in the state or nation. No data was gathered from teachers outside the designated area. Data will be collected over a two-semester span, thereby limiting both the longevity of the study as well as the potential participant pool. Teachers will participate in voluntary, and there will be no pre-screening to identify the possible existence of personal characteristics linked to school violence. Since the survey is voluntary and the number of participants limited, the findings of the study may not reflect the perceptions and beliefs of the general teacher population. The topic may make some teachers uncomfortable.

Since invitations to participate in the program were sent to gatekeepers there could be further restrictions of the pool of potential participants if they chose what schools can participate. It is anticipated there will be a low response rate. The questions may have further limitation and participants may interpret the questions differently than was intended. There is the possibility that participants falsely answer one or more questions. Additionally, once information is gathered school districts may not have the desire or the funds to fully develop a program to combat school violence. Stakeholders may not support the research thus they may not be committed to implementing a program once it is developed. Not all school districts may have a desire to address the issue of school violence or they may not value the opinions of the teachers. There is the chance that the stakeholders may not have the resources to devote to reviewing current policies or implement new ones or could be of the mindset of “if it’s not broke don’t fix it. Still, other districts may be in denial of issues or problems within their schools. Districts may find that time could be a limitation along with participation. Once problems are identified both schools and teachers must “buy-in” to the program and cooperate with the new policies to ensure district-wide consistency. Without commitment and positive reactions, students cannot see the program as important and be cooperative.

Another limitation of this study could be the approach of the study. Additional or different information could be obtained with different questions. The method of qualitative may not gain as much information as a qualitative or mixed-method study thus there is the potential of lost information. The use of a different survey design could have increase participation and obtained a more generalized representation of the teacher population. The use of one school or on county or even adding more schools as a statewide of area-wide study may have altered the results as variables would have been different. There may have been different results had only teachers from elementary, middle, or high schools been interviewed verses teachers from the district.

Core Values

This research proposal aligns with Saint Leo’s core values and the findings will further address these matters. First, excellence can be noted as school districts want to ensure positive violent free learning environments for the students they serve. These learning environments ensure students are developing character while learning life skills they will need to become responsible citizens and leaders in the community. The research is noticed in the second value of the community as the students feel safe and respected in a comfortable environment free from violence. Respect is established in this research project as schools provide environments where students are valued for their diversity and ability to learn in a pleasant atmosphere. Results from the study will allow students to develop fully establishing a balanced lifestyle. Results will also foster community resources which will be used to develop responsible adults. Finally, the research will be conducted in a manner of integrity and honesty.


This qualitative case study is designed in hopes to bring light to school violence and will add to the research regarding teachers’ perceptions of school violence. The topic of school violence needs to be included in school discussions as it, directly and indirectly, impacts students, school staff and the community. Data will be collected through semi-structured interviews. Then data will be analyzed through coding identifying themes. The goal is the data obtained will meet help school districts review their current school violence policies and revamp as needed or create new policies. Additionally, this data will be useful in creating training for teachers regarding identifying and being proactive in solutions regarding school violence. This qualitative study will provide valuable information which is exploratory in nature allowing for the ability to bridge and integrated the existing literature to formulate new ideas. The goal of the proposed study is to identify if indeed the perceived effectiveness of preventative programs such as zero tolerance and school resource officers regarding the feeling of safety on a school campus.

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