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Original research article, school violence and teacher professional engagement: a cross-national study.

school violence research paper

  • 1 Key Laboratory of Adolescent Health Assessment and Exercise Intervention of Ministry of Education, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China
  • 2 College of Physical Education and Health, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China
  • 3 University of Wisconsin System, Madison, WI, United States
  • 4 Office of Assessment and Planning, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, United States

School violence research has mainly focused on the impact on students. Very few studies, even fewer from a cross-cultural perspective, have examined the relationships between school violence and teacher professional engagement, and the role played by teacher self-efficacy and school climate related factors. The present study utilizes a SEM research methodology to analyze the 2013 TALIS data. The purpose is to understand and compare the relationships in four different cultural contexts; the U.S., England, South Korea, and Mexico. Results indicate, on average, that the significant and negative impacts of school violence on teacher professional engagement are partly mediated by teacher self-efficacy. The negativity of school violence is significantly alleviated by enhancing participation among school stakeholders and improving teacher–student relationships. The relationships among the factors apply across all four cultural systems, though, the effects of factors and variables vary to a degree. The paper also discusses other relevant issues and differences as well as their implications.


School violence is a social issue that has drawn significant attention and debate among different parties in the U.S. On March 14, 2018, in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Florida, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in support of legislation aimed at reducing school violence.

Ranging from aggression against school property, verbal abuse of students or teachers, physical bullying, to lethal rampages, school violence has a traumatic impact on all members of a school community ( Lester et al., 2017 ). However, while most research on school violence to date has focused on students (e.g., Robers et al., 2010 ; Cornell, 2017 ), the effect of school violence on teachers has received little media, research, and policy attention within the U.S. and across the world ( Espelage et al., 2013 ). Research examining how school violence impacts teachers' well-being, job satisfaction, and future career decisions has been very limited. More importantly, very little research has addressed how the effects of school violence on teachers can vary in conjunction with school-related and culture-related contextual factors (e.g., Galand et al., 2007 ; McMahon et al., 2017 ).

Research has shown that violence directed toward teachers has reached concerning levels, requiring further investigation (e.g., Tiesman et al., 2013 ; Martinez et al., 2015 ). For instance, in a nationwide survey in the U.S., researchers reported that 80% of teachers experienced at least one of 11 different forms of school violence during the current or past school year ( McMahon et al., 2014 ). The International Survey on Teaching and Learning (TALIS, 2013) shows that the U.S. ranks highest in the category of school violence. Around 14% of principals reported that their teachers have suffered some type of violence from students, such as intimidation or verbal abuse, which is greater than the international average of 10% ( OECD, 2014 ). Another study indicated that the victimization rate of teachers varied by state and, more specifically, by the rate of teachers who had been threatened with physical violence; in some states, the rate was as high as 17% (e.g., Zhang et al., 2016 ).

A growing body of literature from different developed and developing countries demonstrates that school violence is associated with teacher's disengagement, turnover, and some other negative consequences, such as their emotional wellbeing. Yet the prevalence of school violence and its impact on teachers' professional engagement is not the same between countries. [see e.g., Mexico ( Estévez et al., 2016 ), South Korea ( Moon et al., 2015 ), Canada ( Berg and Cornell, 2016 ), Malaysia ( Santos and Tin, 2018 )]. Almost no studies have comparatively examined the prevalence, relevance, or the variety of school violence that occurs in different international contexts, and even fewer have studied the factors associated with school violence that can impact the professional engagement of teachers in the U.S. and in other contexts worldwide ( Akiba et al., 2002 ; Baker et al., 2005 ).

Researchers have warned that an over emphasis on intra country studies may cause insularity that could potentially lead to insensitivity of educational policies to various situations ( Dolton and Marcenaro-Gutierrez, 2011 ). The current cross-country study was designed to investigate the impact of school violence on teacher professional engagement and to compare the variation of teacher responses to violence in different institutional and national settings. The purpose is to contribute to the development of generalizable theories, policies, and intervention strategies that can mitigate the impact of school violence on teachers across countries.

Specifically, this multiple-country study examined the extent to which school violence influenced teachers' professional engagement and the mediation role played by teacher self-efficacy. It further explored how the school climate related factors, such as participation among stakeholders and teacher–student relationships, contribute to reducing school-based violence across countries. Four countries were selected for this study: the U.S., England, South Korea (or the Republic of Korea), and Mexico. The four countries, located in three continents, are diverse across several dimensions including geographical features, economic indicators, cultural characteristics, and educational systems ( OECD, 2014 ). Given that research on school violence and teacher professional engagement has predominantly been conducted in the U.S., the U.S. was included to situate the findings. England, which has somewhat similar sociocultural and educational systems to those in the U.S., was chosen to examine the replicability of the findings from the U.S. in a completely different set of teacher samples from England. South Korea was chosen to represent the geographical and sociocultural profile of East Asia (Confucian, Collectivism; Hofstede and Hofstede, 2005 ). And Mexico was chosen to represent the Latin American context characterized by collectivism and interdependence ( Estévez et al., 2016 ). Three research questions guided the present study:

1. What is the effect of school violence on teachers' professional engagement in the U.S., England, South Korea, and Mexico?

2. How does teacher self-efficacy mediate the effects of school violence on teacher professional engagement in each of the four countries?

3. Does participation among stakeholders and teacher–student relationships contribute to prevention of school violence?

Conceptual Model

Impact of school violence on teacher professional engagement.

The literature suggests that school violence in K-12 public school settings is a common, worldwide problem that has been found to be associated with serious adverse consequences on teacher professional engagement (e.g., work-related stress and burnout, decreased teaching effectiveness, disengagement from teaching, and turnover; Ingersoll, 2001 ; Pas et al., 2010 ; Martinez et al., 2015 ; Wang et al., 2015 ). In fact, a lack of safety can hamper teachers' ability to “deal completely with the demands of the job” ( Schaufeli et al., 2002 , p. 73) and can eventually worsen teacher professional disengagement ( Boyd et al., 2011 ). Empirical evidence in the U.S. has documented that perceptions of student behavior and school safety are among the strongest predictors of teacher career decisions ( Ingersoll, 2002 ; Marinell and Coca, 2013 ; Kemper, 2017 ). In addition, Newman et al. (2004) reported that teachers who worry about their safety are more likely to leave the teaching profession altogether.

Teachers' feelings toward school violence can have significant implications for the educational system, affecting the quality and continuity of children's education through the way teachers teach, through their absentee rate, and through their relationship with their students ( Payne et al., 2003 ; Finley, 2004 ; DeVoe et al., 2005 ). Other researchers have shown that teachers who felt unsafe at school due to potential violence had lower levels of job satisfaction ( Williams et al., 1989 ), tended to be unmotivated and less committed to their job ( Van Ginkel, 1987 ; Vettenburg, 2002 ), and even left the profession altogether ( Ingersoll, 2001 ; Scheckner et al., 2002 ).

School Climate

A range of previous studies indicate that teachers' perceptions and experiences of school violence have been directly and indirectly affected by school contexts, an ecosystem of multiple social environments which defines school climate (see e.g., Karcher, 2002 ). The joint efforts between schools, parents, and communities helps buffer and prevent the incurrence of school violence. Researchers have indicated that parents' involvement in school-based activities and community support and engagement in school-wide violence prevention efforts allow schools and teachers to nurture and maintain proper behaviors. The active engagement of parents and strong community support play important and positive mediating roles leading to positive student outcomes, reduced teachers' subjectivity to inappropriate school-based behaviors, and decreased school violence ( Sampson et al., 1997 ; Welsh, 2000 ; Benbenisty and Astor, 2005 ; Ricketts, 2007 ; Gage et al., 2014 ). Involving parents and community members in meaningful ways allow schools to maintain appropriate behaviors ( Gage et al., 2014 ).

The definition of factors of an ecosystem in a school social environment (aka the constructs of school climate) varies across different studies ( De Pedro et al., 2016 ; Wang and Degol, 2016 ). One of the important factors consistently identified across research is the community in which the quality of interactions and relationship among school members is assessed ( Wang and Degol, 2016 ). In the current study, we selected two aspects of school climate that are theoretically and empirically very important: teachers' self-report regarding the participation among stakeholders and student-teacher relationships. Research indicates that participation among stakeholders promotes a supportive educational environment by establishing mutual goals between the school, family, and community ( Christenson, 1995 ). Positive relationships establish trust and respect between students and teachers ( Hopson and Lee, 2011 ) and build students' sense of attachment and bonding to school ( Kotok et al., 2016 ).

Teacher Self-Efficacy

Teacher self-efficacy was found to positively predict teachers' psychological well-being and negatively predict their intentions to quit ( Wang et al., 2015 ). Based on Albert Bandura's self-efficacy theory ( Bandura, 1986 ), teacher efficacy is a situation-specific construct meaning teacher's self-efficacy varies across different situations or contexts. When teachers feel they are not capable of controlling and managing teaching situations, a sense of powerlessness may result in lower self-efficacy ( Rosenholtz, 1989 ). Therefore, positive experiences become an encouraging reward while negative experiences may result in disengagement or encourage leaving the profession ( Ware and Kitsantas, 2011 ). Besides the contextual factors, this study also added teacher self-efficacy as an impacting factor that related to teachers' perception on their teaching and school. Research has indicated the correlations between teacher self-efficacy and teacher burnout and attrition (e.g., Schwarzer and Hallum, 2008 ). Teachers' self-efficacy plays important roles in navigating the impact of school violence and reducing the effects that has on their professional engagement.

Among the factors influencing teachers' self-efficacy, student behavior problems have become the next most cited factor relating to lower teacher self-efficacy and their decisions to quit (e.g., Borman and Dowling, 2008 ; Brill and McCartney, 2008 ). Substantial disappointment has been observed among teachers who are experiencing overwhelming student discipline problems, which lead to teachers questioning their teaching ability and their professional choices. Student misbehaviors might make teachers feel less able to carry out their teaching tasks. The issue is even more significant among beginner teachers who grapple with higher levels of pressure regarding their relationship with students and their ability to manage student behavior (e.g., Lukens et al., 2004 ). Friedman (1995) revealed that 22% of the variance in predicting teacher burnout can be explained by typical student misbehaviors.

Teacher and School Characteristics

The effects of school violence on teachers differ by teacher characteristics. Some studies have found that male teachers are more likely to be affected than their female colleagues ( Robers et al., 2013 ), whereas other studies suggest that female teachers are more vulnerable to violence (e.g., Wei et al., 2013 ). Using the survey responses of 4,371 Minnesota educators, the a uthors found that female and non-white teachers tended to experience more school violence, while experienced teachers were less likely to be affected by school violence ( Wei et al., 2013 ). Differences may be partially due to the type of violence reported ( McMahon et al., 2014 ).

