School Safety: The Importance of the 4th R – Relationships

Posted by on March 12, 2014

Numerous school shootings could have been prevented if students who knew about violent plans had shared that information with adults. Surveys have found that as much of 75% of the incidence of bullying at school are not brought to the attention of adults.

Why kids won’t talk with adults about safety concerns

Why don’t students tell school staff about bullying, violent plots, and other safety concerns? The reasons most often given include:

  • I did not think violence would actually happen.
  • I did not want to get involved.
  • I have been conditioned not to tell.
  • I feared retaliation.
  • I was afraid that the bullying would get worse.
  • I did not think the school staff could do anything to stop it.
  • I do not have a relationship with school staff and do not trust them.

These comments from students illustrate the importance of building positive relationships between every student and school staff.

Relationships are reciprocal: You reap what you sow

I worked in preK-12 schools for 26 years. When a teacher referred a student to me, they often gave a long discourse on everything that the student was doing wrong. When appropriate, I always asked, “Do you know what the student wants to be when they grow up? Do they have a pet at home? What they do with their free time?”

Very seldom could a teacher answer those questions and when that occurred, I asked the teacher to talk with the student and find out about their hopes and dreams. I would often have the teacher tell me a few days later that the student’s behavior was much improved. Relationships are reciprocal and the more we put into them the more we get back.

I currently teach at a university and I learn every student’s name the first class meeting and find out something about them. I review all their names before the next few classes until I have learned them all. I meet and greet as many students as possible at the beginning of each class period and will often go to the door of the classroom so that I can say goodbye to each of them

Improved relationships lead to improved safety

School connection has been identified as very important to student overall health and well being. Sometimes all that is needed is for a student to truly feel that at least one person cares whether or not he or she came to school today or not. And that caring, the 4th-R, can reduce bullying, prevent violence, and maybe even save a life.

Scott Poland

Consultant to National School Safety and Security Services

Scott Poland, Ed. D., is a Professor at the Center for Psychological Studies and the Co-Director of the Suicide and Violence Prevention Office at Nova Southeastern University. Scott is a Past Prevention Division Director for the American Association of Suicidology and Past President of the National Association of School Psychologists. Further information is available at

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One thought on “School Safety: The Importance of the 4th R – Relationships

  1. David says:

    Good comment on the importance of relationships in school. I believe the important key to safety is connection/relationships. When people know you care, you gain the ability to influence their lives

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