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Shifting the Focus: Fostering School Safety Through Holistic Student Support

As a former educator, my heart sank upon hearing the news reports of the Nashville school shooting. It was just one of the many heartbreaking incidents that have impacted children over the past year, and one of many in a long list that includes Uvalde, Marjory, and many more. I couldn't help but empathize with the school staff, parents, students, and communities affected by these tragedies. Now, as an education consultant, I have witnessed firsthand the concerns raised by superintendents, and one topic that consistently weighs heavily on their minds is school safety. This issue hits close to home for so many of us.

In light of the disturbing rise in attacks on school campuses, the urgency of addressing school safety has never been greater. It is crucial that we have robust safety measures in place to protect our students and provide peace of mind to parents and educators alike. However, it is equally important to recognize that prevention plays a vital role in ensuring the well-being of our students. While reactive physical security measures are often the primary focus of discussions surrounding school safety, it is essential to broaden our perspective and address the underlying factors that contribute to violence.

The Importance of Prevention

A lot of attention has been paid by policymakers to measures like security cameras, background checks, and campus guards. And while there is a role for physical security, there is also the need to focus on prevention and de-escalation strategies. Comprehensive counseling programs, anti-bullying campaigns, and other measures specifically target the root causes of violence. Education Week highlights a significant finding: many school mass shooters exhibit noticeable behavioral changes and actively communicate their distress or plans to others. This finding raises a critical question: Shouldn't our preventive efforts also focus on identifying these cries for help as potential threats? Additionally, there should be efforts focused on getting ahead of the challenge even when indicators of violence are not present.

By focusing more attention on proactive prevention strategies, we can begin addressing early warning signs and behaviors that might lead to acts of violence. It is crucial to equip educators and staff with the necessary training to recognize these behavioral red flags, allowing them to intervene and provide timely support to at-risk students. Prevention-oriented measures, such as comprehensive counseling programs, peer support networks, mental health resources, and social-emotional learning initiatives empower schools to create a supportive and inclusive environment that fosters student well-being.

The Whole Student Approach

To effectively prevent school violence, we must adopt a holistic approach that encompasses student well-being. This approach involves creating a school culture that promotes empathy, respect, and open communication, making it less likely for students to resort to violence as a means of expression. It also entails addressing underlying issues such as bullying, social isolation, and mental health challenges, which can significantly impact a student's behavior and emotional state.

While physical security measures undoubtedly play a vital role in school safety, we must not overlook prevention. By focusing on the whole student, schools can foster an environment that prioritizes well-being and mitigates the risk of violence. Remember, true school safety is not just about reacting to crises, but also about preventing them through comprehensive support for every student.


Hannah Farell is a trusted advisor to education leaders around the country. Her work focuses on research into school safety, district-wide strategic planning, and large-scale project monitoring. As well as Linkedin, she can also be reached at


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