Regarding school characteristics, a large number of studies have found that school violence in larger schools in urban areas is more prevalent than in other schools ( Stewart, 2003 ). School size may also be related to safety, although findings have been inconsistent ( Klein and Cornell, 2010 ; Robers et al., 2013 ). School poverty has been found to be associated with school violence. Teachers report less safety in higher poverty schools ( Steinberg et al., 2013 ). Poverty explained nearly 20% of differences in teacher reports of safety.

The present study builds upon previous research by testing how the perceived school violence (exogenous latent variables) affects teachers' professional engagement (endogenous latent variable). Besides the direct effect aforementioned in previous research, the model also investigates whether the effect of school violence on professional disengagement is mediated by teacher self-efficacy ( Figure 1 ), whether the same model holds true across four countries, and how the effects differ among different cultural contexts. It is hypothesized that school violence affects teacher professional engagement but is mediated by teacher self-efficacy (see Figure 1 ). We, therefore, not only test the direct relationship between school violence and teachers' professional engagement, but also test the mediating effect of teachers' self-efficacy on these relationships. We also identify participation among stakeholders and teacher–student relationships, which may address the level of school violence.


Figure 1 . SEM model on school violence and teacher professional engagement.

Data and Samples

The dataset used in the study was the 2013 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) administered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This international large-scale survey of teachers, principals, teaching, and school environment closely looked at the school and classroom features that influenced teacher effectiveness. In general, the TALIS 2013 instruments include selected antecedent variables, school inputs, processes and a limited set of outcomes.

In order to ensure that a representative sample of the target population was tested in each participating country, TALIS 2013 used a two-stage stratified probability sampling design. A school was excluded if the response rate was lower than 50% of sampled teachers. Both paper-and-pencil and online survey administration modes were used ( OECD, 2014 ). The sampling weights were applied at the teacher level to reduce the sampling error caused by unequal probability of selection ( OECD, 2014 ).

In total, the study sample includes responses from 10,316 teachers (grades 9 and 10) at the second stage and from 638 schools at the first stage. More specifically, the samples of four countries contain responses from 1,857 teachers in 122 schools in the U.S., 2,825 teachers in 177 schools in South Korea, 2,496 teachers in 152 schools in England, and 3,138 teachers in 187 schools in Mexico. The TALIS data provide detailed descriptions of teacher and school characteristics ( OECD, 2014 ).

Independent Variable

In the TALIS data, school violence measures school vandalism and theft, intimidation or verbal abuse among students (or other forms of non-physical bullying), physical injury caused by violence among students, intimidation or verbal abuse of teachers, and use/possession of drugs and/or alcohol. One sample item is “Intimidation or verbal abuse of teachers or staff.” All items in this construct were answered on a five-point scale. Response categories were 1 for never, 2 for rarely, 3 for monthly, 4 for weekly, and 5 for daily.

Participation among stakeholders, measures whether stakeholders such as staff, parents, or guardians and students have opportunities to participate in school decisions and to what extent the school has a culture of shared responsibility and mutual support regarding school issues. One sample item is “This school provides parents with opportunities to participate in school decisions.” All items were answered on a four-point scale, with response categories of 1 for strongly disagree, 2 for disagree, 3 for agree and 4 for strongly agree. Teacher–student relationship (four items) measures whether teachers and students get along in the school and to what extent teachers care about students' well-being and respect their opinions. One sample item is “Most teachers in this school are interested in what students have to say.” The measures of teacher–student relations have the same scale points and response categories as the measures of participation among stakeholders.

Mediating Variable

The teacher self-efficacy scale measures teachers' efficacy in classroom management, efficacy in instruction and efficacy in student engagement. Each sub-scale contains four items on a four-point scale with response categories of 1 for not at all, 2 for to some extent, 3 for quite a bit, and 4 for a lot. One sample item that measures teacher efficacy in classroom management is “To what extent can you calm a student who is disruptive or noisy?”

Dependent Variable

Teacher professional engagement measures to what extent teachers are engaged in their teaching profession. Four items have been included, all items were measured on a four-point scale, for which the response categories were 1 for strongly disagree, 2 for disagree, 3 for agree, and 4 for strongly agree. One sample item that measures teachers' professional engagement is “If I could decide again, I would still choose to work as a teacher.”

Control Variable

Several control variables were included in the final SEM model (see Figure 1 ) to remove their potential effects on the relationship between school violence and teacher professional engagement. Prior research has highlighted their importance in explaining the variations in teacher professional engagement (see e.g., Torres, 2019 ). The control variables are teachers' demographic variables [i.e., gender (TT2G01), age (TT2G02), school-related work experience (TT2G05A), employment status (TT2G03)] and schools' contextual variables [i.e., school type (TC2G10), school community (TC2G09), school enrollment (TC2G14), and percentage of students from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes (TC2G15C)]. Some variables were recoded to simplify the analytical process and also to remove the small sample effect of some categories in certain control variables. Specifically, employment status (TT2G03) was recoded into full-time and non-full time (the reference category). School community (TC2G09) was combined into three categories of Rural/Village, Small Town/Town (the reference category), or City/Large City. Percentages of students from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes (TC2G15C)] were grouped into two categories of schools having over 30% students or below 30% students from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes (the reference category).

Analytic Procedures

The average percentage of missingness of the sample data used in the present analyses, across all four countries, ranges from 2.8 to 4.6%. Prior to the analyses, listwise deletion was used to remove cases with missing data. In each analysis, weights were adjusted at the teacher level to account for the response errors due to unequal probability of sample selection.

TALIS (2013) was collected using stratified multi-stage sampling methods, with teachers nested within schools, which in turn were nested within countries. The clustered data from a complex survey usually require multi-level analyses. We calculated the design effect of each item measuring teachers' professional engagement and teachers' self-efficacy in each country [i.e., Design Effect = 1+( Average Cluster Size −1) × Intraclass Correlation ], where the average cluster size is the average number of teachers across all schools per country and the Intraclass Correlation (ICC) explains the average shared variance across teachers within a given school in a country, controlling for individual teacher variation. The results indicate that the design effect of the items for each of the two outcomes across the four countries, ranges from 1.58 to 1.89, which is below the conventional cut-off of 2 ( Maas and Hox, 2004 ). Given the very large cluster size in each school ( Lai and Kwok, 2015 ), it is safe to assume that the responses to the outcomes from the teachers are relatively independent and the application of a single-level analysis did not lead to overly biased results. The small ICC (ranging from 0.01 to 0.06 for items measuring teacher professional engagement across four countries) found with the sample implies that there is a very low variability between-schools in terms of teachers' engagement and self-efficacy. At the same time, however, the within-school variability in teachers' professional engagement or self-efficacy can be high, which is the focus of the present research study.

Structural equation modeling (SEM) approaches were used to test the hypotheses. Specifically, the weighted least square mean and variance adjusted (WLSMV) estimation method in Mplus 8 ( Muthén and Muthén, 1998–2017 ) was used. The WLSMV estimator was chosen because it was designed to model ordered or categorical data. Different from its competing estimators such as Maximum Likelihood Robust (MLR), which assumes the outcomes to be continuous, the specification of outcomes to be categorical using WLSMV leads to non-linear models that are robust to assumptions of multivariate normality and non-independence observations ( Brown, 2006 ; Li, 2016 ). The model (see Figure 1 ) was analyzed following the two-step modeling guidelines recommended by Anderson and Gerbing (1988) . The first step involved examining the validity of the measurement component using Confirmatory Factor Analyses (CFA). The second step estimated the fully latent structural regression model among the latent constructs given that the measurement models fit the data adequately.

The present study used multiple fit indices to assess the adequacy of model fit to the data and the comparison of competing models. The commonly used fit indices to determine the adequacy of SEM models are root-mean-square error of approximation (RMSEA, Steiger, 1990 ), the Comparative Fit Index (CFI, Bentler, 1990 ), and the Tucker-Lewis Index (TLI, Tucker and Lewis, 1973 ). The cutoff criteria for the four commonly used fit indices are: both CFI and TLI are acceptable if above 0.90; RMSEA is acceptable if below 0.08. χ 2 test statistics were also reported but not relied on for model comparison due to the undesirable performance of the χ 2 test statistic; studies have shown that the incidental sample characteristics (e.g., skewed distributions, large sample size) may lead to an inflated χ 2 test statistic (see e.g., Saris et al., 2009 ; Ning and Luo, 2017 ). Modification index (MI) or Lagrange multiplier was also used to assess model fit improvement. Generally speaking, a MI value greater than a critical χ 2 value of 3.84 (given df =1 and α = 0.05) suggests an appreciable improvement in model fit if the model were modified to freely estimate that particular parameter, given that the post-hoc modification is theoretically justifiable.

The condition of partial measurement invariance was implemented throughout the factor structure assessment process in this study. Contrary to full measurement invariance, which requires all the measurement parameters of all items to be identical across all countries, partial measurement invariance allows a subset of measurement parameters to function differentially across countries, recognizing that in across-cultural/national studies, some items in a measuring instrument may operate in a way that is very specific to a country (see Bentler, 2005 ). Modification indexes were used here to assess the improvement of the model fit to the data in each country, allowing for the deletion and cross-loading of items, given that the post-hoc modification is theoretically justified. The multiple group analyses of each model showed that a weak configural invariance across all four countries and the overall factor structure holds similarly for all four countries.

Tables 1 , 2 summarize the demographic information on the participating teachers and schools in each of the countries, with complete cases for the variables used in the analyses. Table 3 presents the descriptive statistics of TALIS indicators for each scale used in the present study. The reliability coefficient alphas for the scales range from 0.60 to 0.86 across all four countries and are detailed in Table 6 . Interested readers can retrieve the TALIS 2013 technical report for the further description of the reliability coefficient alphas for each scale for all countries ( OECD, 2014 ). Before assessing the 7-factor model (M1), the construct validity of each single-factor structure was assessed separately for each country through confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) using Mplus 8.0. The examination of the model fit indices showed that the CFA for each single-factor structure fits the data for each country adequately. To save space, the tabulation of the CFA model fit indices for the validity of each individual construct, in each country, is not presented. Interested readers can contact the third author for details of M1 estimations.


Table 1 . Demographic information of participatory teachers for each country.


Table 2 . Demographic information of participatory schools for each country.


Table 3 . Descriptive statistics of TALIS indices used in the study.

The model fit information of four models (M1–M3) is summarized in Table 4 . The first model (M1) tested was the 7-factor CFA model that specified the relations of indicator variables to underlying constructs, while allowing the inter correlation of the constructs to be freely estimated. Modification indices were carefully examined for parameters that contribute most substantially to model misfit. Cross-loadings of some items on certain subscales were found to contribute substantially to the model's misfitting of the data in some countries. For example, item TT2G34G (“Help students think critically”), which was designed to measure the subscale of teacher self-efficacy in student engagement, was also found to measure the subscale of efficacy in instruction in the data from the U.S., South Korea, and England, but not in the data from Mexico. A re-specified post-hoc model that allows free estimation of the cross-loadings of certain items on a subscale to which they were not assigned, yielded significantly improved model fit statistics. The model fit indices indicate that the final M1 had an optimal fit to the data across the four countries. The values of CFI and TLI lie in the range of 0.96–0.98 with RMSEA being around 0.04 among the four countries. The adequacy of the 7-factor model provided a well-fitting baseline structure on which to build the following more complex models.


