Knife crime: American teachers' advice for British schools

Teacher says 'best preventative method is to have kind, loving, caring and engaged teachers'

Martin George

American teachers have given advice to British schools about knife crime.

American teachers who helped found a national movement to address school violence have given British schools advice about tackling knife crime.

According to the Washington Post, more than 221,000 pupils in 215 schools in the US have experienced gun violence in the two decades since the Columbine High School Massacre.

The National Coalition for Safe Schools is "committed to ending school violence by working to ensure that our children have access to the tools, services and support they need to live healthy productive lives".

Tes asked three of its founders, who spoke at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, what advice they would give to UK schools amid growing concerns about knife crime.

Quick read: Sadiq Khan: 'I’m not blaming schools for knife crime rise'

Quick read: Hinds defends heads over exclusions and knife-crime claims

Quick read: Ofsted questions exclusions of pupils carrying blades 

Nadia Lopez, the founder and principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brooklyn, New York, first explained the issues facing her school.

She said: "My boys, to get to school, that safe harbour, during certain times it's gang initiation, so when they get to us it's safe, but by the end of the day it's about survival.

"There's a real life threat for many of my children just to get to school."

When asked about her advice for British schools, she said: “Everything happens at leadership. This is the time when it should start at the top, because the teachers need to feel safe.

“This first thing is addressing the issue and being clear and transparent.”

She said teachers need to have a voice, alongside local education officials, police and politicians, in drawing up a plan of action.

Ms Lopez said school leaders need to allow teachers to “verbalise what they are feeling and what is the sense that they feel in the community as well as in the classroom”.

Brian Copes, lead teacher at Hoover City Schools in Alabama, warned that it was harder to stop problems arising if teachers were overworked.

He said: “I think the best preventative method is to have kind, loving, caring and engaged teachers in the classroom because often teachers are overworked, and they really just don’t want to be there.

“We have all seen that teacher, and when we have that they’re not kind, they’re not loving, and they’re not engaged with the students.”

Mark Vondracek, a teacher at Evanston Township High School, near Chicago, said: “The first step is to get to know the kids. It’s really easy for me after they have been there for the first couple of weeks to read visual expressions.

“A number of times I have been able to after class just pull a few aside and say ‘how are you today’ and you’ll see something a little different. For newer teachers, you gain that sense from experience.

“If there’s no trust relationship and if you don’t talk with your kids, and what’s more important listen to their responses – some of them are desperate just to be heard. Often that’s all it takes.

“If you give them more time they are more likely to come to you with their next issue and let you know, and just have it out there.”

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Martin George

Martin George

Martin George is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @geomr

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