If you haven’t already seen it, you will most likely soon encounter the viral video of a teacher attempting to break up a fight in a high school cafeteria, and finding himself embroiled in the crisis. This 27 seconds of drama doesn’t tell the entire story of the situation, but it does concisely illustrate the many dilemmas facing educators today in regards to responding to incidents such as these.
Let’s break it down into a couple separate but equally important ideas. But first, let’s be clear, none of us know exactly what occurred before and after the video clip, and 27 seconds doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s tempting after the fact to assign blame or criticism, but that isn’t the point of this discussion. Rather it is to reflect on how these situations should be dealt with in all of our schools, because face it – this video could easily have happened in your school.
- This video illustrates the need for adequate, continual, and engaged supervision. With strategic supervision, rather than the typical, passive “leaning against the wall” supervision, personnel are actively engaging in interactions with students and watching for escalating situations before they erupt in violence. While this isn’t always possible – perhaps as shown in the video – it is possible to put people in strategic locations and expect them to have a high level of situational awareness. We could also reflect on the other side of this coin – what would this fight have looked like if there hadn’t been another adult close at hand to assist with one of the two physically aggressive girls.
- A major dilemma is clearly illustrated here as well – how do we balance our duty as educators to protect student from violence with our duty to protect ourselves from violence? Moreover, how can we protect students without putting ourselves in a position to perpetrate additional violence and/or open ourselves to legal liability? The video clearly illustrates this, as the teacher is subjected to at least 4 or 5 blows from the fighting girls. The fight itself is resolved when the teacher becomes more aggressive himself in taking the girl to the ground. This results in the potential for more violence as the students watching the event insert themselves into the situation.
- The viewer/documentor’s shift from audience to participant is shown only briefly at the end of the video, but it is an important consideration. Students who were amused, interested observers at the beginning of the event changed rapidly to hands on participants as the teacher subdues the fighting girl. Now the staff member is faced not with just one aggressive student, but the potential for many more who are reacting to the resolution of the original fight.
- There also needs to be some discussion of the culpability of the girls who initiated the event. Clearly both girls were intent on fighting someone and were acting in a physically aggressive fashion to both their peers and the adults in authority. Was the source of the fight something that could have been resolved or addressed in some other fashion before it turned to violence, or were these individuals intent on perpetrating some sort of violence regardless of who it involved or what form it took?
So what is the lesson learned here? There will always be the potential for violence when students find themselves in volatile situations. Fortunately low cost, effective strategies such as strategic supervision, conflict resolution, crisis de-escalation, a positive school climate, and a relationship-based culture can go a long way to reducing or eliminating these types of events. But these approaches are not quick, easy fixes- they require a sustained commitment on the part of administrators and staff members. Resources must be allocated for the training and professional development of all stakeholders in these critical areas.
Our response to aggressive and violent events can be more effective ONLY when we provide adequate training to staff AND students on how to actively supervise large groups of student, how to deescalate aggressive situations and how to safely and appropriate put hands on a student when required.
This needs to be more than another “holy cow” video that is watched and forgotten like a cat playing the piano – it needs to be a wakeup call about the vital important of violence prevention initiatives in all schools.
You can watch the original video by clicking here