Table 4 . Evaluating model fit adequacy.

M1 was then extended to a second-order CFA model (M2) accounting for the theoretical constructs proposed by OECD where the overall teacher self-efficacy scale is measured by three sub-domains: classroom management, instruction, and student management. The final model fit of M2, as presented in Table 4 , shows that M2 fits the data from each of the countries adequately, with the values of CFI and TLI ranging from 0.94 to 0.98 and RMSEA ranging from 0.04 to 0.05. Minimal to slight improvement in model fit was found between M2 and M1 for the data from the U.S., South Korea, and England. Overall, the model M2 fits the data adequately across all four countries even though a slight reduction in model fit was observed for the data from Mexico. Table 5 summarizes the standardized factor loadings for the second-order CFA model. The factor loadings of the overall scale of teacher self-efficacy estimated on each of its three subscales across the four countries range from 0.70 to 0.85. Interested readers can contact the third author for the detailed visual figures of M1 and M2.


Table 5 . Second-Order Confirmatory factor analysis (M2) results and measurement properties of the scales by country.

The full SEM research model (M3) followed the same configural structure as M2 but added paths connecting the hypothesized relationship between the five constructs: participation among stakeholders, teacher–student relationship, school violence, teacher self-efficacy, and teacher professional engagement. Teachers' demographics and schools' context were added as control variables in M3. Though there is a slight reduction in terms of model fit compared to M2, the final hypothesized research model (M3) still shows adequate fit (see Table 4 ) for the samples from the U.S., South Korea, England, and Mexico. The standardized estimates of path coefficients and the effects of the control variables are presented in Table 6 . The standardized estimates of path coefficients for the U.S., South Korea, England, and Mexico are also shown, respectively, in Figures 2 – 5 .


Table 6 . The effects of school violence on teachers professional engagement by country.


Figure 2 . Standardized estimates of the SEM model (USA).


Figure 3 . Standardized estimates of the SEM model (KOREA).


Figure 4 . Standardized estimates of the SEM model (ENGLAND).


Figure 5 . Standardized estimates of the SEM model (MEXICO).

Similar and consistent patterns were observed among the U.S., South Korea, England, and Mexico. First , significant and positive effects of teacher self-efficacy on teacher professional engagement ( teacher self-efficacy → teacher professional engagement ) were observed in the samples from the four countries. While the effects were similar among the samples of the U.S. (β = 0.222, p < 0.001), England (β = 0.205, p < 0.001), and South Korea (β = 0.215, p < 0.001), the effect was more prominent in the Mexico sample (β = 0.374, p < 0.001). Second , school violence had significant negative effects on teacher self-efficacy ( school violence → teacher self-efficacy ); the negative effects of school violence on teacher self-efficacy was the least profound in the Mexico sample (β = −0.139, p < 0.001), but were similar in extent among the samples of South Korea (β = −0.299, p < 0.001), England (β = −0.293, p < 0.001), and the U.S. (β = −0.252, p < 0.001). Third , participation among stakeholders had significant negative effects on school violence ( participation among stakeholders → school violence ), implying that an increase in participation among stakeholders can contribute significantly to the prevention of school violence. Among the four countries, the U.S. benefited the most from stakeholders' involvement (β = −0.191, p < 0.001), followed by England (β = −0.139, p < 0.001). Effects were found to be the same between South Korea (β = −0.107, p < 0.001) and Mexico (β = −0.107, p < 0.001). Fourth , good teacher–student relationships were found to have significant negative effects on the incidence of school violence ( teacher–student relationship → school violence ). This was observed in samples from all four countries, implying that positive teacher and student relationships can effectively reduce violence in schools. A closer look at the results revealed that the negative effects were most profound in the samples of South Korea (β = −0.651, p < 0.001), similar between the U.S. (β = −0.395, p < 0.001) and England (β = −0.440, p < 0.001), and the least profound in the Mexico sample (β = −0.150, p < 0.001). Fifth , significant and negative direct effects of school violence on teacher professional engagement ( school violence → teacher professional engagement ) were identified for all four samples. The extent of the effects was most adverse for the samples from the U.S. (β = −0.300, p < 0.001), followed by England (β = −0.286, p < 0.001), and South Korea (β = −0.288, p < 0.001), with the Mexico samples being the least adverse (β = −0.150, p < 0.001). Sixth , across all four countries, the indirect effects of school violence on teacher professional engagement through teacher self-efficacy were significant (see Table 6 for the estimates and p -values among the four countries). Slight differences in the proportion of the effect of school violence on teacher professional engagement, mediated through teacher self-efficacy, were found across the four samples with the U.S. being about 16%, England 17%, South Korea 18%, and Mexico 25%.

With regard to teachers' characteristics, the teacher's gender is not a significant predictor of their professional engagement except in the samples from Mexico, where female teachers responded as having a higher level of professional engagement (β = 0.027, p < 0.01). Teachers' age is positively correlated to their professional engagement (β = 0.089, p < 0.05) in the samples from the U.S., but negatively correlated in the samples from South Korea (β = −0.057, p < 0.01); no significant relationship between age and professional engagement was found in the samples from England and Mexico. Teachers' employment status shows that full-time teachers report higher professional engagement in samples from England (β = 0.066, p < 0.05) and Mexico (β = 0.081, p < 0.01) than part-time teachers do.

With respect to schools' contextual factors, teachers in public schools in South Korea (β = −0.08, p < 0.05) and England (β = −0.054, p < 0.05) reported significantly lower levels of professional engagement than teachers in private schools did. Schools' locations were found to be significant predictors only in England, where teachers in schools located in villages or rural areas reported significantly higher levels of professional engagement than teachers in schools in towns (β = 0.081, p < 0.05). School enrollment size is significant only in samples from the U.S., where increased enrollment resulted in less professional engagement as reported by teachers (β = −0.098, p < 0.01). No effect on professional engagement was associated with schools enrolling more or < 30% of students from socio-economically disadvantaged homes.

This study explored the impact of school violence on teacher professional engagement and how the impact may be alleviated by perceived participation among stakeholders, teacher–student relationships, and teacher self-efficacy among secondary school teachers from the U.S., England, South Korea, and Mexico. The four countries are from three different continents, each representing unique sociocultural values and educational systems. These countries were selected for inclusion in the study on the basis of the unique contribution each country could make to the understanding of school violence and teacher professional engagement. The utmost purpose of the study was to inform policy to reduce teacher turnover.

Structural equation modeling was employed to evaluate the conceptual model of the relationships. Aligning with previous studies, this study confirmed that school violence could have a significant and negative direct impact on a teacher's professional engagement ( Janosz et al., 2004 ) and the negative impact can be alleviated and mediated by teachers' self-efficacy. The pattern is consistent across all four countries: a teacher's perception of insecurity and vulnerability due to violence at school negatively impacted their self-efficacy, which can lead to their reduced engagement in school. The direct impact of school violence on teacher professional engagement is slightly more adverse in the samples from the U.S. than in those from England or South Korea, and the impact is the least adverse in the samples from Mexico. In comparison to the other three countries, teacher self-efficacy in Mexico mediates a relatively higher proportion of the effect of school violence on teacher professional engagement. The different magnitudes of direct and indirect impact could be due to differences in the theoretical understanding and conceptualization of school violence that is unique to each country. A potential factor could be that teachers in Mexico tend to have a higher threshold of tolerance for some behaviors that have been classified as misdemeanors ( Estévez et al., 2016 ). This study also reveals that, consistently, across all four countries, increased participation among stakeholders and positive teacher–student relationships plays an important role in reducing teachers' exposure to school violence. The findings of this study suggest that schools with higher levels of participation among stakeholders tend to have lower levels of school violence.

Parent engagement, community involvement, and the participation of other stakeholders have been integral components in conceptualizing the school climate ( Moos, 1979 ; Cohen et al., 2009 ). More intensive research and clearer delineation of school climate models has granted schools and teachers in the U.S. and England a pragmatically better position to develop and implement initiatives involving parents and the community to foster a positive school climate, which also highlights the need for clearer conceptual models of school climate in Mexico (including countries in South America) and South Korea (as well as other Southeast Asian countries). The consensus agreement from the sampled teachers in the four countries is: to effectively address the problem of school violence and to deter students from conducting violent behaviors, collaboration and concerted efforts between the school, family, community, and other stakeholders are necessary.

Consistent with the previous literature, the findings in this study reveal that positive teacher and student relationships could foster emotional well-being and reduce the negative effects that school violence may have on teachers ( Van Dick and Wagner, 2001 ). The results of the current study indicate that, comparatively speaking, positive teacher–student relationships have the most significant effect in reducing school violence in South Korea and the least profound effect in Mexico. Though vastly different in sociocultural contexts and geographical environments, South Korea and Mexico are somewhat similar in terms of how teachers are treated by students: as distant authority figures (they are often treated as peers in the U.S. and England). The highly valued hierarchy in South Korean culture leads to teachers having higher expectations about students being respectful and being less tolerant of student misbehavior. Perhaps the more respectful students are, the more harmonious the relationship is with their teachers, and the less likely these students are to commit violent acts in schools. However, research has suggested that a different type of teacher–student relationship is valued in schools in Mexico: the most successful students typically receive minimal attention from teachers, while only students of poorer academic achievement (or students with behavioral problems) feel connected to their teachers (Weiss and García, 2015 ).

According to theories of school climate, teacher–student relationships and participation and collaboration among stakeholders are among the defining dimensions of school climate ( Moos, 1979 ; Cohen et al., 2009 ). The findings of our study have highlighted the significant bearing that the teacher–student relationship and collaboration among stakeholders have on the role of school climate in reducing school violence ( Cohen and Freiberg, 2013 ; Bradshaw et al., 2015 ). Thus, even though the measures of violence prevention are rather broad, these results underscore positive student-teacher relationship building and proactive collaboration among stakeholders as the focus of school violence prevention across all four countries of different educational ideologies ( Gottfredson and Gottfredson, 2001 ).

This study also shows that school violence yielded a significant negative impact on teachers' efficacy. Teachers from schools with higher levels of school violence tended to report lower teaching efficacy. These findings are consistent with studies showing that teachers reporting the lowest level of teaching efficacy are notably those who have experienced a lot of student misbehavior ( Roberts et al., 2007 ). The negative impact of school violence on teacher self-efficacy was found to be consistent across the U.S., England, and South Korea, though to a lightly varying degree. The samples of teachers from Mexico reported less severe effects of school violence on their efficacy. A possible explanation could be that they conceptualize school violence and/or teachers' dismissiveness of problematic misdemeanor behaviors in school differently than teachers from the other three countries ( Estévez et al., 2016 ).

