Fostering a Safe Working Environment for School Staff and Students

Fostering a Safe Working Environment for School Staff and Students

- Brenda Koch, Risk Management Associate, and Annette Satterly, Risk Management Associate

Implementing effective risk-management strategies that improve the safety of staff and students takes a comprehensive approach that includes a focus on effectively working with aggressive students. Across the country, there has been a notable increase in the number of injuries to school district staff involving interactions with students who display highly aggressive behaviors.  Closer to home, over the last three school years, the MSGIA has processed approximately 1,400 reported claims of this nature, with related claims costs approaching $1,300,000. And though large and concerning, this number doesn’t begin to capture the related impact of injured and thus unavailable staff.  To address this growing concern and improve the school environment for both staff and students, districts need to develop systematic and consistent approaches to the problem, as doing so is one of the best ways to reduce the severity of this issue and its impact on staff and students. Below are some strategies that several Montana schools are using to effectively address this problem.


A renewed focus on training and education for ALL staff:

  • Providing comprehensive and frequent training to staff members to help them manage student behavior, develop conflict resolution techniques, and apply de-escalation strategies. These trainings – paired with related efforts to educate staff about indicators of potential aggression and how to respond appropriately to them – are fundamental for office staff, custodial staff, substitute teachers, and any others who may deal with students displaying aggressive behaviors.


Establish Clear Policies and Procedures:

  • Develop and communicate clear policies and procedures regarding acceptable student behavior, disciplinary actions, and consequences for misconduct.
  • Establish protocols for reporting incidents of student aggression or violence promptly.


Implement Behavioral Intervention Programs and a Threat Assessment Tool - Consistent Across the District:

  • Develop and implement evidence-based behavioral intervention programs aimed at promoting positive behavior and at teaching students appropriate self-regulation and social skills.
  • Cultivate strong partnerships with parents of aggressive children.
  • Provide support services such as counseling and/or mentoring for students who exhibit challenging behaviors. 
  • Collaborate with mental health professionals and behavior specialists to develop individual behavior plans for students with complex needs; these may likely include referrals for 504s or IEPs to determine eligibility.
  • Adopt a district-threat assessment tool, as required by 20-1-401 (b), and, as part of this adoption process, ensure that all staff are trained and using the tool when appropriate.


Enhance Supervision and Monitoring:

  • Increase supervision in areas where students have less confinement, such as hallways, lunchrooms, and playgrounds.
  • Utilize security cameras or other monitoring systems to deter misconduct and provide evidence in cases where incidents occur.
  • Encourage staff members to be always vigilant and aware of their surroundings.


Promote Positive Relationships and Communication (Culture):

  • Foster positive relationships between staff and students through mutual respect, empathy, and open communication. Remember, culture trumps everything!
  • Encourage staff members to establish trust-based relationships, and, in keeping with this approach, identify ways to help them build an unconditional positive rapport with students and parents. 


Collaborate with Community Partners:

  • Partner with local law enforcement agencies, youth organizations, community medical entities, and community leaders to address underlying factors contributing to misconduct.
  • Seek resources and expertise from external stakeholders to enhance school safety initiatives.


Regular Review and Evaluation:

  • Conduct regular assessments of the effectiveness of injury prevention strategies and adjust approaches as needed based on feedback and data analysis. (This is a great opportunity for high levels of engagement with your district safety committees and school Child Safety Teams/Threat Assessment Teams.)
  • Review incident reports and injury reports to identify trends and patterns, informing targeted interventions and prevention efforts.


Creating and maintaining a safe school environment for staff and students is critical for districts to deliver on their ultimate promise of developing the full potential of every child, as well as ensuring your staff are working in the safest environments possible.  Unfortunately, because the root causes for these types of incidents come from many sources, there is no single, simple step or strategy for ensuring this level of safety for all.  Thus, the more comprehensive the school district’s approach to this aspect of workplace safety, the more encouraging and affirming the long-term outcomes will be.  In sum, it takes tremendous, concerted, and unwavering effort to deal with this systematic problem, and it requires a collective, collaborative approach informed by best practices and positive outcomes. As always, the MSGIA is here to assist! Return to newsletter