Teachers spend most of their time in multiple intersecting contexts and their sense of wellbeing, self-efficacy, and teaching engagement are shaped by environmental factors. Extensive studies have indicated that the stability of teacher workforces has implications for educational quality and for child development ( Ingersoll, 2001 ). Studying the extent to which school violence has impacted teachers' professional development can help us to better understand teacher turnover and attrition and can facilitate the development of retention policies. The findings of this study suggest that the negative emotional impact of school violence can be very influential to teacher turnover. Therefore, the prevention of school violence will not only benefit teacher well-being but will also help solve teacher shortages by enabling schools to retain more engaging teachers.

This study aimed at drawing more policy attention to cross-country studies in the field of school violence and teacher professional engagement. Nowadays, the demands on teachers are increasing around the world. Teachers are facing increasingly complex educational conditions ( Sutcher et al., 2016 ). At the same time, the attractiveness of teaching as a profession in many countries is declining. It has been increasingly challenging for many countries and educational systems to recruit and retain highly qualified people ( Qin, 2020 ). The results of this study indicate that school violence is prevalent across countries and teachers from different cultures and educational systems. A key factor in reducing school violence is to enhance teacher engagement.

In addition, the study findings also suggest that it is important to recognize, through international research, both the shared and unique norms and assumptions in terms of school violence and teacher professional engagement. Moreover, international collaborative efforts will help maximize the benefit of cross-national studies and minimize the potential consequences or missed opportunities that result from research and policy isolation.

Conclusions and Limitations

The purpose of this study is two-fold. On the one hand, it aims to expand and deepen the understanding of relationships between school violence and teacher self-efficacy and professional engagement; on the other hand, it intends to help us better understand the extent to which school climate, in particular teacher–student relationships and collaboration between stakeholders and schools, contributed to the reduction of school violence. The vast majority of prior school violence studies have focused on the deleterious consequences of such violence on students. The current study has shown that school violence also affects teachers and could result in their professional disengagement. The results of this cross-national study suggest that the consequences of violence experienced by teachers should also be well-documented, especially because it is becoming a growing concern in many countries. The suggestion that educational policies should facilitate safer school environments for all students may not be sufficient and/or effective if the well-being of teachers has not been clearly and thoroughly addressed amidst efforts to develop school violence prevention strategies/plans.

Future research may need to focus on the impact of culture on teachers' perceptions of school violence. Future studies may also further address whether the links between school violence and teacher professional engagement are different in developed countries compared to developing countries. Finally, future research studies with robust datasets may identify more factors that contribute to school violence.

This research involved some limitations. For example, all the data from the TALIS database were self-reported by teachers and the school principals. Their self-enhancement biases may influence the objectivity of the responses ( Alloy and Ahrens, 1987 ). Additionally, the measures of both exogenous and endogenous variables were obtained from the same TALIS cross-sectional survey; the shared variance may inflate correlations among variables of interest. Furthermore, instead of establishing a causal relationship between independent variables and teacher professional engagement, the intent of this study is to examine the nature and the degree of the relationships between the variables. Thus, any cause-and-effect implication remains uncertain. Moreover, as in all comparative studies, differences across countries may exist in various hard-to-observe ways. For instance, cultural traits, variation in school and educational management, and other characteristics associated with the variance of teacher professional engagement may all be significant. The unobserved heterogeneity between countries may increase the probability that the omitted variable caused bias in cross-national analyses. A related final limitation is that although we included four countries in this study, we did not conduct statistical multiple-group comparisons across the four countries; we stopped the testing of partial measurement invariance when a partial weak factorial invariance was established among the countries.

Data Availability Statement

Publicly available datasets were analyzed in this study. This data can be found here: http://www.oecd.org/education/talis/talis-2013-data.htm .

Author Contributions

LN performed the statistical analysis. All authors contributed to conception and design of the study, the manuscript drafting, revision, read, and approved the submitted version.

This study was supported by the Shanghai Pujiang Program (Grant no. 2020PJC035), Key Laboratory of Adolescent Health Assessment and Exercise Intervention of Ministry of Education (Grant no. 11000-20207-511234/005), Research on the Frontier Dynamic Information of Education Reformin China and Abroad (Grant no. 14000-412224-19053), and Shanghai Educational Science Research Project (Grant no. C2021365).

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

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Keywords: school violence, teacher professional engagement, structural equation modeling (SEM), cross-national comparison, teacher self-efficacy, school climate

Citation: Yang Y, Qin L and Ning L (2021) School Violence and Teacher Professional Engagement: A Cross-National Study. Front. Psychol. 12:628809. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.628809

Received: 13 November 2020; Accepted: 16 March 2021; Published: 15 April 2021.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2021 Yang, Qin and Ning. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Ling Ning, ling.ning@colorado.edu

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Physical, psychological and social impact of school violence on children

  • Pietro Ferrara   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-9449-3464 1 , 2 ,
  • Giulia Franceschini 2 ,
  • Alberto Villani 3 &
  • Giovanni Corsello 4  

Italian Journal of Pediatrics volume  45 , Article number:  76 ( 2019 ) Cite this article

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Violence against children includes all forms of violence against people under 18 years old whether perpetrated by parents or other caregivers, peers, partners, teacher or strangers. This is a public health, human rights, and social problem: levels of violence against children are frightfully high and it is estimated that up to 1 billion children aged 2–17 years, have experienced a type of violence. Very few studies provided physical violence perpetrated at school but it can have a physical impact, causing psychological distress, permanent physical disability and long-term physical or mental ill-health. Children who experienced any type of violence at school may develop reactive attachment disorder, modest physical inactivity, overweight or obesity, diabetes, smoking habits, heavy alcohol use, poor self-rated health, cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease and other negative outcomes. Evidence from international studies clearly shows that nonviolent, positive discipline delivers better results, while any type of violence is associated with many negative one.


Violence against children is a public health, human rights, and social problem, with potentially devastating and costly consequences. [ 1 ] Globally, levels of violence against children are frightfully high and it is estimated that up to 1 billion children aged 2–17 years, have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence or neglect. [ 2 ]

Violence against children includes all forms of violence against people under 18 years old whether perpetrated by parents or other caregivers, peers, partners, or strangers. This wide definition of violence includes not only the more obvious violent acts of commission: at least one of six main types of interpersonal violence that tend to occur at different stages in a child’s development.

Maltreatment (including violent punishment): physical, sexual and psychological/emotional violence.

Bullying (including cyber-bullying).

Youth violence: concentrated among children and young adults aged 10–29 years, occurs most often in community settings between acquaintances and strangers.

Intimate partner violence (or domestic violence): physical, sexual and emotional violence by an intimate partner or ex-partner.

Sexual violence: non-consensual completed or attempted sexual contact and acts of a sexual nature not involving contact.

Emotional or psychological violence: restricting a child’s movements, denigration, ridicule, threats and intimidation, discrimination, rejection and other non-physical forms of hostile treatment. [ 3 ]

Violence may take place in homes, orphanages, residential care facilities, on the streets, in the workplace, in prisons and other place of detention and lastly at schools. Hardly any studies provided age-specific and sex-specific period prevalence estimates for physical violence perpetrated by teachers. [ 4 ]

Whereas children spend more time in the care of adults in schools and other places of learning than they do anywhere else outside of their homes; because of that violence that occurs at school should be under investigation for the physical, psychological and social problems arising from that. These consequences can be prompt, as well as latent, and can last for years after the initial violence.

In Italy a study conducted in the last 5 years reported 78 cases of school violence against children with a total of 156 investigated teachers (154 women and 2 males).

The number of teachers involved was various during those years: from 2016 to 2017 tripled, in 2018 a further 30% of episodes was reported. The phenomenon is still growing,also refers to the number the media’s alerts.

Geographical distribution analysis verified 23 cases in the North of Italy (30%), while 20 (25%) in the Center, and 35 (45%) in the South and in the Islands. Most cases 51 (65%) were found in provincial countries, while the remainder took place in urban centers 27 (35%).

The crime hypothesized was in 63 cases (81%) a maltreatment and 15 cases (19%) that of psychological violence. [ 5 ]

Plan International estimates that at least 246 million boys and girls suffer from school violence every year. [ 6 ]

Type of violence at school

Violence in schools is one of the most visible forms of violence against children: it includes physical, psychological and sexual violence and bullying that are related to causes such as gender and social norms and wider structural and contextual factors such as income inequality, deprivation, marginalisation and conflict. [ 6 ]

Violence can be any form of physical aggression with intention to hurt(corporal punishment and physical bullying) by adults and other children. Corporal punishment is any punishment in which physical force is used and that is intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort; it is often used to punish poor academic performance or to correct misbehaviour.

Psychological violence includes verbal and emotional abuse: isolating, rejecting, ignoring, insults, spreading rumours, making up lies, name calling, ridicule, humiliation and threats, and psychological punishment.

Psychological punishment are not physical but that humiliate, denigrate, scapegoat, threaten, scare or ridicule a child or adolescent. Sexual violence includes intimidation of a sexual nature, sexual harassment, unwanted touching, sexual coercion and rape, and it affects both girls and boys. Violence in schools creates insecurity and fear which harm the general school climate and infringe pupils’ right to learn in a safe, unthreatening environment.

Schools cannot fulfil their role as places of learning and socialisation if children are not in an environment free of violence. [ 7 ]

Violence, in particular physical one among learners, and physical violence perpetuated by teachers and other staff, can happen in sight of other learners for example, in playgrounds or classrooms or in the context of school sports. Teachers may also not recognise bullying or the codes, languages and practices children and adolescents use in harassing each other, and bullying that takes place out of their sight is difficult to identify. In some cases, teachers permit or engage in violent and bullying behaviour themselves. [ 8 ]

Children and adolescents at risk of school violence

Violence against children is widespread and must be addressed to improve children’s health and well-being. [ 4 ] All children and adolescents could be at risk of school violence: but those who are vulnerable because of factors such poverty, social status associated with ethnicity, linguistic or cultural differences and migration or displacement, and disabilities, who are orphans or from households affected by HIV, may be more likely to be targeted. [ 9 ]

Punishment by teachers may be more likely to target children and adolescents from stigmatised and marginalised populations, for example, refugee and migrant children may be punished for not being able to speak the language of instruction, and the UN Study on Violence against Children notes that in India, higher caste teachers may be more likely to denigrate and humiliate children from lower castes. [ 10 , 11 ]

Boys, especially younger children, are more likely to be punished physically at school, while the percentage of children verbally punished is pretty much equal for boys and girls. [ 12 ]

Where school violence occurs

School violence can occur inside and outside the classroom, around schools, on the way to and from school. Violence, in particular physical violence among learners, and physical violence perpetuated by teachers and other staff, can happen in sight of other learners for example, in playgrounds or classrooms or in the context of school sports. [ 13 ]

All forms of violence in schools infringe the fundamental right to education and unsafe.

learning environments reduce the quality of education for all learners.

Physical impact of school violence on children

Violence in school can have a physical impact and it can cause psychological distress, permanent physical disability and long-term physical or mental ill-health. Physical impacts are the most obvious and may include mild or serious wounds, bruises, fractures, and deaths by homicide or suicide. A number of studies have shown correlations between corporal punishment and poor mental health. [ 14 ] While most have focused on corporal punishment within families, some have focused on corporal punishment in schools with a social impacts invariably negative. Victims of corporal punishment are likely to become passive and overly cautious, and to fear free expression of their ideas and feelings while, at the same time, they may become perpetrators of psychological violence. Children who are physically punished are less likely than other children to internalise moral values and they are less inclined to resist temptation, to engage in altruistic behaviour, to empathise with others or to exercise moral judgement of any kind. They are more inclined to develop disorderly and aggressive conduct such as hitting their siblings, parents, schoolmates and boyfriends or girlfriends. And they may become adults who are prone to punishment against their own children, and so pass on the habits of violence. [ 15 ]

Reactive attachment disorder and other social problems

Children who experienced any type of violence at school may develop reactive attachment disorder that is classified by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th Edition (DSM-5) as a trauma- and stressor-related condition of early childhood caused by social neglect and maltreatment. Affected children have difficulty forming emotional attachments to others, show a decreased ability to experience positive emotion, cannot seek or accept physical or emotional closeness, and may react violently when held, cuddled, or comforted. Behaviourally, affected children are unpredictable, difficult to console, and difficult to discipline. They have a strong desire to control their environment and make their own decisions. Changes in routine, attempts to control, or unsolicited invitations to comfort may elicit rage, violence, or self-injurious behaviour. In the classroom, these challenges inhibit the acquisition of core academic skills and lead to rejection from teachers and peers alike. Abuse in childhood has been correlated with difficulties in working memory and executive functioning, while severe neglect is associated with underdevelopment of the left cerebral hemisphere and the hippocampus. Children are more likely than their neuro-typical peers to engage in high-risk sexual behaviour, substance abuse, have an involvement with the legal system, and experience incarceration [ 14 , 15 , 16 , 17 ] Children may respond to inter-linkages with aggression, fear, defiance, or rage; they develop a negative self-schema, and experience somatic symptoms of distress. Psychomotor restlessness is common, as is hyperactivity and stereotypic movements, such as hand flapping or rocking. It is confirmed an increased risk of anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, and reduces frustration tolerance. [ 17 , 18 ]

Researches identifies the harmful effects that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) occurring during childhood or adolescence; eg, child maltreatment or exposure to domestic violence) have on health throughout life.

Exposure to ACEs is associated with a host of harmful outcomes, including increased risk for cancer. [ 19 , 20 ] Individuals with at least four ACEs were at increased risk of all health outcomes compared with individuals with no ACEs. Associations were weak or modest for physical inactivity, overweight or obesity, and diabetes (ORs of less than two); moderate for smoking, heavy alcohol use, poor self-rated health, cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease (ORs of two to three), strong for sexual risk taking, mental ill health, and problematic alcohol use (ORs of more than three to six), and strongest for problematic drug use and interpersonal and self-directed violence (ORs of more than seven). [ 20 ] Psychosocial adversity in childhood (e.g. abuse) is demonstrated to be related to DNA methylation age acceleration: suggesting a potential mechanism linking violence with adverse outcomes. [ 21 ] Evidence suggests that adverse experiences in childhood (particularly exposure to multiple adversities involving hostility and threat), in some people, contribute to the onset of psychotic experiences and psychotic disorders are associated with psychosis too. [ 22 ] Recent work demonstrates severity of child maltreatment, as well as presence of childhood physical and sexual abuse, are associated with adolescent cannabis use (any use versus non-use) and heavy cannabis use during adolescence. Research has demonstrated that experiences of childhood maltreatment are prevalent in the life histories of youth with substance use problems; however, most of this research has focused on sexual or physical abuse. [ 23 , 24 ]

The educational effects on victims of school violence are significant. Violence at the hands of teachers or other students may make children and adolescents afraid to go to school and interfere with their ability to concentrate in class or participate in school activities. It can also have similar effects on bystanders. The consequences include missing classes, avoiding school activities, playing truant or dropping out of school altogether. This in turn has an adverse impact on academic achievement and attainment and on future education and employment prospects. Children and adolescents who are victims of violence may achieve lower grades and may be less likely to anticipate going on to higher education. Analyses of international learning assessments highlight the impact of violence and bullying on learning outcomes. These analyses clearly show that it is reduced students’ achievement in key subjects such as mathematics and other studies have also documented the negative impact of school violence and bullying on educational performance. [ 25 , 26 , 27 , 28 ]

Violence against children is a significant cause of physical problems, psychological distress, permanent physical disability and long-term physical or mental ill-health.

Governments should provide that the law provides children and protects their human dignity. Evidence from international studies clearly shows that nonviolent, positive discipline delivers better results, while any type of violence is associated with many bad outcomes. The adoption of the most effective teaching approach across the education system, by supporting teachers to develop non-violent, positive discipline strategies could be the right way to step closer to realising children’s right to protection from all forms of violence in all settings, included the school.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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Ferrara, P., Franceschini, G., Villani, A. et al. Physical, psychological and social impact of school violence on children. Ital J Pediatr 45 , 76 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13052-019-0669-z

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Prioritizing the School Environment in School Violence Prevention Efforts

Sarah lindstrom johnson.

Postdoctoral Fellow, Johns Hopkins University, 200 North Wolfe St, Room 2088, Baltimore, MD 21287, Phone: (410) 614-1081, Fax: (410) 502-5440

Jessica Griffin Burke

Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh, 218 Parran Hall, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, Phone: (412) 614-3610, Fax: (412) 624-5510

Andrea Carlson Gielen

Professor, Johns Hopkins University, 624 North Broadway, Room 554, Baltimore, MD, Phone: (410) 955-2397, Fax: (410) 614-2797

Numerous studies have demonstrated an association between characteristics of the school environment and the likelihood of school violence. However, little is known about the relative importance of various characteristics of the school environment or their differential impact on multiple violence outcomes.

Primarily African-American students (n= 27 ) from Baltimore City high schools participated in concept mapping sessions, which produced interpretable maps of the school environment's contribution to school violence. Participants generated statements about their school environment's influence on school violence and with the assistance of quantitative methods grouped these statements according to their similarity. Participants provided information about the importance of each of these statements for the initiation, cessation, and severity of the violence that occurs at school.

More than half of the 132 statements generated by students were rated as school environment characteristics highly important for the initiation, cessation, and/or severity of school violence. Participants identified students' own actions, expectations for disruptive behavior, and the environment outside the school as characteristics most important for the initiation and increased severity of violence that occurs in school. Participants had a more difficult time identifying school environment characteristics important for the cessation of school violence.

This study provides support from students for the role of the school environment in school violence prevention, particularly in preventing the initiation and reducing the severity of school violence. Schools can utilize the information presented in this paper to begin discussions with students and staff about prioritizing school environment changes to reduce school violence.


The school environment is frequently measured by schools to gauge students', teachers', and parents' satisfaction with the school. However, perhaps more important than satisfaction, the school environment has been related to students' academic success. 1 , 2 The school environment also influences students' academic success indirectly, by impacting students' behaviors. Research has suggested a role for the school environment in the prevention of dropout, delinquency, drug and alcohol use, and violence. 3 - 7 This study aims to better understand how the school environment contributes to the one of these outcomes, school violence.

Violence in U.S. schools is hindering the educational, psychological, and social development of students. Students who are victimized are more likely to report feelings of social isolation, depression, frustration, and poorer school attachment. 8 - 10 In the 2007 Youth Behavior Risk Surveillance Survey 12.4% of high school students self-reported being in a fight in school in the previous 12 months, 5.9% reported carrying a weapon to school, and 27.1% of students reported having property deliberately damaged or stolen on school property. 11 Research suggests that the consequences of school violence exist for not just the victim and perpetrator, but for all exposed. 12 In 2007, 5.5% of high school students did not come to school at least one day in the past month because they felt unsafe. 11

A recent review of the literature found evidence that both the school social and physical environment influence the amount of violence that happens at school. 12 Research has supported a relationship between the following aspects of the school social environment and school violence: school management policies, positive social interactions in the classroom, students' feelings of belonging, students' feelings of teacher support, students' belief in the fairness of the rules, and students' involvement in school. 6 , 13 , 14 While less research has been conducted on the influence of the school physical environment, associations between student perceptions' of the security of the school, the amount of disorder, and the presence of drugs and graffiti and school violence have been found. 15 - 17 Based on these findings, interventions, such as Peacebuilders, Positive Action, and the Good Behavior Game, have attempted to improve school and classroom climates. 18 - 20 These school environment interventions have resulted in a reduction in aggression, conduct disorders, mental health services use, suspension rates, and absenteeism as well as improved test scores.

A leading researcher has noted the need for “a significantly enhanced body of research…that will help schools navigate the complex terrain of school climate change as a means to reduce school violence”. 21 (p.15) One important step is to identify the importance of different school environment characteristics for school violence prevention. In a time of increasing financial constraints, this information will allow schools to more effectively target their school environment change efforts. Additionally, there is a need to understand how school environment characteristics differentially influence multiple violence outcomes. Health behaviors, including violence, have been conceptualized as having three different prevention targets: the initiation of the behavior, the escalation of the behavior, and the cessation of the behavior. 6 , 22 McNeely and Falci 6 found that teacher support was related to both a decrease in initiating violence as well as an increase in the cessation of violence. Understanding which prevention target (initiation, escalation, or cessation) various school environment changes address will allow schools to ensure a comprehensive approach to violence prevention.

It is important to solicit this information from students. 21 Prior qualitative studies have found that common understandings of youth violence, based on adult notions of violence, are not always correct. 23 , 24 To our knowledge, this study is the first to ask students for their understanding of the school environment's influence on school violence. The goal of this paper is to examine the importance of multiple school environment characteristics on different school violence outcomes from the perspective of students. The concept mapping method facilitated this exploration by taking participants through a structured process that resulted in a pictorial representation of their ideas. From this process, information will be gained about 1) the relative importance of school environment characteristics for the reduction of school violence and 2) how characteristics differentially influence the initiation, cessation, and severity of the violence that occurs in schools.

This study utilized concept mapping, a participatory mixed-methods process through which visual representations of the perceptions and ideas of a group are created. 25 , 26 Concept mapping has traditionally been used by health practitioners interested in program planning or evaluation, but increasingly is emerging as an important methodology for capturing the lived experiences of participants. 25 , 27

Current Baltimore City high school students were recruited from 2 after-school organizations based in schools (Group A and Group B). Large after-school organizations with broad based missions to enhance the academic and personal enrichment of students were targeted as this was expected to increase the generalizability of the student sample. Any English-speaking student who participated in the after-school program was eligible to participate.

Of the 45 students given parental permission forms, a total of 27 students returned them and provided assent to participate in the concept mapping sessions; 12 for Group A and 15 for Group B. More females participated in Group B (67%) while Group A was evenly divided between males and females. Group A tended to be older having a slight majority of upper classman (10 th and 11 th grade) (59%) while Group B was younger, having a majority of under classman (9 th and 10 th grade) (73%). In both groups the majority of participants in each sample were African-American (100% for Group A and 87% for Group B), which is representative of the Baltimore City Public School student population. The majority of participants participating stated that they averaged A's and B's in their coursework (92% for Sample A and 60% for Sample B). Participants' responses to school violence experience questions and comparative statistics for both Baltimore City and the United States from the Youth Risk Surveillance Study are presented in Table 2 . 11

Data collection occurred in May of 2008. Students with signed parental permission and assent forms were allowed to participate. All concept mapping sessions were facilitated by the first author (SLJ) and a research assistant. Sessions were audio recorded and lasted approximately 1.5 hours. All study materials were at a 6 th grade reading level or below Participants were given $10 at the conclusion of each session for their time and contributions. At the end of the study, a separate session was held to share results with school staff.

Session One: Statement Generation

In the first session, the general process of concept mapping was explained to the participants and demographic information about each participant collected through a survey. The survey asked for participant's gender, race, age, academic achievement, and experience with violence. 11 Also in this first session, participants were asked to “generate a list of items that describe characteristics of your school environment that could relate in any way, good or bad, to a student's experience of violence.” Participants were instructed that, “violence includes any behavior that is intended to harm, physically or emotionally, persons in school and their property (as well as school property). This includes things like threatening with or without a weapon, fighting, stealing and damaging property, bringing or using a weapon at school, and gender violence.” Participants were also told “when we say school environment we are referring to both the physical and social characteristics of the school.”

The statements generated from each group were consolidated into 2 separate lists as the statements related to a specific place. A review of the literature noted commonly studied characteristics of the school environment that participants had not mentioned. In order to understand how these characteristics fit with those generated by the participants and to understand their relative importance, a few statements were added to each group. This is common practice for concept mapping. 22 , 25 , 27 These statements are indicated with an asterisk in all tables.

Session Two: Sorting and Rating

In the second session each participant was given flash cards for each of the statements and asked to sort their cards into piles according to the statements' similarity. Participants were instructed to create more than one pile and to ensure that each pile had a minimum of 2 statements (which may have forced some statements together). Participants then individually rated each statement on a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) for its importance in the initiation, cessation, and severity of school violence. See Table 1 for the prompts. Students' understanding of concepts was assessed by having them brainstorm synonyms for the three rating characteristics (i.e. begin for initiation or worse for severity).

Participants' information from the sort and rate was input into Concept Systems, a licensed software program that facilitates the concept mapping process. This software creates a similarity matrix from participants' sorts, which is converted into two-dimensional space (distance matrix) using multidimensional scaling. This technique results in a map of statements, with statements sorted as more similar appearing closer together on the map. Stress value, a goodness of fit statistic that evaluates how well the distance matrix reproduces the similarity matrix, can be calculated for this map, with a lower-stress value indicating a better fit. A study of 33 concept mapping projects found that an average stress value of .29 with stress values ranging from .155-.352. 28 Both maps' stress value fell within the above mentioned range, indicating an acceptable fit (Group A .262 and Group B .271).

Hierarchical cluster analysis using Ward's algorithm was used to partition the two-dimensional space into non-overlapping clusters of similar statements. The results from the cluster analysis can be visually displayed on a cluster map. On the cluster map, the shape of the cluster is created by connecting each cluster's outward points. As the points are fixed in space, with closer points representing more similar statements, larger clusters can be thought to represent more diverse ideas.

Session Three: Representation and Interpretations

In the third session participants were presented with multiple possible representations of their data (i.e., different cluster solutions) and asked to choose the most representative. This process occurred primarily through group dialogue. Once the cluster solution was determined, participants were asked to choose a cluster label that best represented the content of the items in the cluster.

Data Analysis

After the completion of the concept mapping activities, subsequent analyses to determine both individual and cluster average ratings of importance were conducted. First, the average rating of each statement for the initiation, cessation, and severity of violence was calculated separate for Group A and Group B. Using the range of these ratings, tertile classifications of low (statements rated less than 2.79), moderate (items rated between 2.80 and 3.76, and high importance (statements rated 3.77 or higher) were then created. This allowed for a comparison of each individual statements importance across the three different violence outcomes. Then by averaging all statements in a cluster, the average cluster rating was calculated. This information was then displayed on the third dimension of the cluster maps. It should be noted that this resulted in each cluster having three average ratings (initiation, cessation, and severity).

Statement Ratings

Participants from Group A identified 77 characteristics of the school environment that contribute to school violence with participants from Group B identifying 55 characteristics. Table 3 lists all statements as well as provides the relative importance of each statement for the initiation, cessation, or severity of a school violence outcome. Participants gave ratings ranging from 1 (low) to 5 (high). Using the distribution of ratings, the ratings were divided into tertiles of importance: low, moderate, and high. High statements had ratings between 4.73-3.77. Moderate statements had ratings between 3.76-2.80. Low statements had ratings between 2.79-1.82.

Sixty-eight of the 132 statements generated by students were rated as school environment characteristics highly important for the initiation, cessation, and/or severity of school violence. In general statements that were rated as high for the initiation of violence were rated high for the severity of violence. More statements were rated as high in importance for the initiation (n=46) and severity (n=52) of school violence than for the cessation of violence (n=11).

Cluster Ratings

Both groups of students choose 8 clusters as the appropriate grouping of their statements (see bolded names in Table 3 ). Clusters contain statements that participants felt represented a common theme. For example, the cluster Bullying includes statements that focus on power differentials (40, 44, 45, 46, 47, 51, 64) and the cluster Staff focuses on students relationships with teachers (25, 31, 32, 34, 50, 52, 54). An in-depth explanation of statements and clusters can be found in Lindstrom Johnson, Burke, & Gielen. 29

Figure 1 shows the average cluster rating for one violence outcome, initiation of violence. This is shown in the third dimension of the map as layers of clusters. Those clusters with more layers had average statement ratings higher than those clusters with fewer layers. For example in Figure 1 , for Group A the cluster Frightful Environment with 4 layers was rated as more important for the initiation of school violence than a cluster with one layer, School Security. The numbers on these cluster maps correspond to the statement numbers, which can be found in Table 3 .

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High indicates a rating value of between 3.77-4.73. Moderate indicates a rating value of 2.80-3.76. Low indicates a rating value of 1.82-2.79. Asterisks indicate statements added by researcher.

Height of cluster visually demonstrates relative importance; higher clusters were rated by students as more important than lower clusters.

In examining Figure 1 , those clusters that dealt with student actions, student norms of behavior, and the neighborhood environment were rated as most important for the start of violence. For Group A this includes the clusters Violence All Over , Relationships , Bullying , School Disruption , and Frightful Environment are important triggers of violence starting for Group A. For Group B Students' Conduct , Problem Starters , Community Problems , and Staff are important triggers of violence starting.

Figure 2 shows the average cluster rating for the three violence outcomes: initiation, cessation, and severity. This figure allows for a comparison of cluster importance across the three violence outcomes. The figure shows that clusters students thought to be important for the initiation of violence were also thought to be important for the increased severity of violence that occurs at school. Additionally, average cluster ratings were much lower for the cessation rating than for the initiation and severity ratings. Three clusters in both groups are exceptions to this: Bullying , Concerned Grown-ups , and School Pride .

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This figure plots the average cluster ratings for Initiation and Cessation. It 1) illustrates that within a cluster ratings were more similar for Initiation and Severity and 2) that cluster ratings were generally lower for Cessation.

This paper details the importance of the various characteristics of the school environment for the initiation, severity and cessation of school violence. This study represents one of the first qualitative studies with students attempting to understand how the school environment influences school violence. The information provided can be used by both schools and researchers to create more effective and parsimonious school environment interventions.

Participants felt that student actions and expectations for behavior (clusters Relationships, Violence All Over, Bullying, Problem Starters, School Issues , and Student's Conduct ) were the characteristics most responsible for the initiation of school violence. Interventions have either focused on changing individual behavior or changing the school environment, with few addressing the complex relationship between individuals' behaviors and the school environment. 14 , 21 , 30 , 31 More research needs to be done to explore the potential synergism between individual behavior change interventions and school environment interventions to reduce school violence.

Also important for the initiation of school violence was the environment outside the school (See Table 3 clusters Frightful Environment and Community Problems ). For Group A, most of the students were residents of the school neighborhood. Students mentioned the values and behaviors common in the neighborhood that when brought into school became a source of violence. Group B students were bused to the school from throughout the city. As the neighborhood is primarily white, the environment outside the school was an additional source of potential violence, both through racist acts as well as fear for their safety in the neighborhood. These 2 examples highlight the importance of examining how the neighborhood environment could be incorporated in school violence interventions and supports the emerging emphasis of using an ecological lens to examine school violence. 32 - 34

Student actions, expectations for behavior, and outside environment influences were also all rated as extremely important for the severity of violence that occurs. However, for one group, school security was also seen as something that escalates the severity of violence rather than the intended reverse. This finding is similar to other studies that have found that a greater presence of security is associated with increasing amounts of school violence. 35 , 36 However, what this study adds is the importance of the relationships between school security and students (see Table 3 clusters School Security and School Trust ). In both groups, students' emphasized the importance of having school security that cared about them and had their best interests at heart.

Students did not present as clear of a picture of how the school environment relates to the cessation of school violence. Overall, importance ratings were substantially lower for cessation than initiation or severity, indicating that students may see the cessation of school violence to be determined by individual factors and not school factors. The few statements that students rated as highly important for the cessation of school violence mostly described relationships between peers (see Table 3 Group A cluster Bullying ) or a feeling of being cared about as a student (see Table 3 Group B statements 38, 44, 56, and 59). A role for the school environment in the cessation of school violence could be in shaping the nature of interactions between students and between students and school staff. This view is partially supported by McNeely and Falci 6 who found teacher support to be predictive of violence cessation, but did not find a relationship between other aspects of the school environment and violence cessation.


As in all qualitative research, the generalizability of this research is limited. This study is based on the opinions of only 27 high school students from 2 after-school programs. That students participated in an after-school program potentially indicates a difference from other students in their school. Large after-school programs with general missions were recruited to reduce any potential difference. The setting for this study is Baltimore City, one of the highest crime areas in the United States. Our sample experienced higher rates of school victimization than the national average and in some cases average Baltimore City students. 11 The findings from these schools might not be similar in other communities. In fact, even in our study, differences between the two schools could be seen.

An additional limitation stems from the difficulty some participants had in reading and interpreting statements. Concept mapping is a linguistically based process with sorting and rating based on an understanding of the relationship between words and ideas. Some participants appeared to have difficulties with this process but tended to overcome any barriers they had through consultation with other participants or the research staff about the meaning of words. The potential bias on the study was limited as help was focused on understanding the word and not on its connection to the other concept. This being said, students seemed to enjoy this experience and at its conclusion were able to explain the results and the process to both peers and school personnel. The process of concept mapping is very interactive and the main tenets (spatial organization and idea clusters) are commonly used in education. Concept mapping has been used successfully in research with a similar population of adolescents. 27

Implications for Schools

This is the first study of the authors' knowledge to ask students about how the school environment influences school violence. The role of the school environment in school violence prevention was evident to students, those most experienced with the violence that occurs at schools. Students in this sample suggested that addressing students' relationships with each other, having clear and consistent expectations for students' behaviors, and addressing the influence of the neighborhood were ways schools could reduce the likelihood that violence starts or that it becomes more severe. Schools should gather students and discuss aspects of their own school environment important for the occurrence of school violence. 37 This study suggests that even limited changes in the school environment can have positive results.

The primary role of the school environment in violence prevention is preventing a violent event from starting or becoming more serious. This supports literature that suggests that focusing on the prevention of school violence is more effective than focusing on its punishment. 36 - 37 This being noted, students did suggest that positive relationships between students and feeling cared about by school personnel could help in the cessation of violent conflicts. Students also mentioned the importance of positive relationships with school security. Schools should work on improving relationships between students and school personnel as an effective violence prevention strategy.

Overall this study adds to a growing body of literature supporting the school environment as an important intervention point to reduce school violence. 12 , 21 This study takes the literature one step further in helping schools utilize the research connecting the school environment and school violence by providing information about the relative importance of different school environment characteristics as well as linking these characteristics to different violence prevention outcomes. It is hoped that this research will make school environments safer, healthier places to learn thereby improving both health and educational outcomes.


This research was funded by grant 1R36CEO01374-01 to Johns Hopkins University from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Human Subjects Approval Statement: This study was approved by the Johns Hopkins Committee for Human Research and the Family League of Baltimore City.

Contributor Information

Sarah Lindstrom Johnson, Postdoctoral Fellow, Johns Hopkins University, 200 North Wolfe St, Room 2088, Baltimore, MD 21287, Phone: (410) 614-1081, Fax: (410) 502-5440.

Jessica Griffin Burke, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh, 218 Parran Hall, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, Phone: (412) 614-3610, Fax: (412) 624-5510.

Andrea Carlson Gielen, Professor, Johns Hopkins University, 624 North Broadway, Room 554, Baltimore, MD, Phone: (410) 955-2397, Fax: (410) 614-2797.

Trauma at School: The Impacts of Shootings on Students' Human Capital and Economic Outcomes

We examine how shootings at schools—an increasingly common form of gun violence in the United States—impact the educational and economic trajectories of students. Using linked schooling and labor market data in Texas from 1992 to 2018, we compare within-student and across-cohort changes in outcomes following a shooting to those experienced by students at matched control schools. We find that school shootings increase absenteeism and grade repetition; reduce high school graduation, college enrollment, and college completion; and reduce employment and earnings at ages 24–26. We further find school-level increases in the number of leadership staff and reductions in retention among teachers and teaching support staff in the years following a shooting. The adverse impacts of shootings span student characteristics, suggesting that the economic costs of school shootings are universal.

We thank Sandy Black, Victor Carrion, David Figlio, Kirabo Jackson, Phillip Levine, Robin McKnight, Rich Murphy, Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, David Studdert, and seminar participants at Baylor University, the Berlin Applied Micro Seminar, the BU/Duke Empirical Health Law Conference, the Florida Applied Micro Seminar, the Institute for Public Health and Medicine at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, ITAM, Kansas State University, Michigan State University, Monash Business School, NBER Summer Institute (Education and Children’s Programs), San Jose State University, St. Andrews, the US Census Bureau, UC Merced, University of Chile, the University of Maryland Population Research Center, Rutgers University, the University of Munich ifo Center for the Economics of Education, and the University of Zurich. Research reported in this article was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under award number R01HD102378. The research presented here utilizes confidential data from the State of Texas supplied by the Education Research Center (ERC) at The University of Texas at Austin. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the ERC or any of the funders or supporting organizations mentioned herein, including The University of Texas at Austin or the State of Texas. Any errors are attributable to the authors alone. The conclusions of this research do not reflect the opinion or official position of the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Texas Workforce Commission, the State of Texas, or the National Bureau of Economic Research.


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Fast Fact: Preventing School Violence

Preventing School Violence

School violence is violence that occurs in the school setting. It describes violent acts that disrupt learning and have a negative effect on students, schools, and the broader community. School is the location where the violence occurs, not a type of violence.

Examples of school violence include:

  • Bullying and cyberbullying
  • Fighting (e.g., punching, slapping, kicking)
  • Gang violence
  • Sexual violence

Places school violence occurs:

  • On school property
  • On the way to or from school
  • During a school-sponsored event
  • On the way to or from a school-sponsored event

In 2019, CDC’s nationwide Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) was administered to high school students across the United States. According to YRBS results  from 13, 677 students:

  • About 1 in 5 high school students reported being bullied on school property in the last year.
  • 8% of high school students had been in a physical fight on school property one or more times during the 12 months before the survey.
  • More than 7% of high school students had been threatened or injured with a weapon (for example, a gun, knife, or club) on school property one or more times during the 12 months before the survey.
  • Almost 9% of high school students had not gone to school at least 1 day during the 30 days before the survey because they felt they would be unsafe at school or on their way to or from school.

All students have the right to learn in a safe school environment. The good news is school violence can be prevented. Many factors contribute to school violence. Preventing school violence requires addressing the factors that put people at risk for or protect them from violence. Research shows that prevention efforts by teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and even students can reduce violence and improve the school environment.

CDC developed Resources for Action , formerly known as, “technical packages,” to help communities and states prioritize prevention strategies based on the best available evidence. The strategies and approaches in the Resources for Action are intended to shape individual behaviors as well as the relationship, family, school, community, and societal factors that influence risk and protective factors for violence. They are meant to work together and to be used in combination in a multi-level, multi-sector effort to prevent violence.

See  Youth Violence Resources  for articles, publications, data sources, and prevention resources for school violence.

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Published on Let's Talk Development

School violence and learning outcomes: beyond wdr 2018, david evans, susannah hares, this page in:.

Student writing notes. Kenya. | © Curt Carnemark / World Bank

The World Development Report 2018 (WDR) focused on how to help every child in the world learn. Schools play many roles in society, but helping children to master fundamental skills is one of their most important. While children are in the care of schools, we often assume that they’ll be kept safe. But far too often, they aren’t . Many children experience sexual, psychological, and physical violence at schools. While we don’t have consistent, global data on the number of children affected, the data we do have point to a serious problem: more than one in three children report being victims of physical attacks in school across a sample of Sub-Saharan African countries, two in five report psychological bullying in Central America, and more than one in ten students in Senegal and Zambia report sexual harassment at school over just a four week period. This is a violation of children’s right to be protected from violence , the most ratified treaty related to human rights in the world.

We suggest that addressing violence in schools—because it is bad, in and of itself—should be a first order priority for the education sector. But school violence also impedes learning. If you care about learning, it makes sense to care about curbing school violence. The WDR includes a brief discussion of the fact that “school-level violence hinders learning” (see the last paragraph of Box 2.1 ), and here we—one co-author of the WDR and one consumer of the WDR—dive deeper into the latest evidence on this topic.

The impact of school violence on learning is a tough question to answer.

Measuring the impact of violence on learning is a challenge for several reasons. First, schools that are more engaged in curbing violence may be more likely to report it (and so the data may suggest that they have higher rates of violence). Second, students may be targeted for violence—either by peers or by teachers—because of poor performance. One solution would be to use a randomized controlled trial of an intervention to reduce school violence and see how that affects learning; but interventions to reduce school violence have been mostly small in scale so far , often having a large enough sample to see the impact on violence but not large enough to see the follow-on impact on learning. In other cases, studies focused on reducing school violence do not focus on measuring learning. There are exceptional studies that do allow us to see the impact of violence reductions on learning, which we’ll discuss.

In the absence of experiments or quasi-experiments, studies seek to control for differences between students or between schools and examine the remaining impact of school violence on learning. We went through two dozen studies on the topic in low- and middle-income countries, and this is what we learned.

The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that corporal punishment and bullying harm learning. 

First, corporal punishment is consistently associated with poorer student learning. This runs counter to the intuition of many parents and educators , who have defended the use of corporal punishment to maintain discipline in schools. In India , corporal punishment from teachers had enduring negative impacts on English and math scores. Another study in India confirmed those impacts and showed that they were worse for the most vulnerable students. Evidence from Jamaica , Pakistan , Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam all show a negative association between corporal punishment and student learning. Studies from Malawi and Uganda have more mixed results; remember what we mentioned earlier about the challenge of measuring this. The fact that the overwhelming majority of studies show adverse relationships—using different data and controlling for different variables—point to a clear pattern.

We also have evidence that if you reduce corporal punishment, learning can rise. A classroom management training program in Jamaica , evaluated via a randomized controlled trial (and so overcoming some of the challenges mentioned earlier), reduced teachers’ use of corporal punishment and improved children’s language and self-regulation skills.

Second, bullying is associated with poorer learning. Several multi-country studies in Latin America , using different data, all show adverse associations between bullying and students’ reading and math scores. Evidence from Botswana, Ghana, and South Africa back this up.

As with corporal punishment, reducing bullying can boost learning. Efforts to reduce bullying in schools in Peru showed positive, significant impacts on test scores in reading, math, and other subjects for students who had experienced bullying in the past. Other studies—in Tanzania and Rwanda , albeit not Zambia —show adverse associations between learning and more general measures of school-related violence (e.g., teachers or students report feeling unsafe at school).

We know sexual violence is bad. We don’t know enough about its impact on learning. 

We know that sexual violence is not infrequent , but few studies have examined its academic impacts. In Malawi , boys who experienced sexual violence in school had worse reading outcomes the next year; girls had worse numeracy outcomes. We need to learn more about these dynamics so that we can design the best interventions to help children, while keeping kids safe during the learning process. But our need to continue to learn doesn’t mean we should wait to act.

The Takeaway

Despite the challenges to measuring the impact of school violence on learning and the need to continue learning, the vast majority of evidence suggests that school violence hurts learning —whether that violence is bullying from peers, corporal punishment from teachers, or sexual violence. The fact that child safety is not only a human right but also delivers concrete benefits on learning (as well as indicators of long-term child well-being) means that a wider group of stakeholders—the same stakeholders who share the World Development Report 2018’s objective of providing learning opportunities for every child—may wish to prioritize the curbing of violence in schools.

This blog is part of a series of blogs:  Blog 1 | Blog 2 discussing critical developments since the release of World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize Education’s Promise. 

Many thanks to Amina Mendez Acosta for crucial research assistance on this post and to Line Baago-Rasmussen, Deon Filmer , Halsey Rogers , and Sameer Sampat for feedback.

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Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development

Susannah Hares

Senior policy fellow and the co-director of CGD’s global education program

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How to Identify and Prevent School Violence

Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.

school violence research paper

Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP, is a board-certified pediatric psychologist, parent coach, author, speaker, and owner of A New Day Pediatric Psychology, PLLC.

school violence research paper

Yasser Chalid / Getty Images

Recognizing the Signs of School Violence

School violence refers to violence that takes place in a school setting. This includes violence on school property, on the way to or from school, and at school trips and events. It may be committed by students, teachers, or other members of the school staff; however, violence by fellow students is the most common.

An estimated 246 million children experience school violence every year; however, girls and gender non-conforming people are disproportionately affected.

"School violence can be anything that involves a real or implied threat—it can be verbal, sexual, or physical, and perpetrated with or without weapons. If someone is deliberately harming someone or acting in a way that leaves someone feeling threatened, that‘s school violence,” says Aimee Daramus , PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist.

This article explores the types, causes, and impact of school violence and suggests some steps that can help prevent it.

Types of School Violence

School violence can take many forms. These are some of the types of school violence:

  • Physical violence , which includes any kind of physical aggression, the use of weapons, as well as criminal acts like theft or arson.
  • Psychological violence , which includes emotional and verbal abuse . This may involve insulting, threatening, ignoring, isolating, rejecting, name-calling, humiliating, ridiculing, rumor-mongering, lying, or punishing another person.
  • Sexual violence , which includes sexual harrassment, sexual intimidation, unwanted touching, sexual coercion, and rape .
  • Bullying , which can take physical, psychological, or sexual forms and is characterized by repeated and intentional aggression toward another person.
  • Cyberbullying , which includes sexual or psychological abuse by people connected through school on social media or other online platforms. This may involve posting false information, hurtful comments, malicious rumors, or embarrassing photos or videos online. Cyberbullying can also take the form of excluding someone from online groups or networks.

Causes of School Violence

There often isn’t a simple, straightforward reason why someone engages in school violence. A child may have been bullied or rejected by a peer, may be under a lot of academic pressure, or may be enacting something they’ve seen at home, in their neighborhood, on television, or in a video game.

These are some of the risk factors that can make a child more likely to commit school violence:

  • Poor academic performance
  • Prior history of violence
  • Hyperactive or impulsive personality
  • Mental health conditions
  • Witnessing or being a victim of violence
  • Alcohol, drug, or tobacco use
  • Dysfunctional family dynamic
  • Domestic violence or abuse
  • Access to weapons
  • Delinquent peers
  • Poverty or high crime rates in the community

It’s important to note that the presence of these factors doesn’t necessarily mean that the child will engage in violent behavior.

Impact of School Violence

Below, Dr. Daramus explains how school violence can affect children who commit, experience, and witness it, as well as their parents.

Impact on Children Committing Violence

Children who have been victims of violence or exposed to it in some capacity sometimes believe that becoming violent is the only way they‘ll ever be safe.

When they commit violence, they may experience a sense of satisfaction when their emotional need for strength or safety is satisfied. That‘s short-lived however, because they start to fear punishment or retribution, which triggers anger that can sometimes lead to more violence if they’re scared of what might happen to them if they don’t protect themselves. 

Children need help to try and break the cycle; they need to understand that violence can be temporarily satisfying but that it leads to more problems.

Impact on Children Victimized by School Violence

Victims of school violence may get physically injured and experience cuts, scrapes, bruises, broken bones, gunshot wounds, concussions, physical disability, or death.

Emotionally speaking, the child might experience depression , anxiety, or rage. Their academic performance may suffer because it can be hard to focus in school when all you can think about is how to avoid being hurt again.

School violence is traumatic and can cause considerable psychological distress. Traumatic experiences can be difficult for adults too; however, when someone whose brain is not fully developed yet experiences trauma, especially if it’s over a long time, their brain can switch to survival mode, which can affect their attention, concentration, emotional control, and long-term health. 

According to a 2019 study, children who have experienced school violence are at risk for long-term mental and physical health conditions, including attachment disorders, substance abuse, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and respiratory conditions.

The more adverse childhood experiences someone has, the greater the risk to their physical and mental health as an adult.

Impact on Children Who Witness School Violence

Children who witness school violence may feel guilty about seeing it and being too afraid to stop it. They may also feel threatened, and their brain may react in a similar way to a child who has faced school violence.

Additionally, when children experience or witness trauma , their basic beliefs about life and other people are often changed. They no longer believe that the world is safe, which can be damaging to their mental health.

For a child to be able to take care of themselves as they get older, they need to first feel safe and cared for. Learning to cope with threats is an advanced lesson that has to be built on a foundation of feeling safe and self-confident.

Children who have experienced or witnessed school violence can benefit from therapy, which can help them process the trauma, regulate their emotions, and learn coping skills to help them heal.

Impact on Parents

Parents react to school violence in all kinds of ways. Some parents encourage their children to bully others, believing that violence is strength. Some try to teach their children how to act in a way that won’t attract bullying or other violence, but that never works and it may teach the child to blame themselves for being bullied. 

Others are proactive and try to work with the school or challenge the school if necessary, to try and keep their child safe. 

It can be helpful to look out for warning signs of violence, which can include:

  • Talking about or playing with weapons of any kind
  • Harming pets or other animals
  • Threatening or bullying others
  • Talking about violence, violent movies, or violent games
  • Speaking or acting aggressively

It’s important to report these signs to parents, teachers, or school authorities. The child may need help and support, and benefit from intervention .

Preventing School Violence

Dr. Daramus shares some steps that can help prevent school violence:

  • Report it to the school: Report any hint of violent behavior to school authorities. Tips can be a huge help in fighting school violence. Many schools allow students to report tips anonymously.
  • Inform adults: Children who witness or experience violence should keep telling adults (parents, teachers, and counselors) until someone does something. If an adult hears complaints about a specific child from multiple people, they may be able to protect other students and possibly help the child engaging in violence to learn different ways.
  • Reach out to people: Reach out to children or other people at the school who seem to be angry or upset, or appear fascinated with violence. Reach out to any child, whether bullied, bullying, or neither, who seems to have anxiety, depression, or trouble managing emotions. Most of the time the child won’t be violent, but you’ll have helped them anyway by being supportive.

A Word From Verywell

School violence can be traumatic for everyone involved, particularly children. It’s important to take steps to prevent it because children who witness or experience school violence may suffer physical and mental health consequences that can persist well into adulthood.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing school violence .

UNESCO. What you need to know about school violence and bullying .

UNESCO. School violence and bullying .

Nemours Foundation. School violence: what students can do .

Ehiri JE, Hitchcock LI, Ejere HO, Mytton JA. Primary prevention interventions for reducing school violence . Cochrane Database Syst Rev . 2017;2017(3):CD006347. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006347.pub2

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding school violence .

Ferrara P, Franceschini G, Villani A, Corsello G. Physical, psychological and social impact of school violence on children . Italian Journal of Pediatrics . 2019;45(1):76. doi:10.1186/s13052-019-0669-z

By Sanjana Gupta Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.

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School Violence, Research Paper Example

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School Violence, Research Paper Example

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It is hard fact that violence is common in US schools. It can take many forms including bullying/cyberbullying, gender-based/teen dating violence, violence against teachers and school staff, gang-related violence, drug-related violence, violence from external aggressors (shootings), and crime-related violence (theft, assault). School violence is the subject of great concern at all levels of society and government. The causes of school violence in all its forms have been studied for several years, and plans and programs have been implemented with mixed results.

This paper provides a brief analysis of violence in schools together with a review of the effectiveness or otherwise of violence prevention programs. Contrary to public opinion, school violence is not on the increase but is in fact declining.

Types of Violence

Theft, bullying and other types of victimization of students and school staff are often accompanied with threatening behaviour or actual injury with or without a weapon. Cyber-bullying is becoming more prevalent especially since the rise in popularity of social media. This sometimes elevates to actual physical assault, as well as violence in the form of student suicide resulting from the victimization of students and the effect on the victim’s mental state.

Violence in all its forms is often used in gang- and drug-related incidents that spill into schools from the local environment. Other types of violence include gender-based violence such as sexual assault and rape, including teenage date-rape. Whilst not usually committed in school, they may originate in behaviors seen within school environments.

Current Situation

A 2011 study provides some recent statistics. It was published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) on the incidence of crime in schools. The 2011 publication is the 14 th edition of this annual listing of indicators of all school crime, including those involving violence. According to the key findings drawn from statistics on the 2009/10 school year, there were 25 homicides of students and staff, 3 people were killed during legal interventions, and 5 students committed suicide – a total of 33 violent deaths. In the previous year the figures was 17. (NCES, 2013)

However, in 2010 the rate of violent victimizations of 12 to 18 year old students fell from 43 incidents for each 1,000 students in 2009 to 32 per 1,000 students. (Violent victimization is defined as serious violent crimes and simple assault.) It is interesting to note that public school students were victimized twice as often (4%) as private school students (2%); this perhaps being a reflection of the environment surrounding public schools compared to areas in which private schools are located. The percentage of physical attacks on teachers in schools located in cities was 4% in 2007/08, compared to 3% in rural locations.

Eight percent of students in grades 9 to 12 received threats or injuries using weapons in 2009, many of them on multiple occasions, and approximately 10% of boys reported being incidents of this type, compared to 5% of girls.

The NCES provide fifteen further indicators relating to the incidence of school violence categorized as relating to environment issues (disruption, gangs, bullying, harassment, behavior towards teachers, tardiness), as well as reports on levels of fighting, weapon use, drug-related crime, and security measures. (NCES, 2013)

What is being done?

In order to try and resolve all the types of crime in schools, state legislatures have enacted a variety of laws. These include higher penalties for crimes on school premises, firearm-free school safety zones, course content promoting non-violence, the establishment of telephone numbers for students and school staff to use for anonymous crime-reporting. (NCJRS, 2013)

Many states (e.g. Illinois, Nebraska, Texas, Virginia) have enacted legislation requiring schools to report criminal acts to the police, and these are backed up with enforcement provisions that make it a criminal offense not to report violence incidents in schools. (NCJRS, 2013)

Similarly, many states have legislation requiring law enforcement agencies or prosecutors to notify schools when students are arrested and the outcome of their adjudication, although this information is subject to privacy protections (i.e. the information the school receives has to be kept confidential and records retained in locked cabinets). The purposes of this information is meant to provide the student with appropriate education and to maintain a safe school environment for all students and school staff. (NCJRS, 2013)

The Gun-Free School Act, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act, 2001 (Public Law 107/110) requires that each state or area with schools funded under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, 1965 enacts law that requires all education authorities to expel (for a minimum of one year) all students that bring guns to school. Expulsions in 2005/06 reached 3,028 and in 2006/07, the figure was 2,695 (a rate of 6.1 students and 5.5 students for every 100,000, respectively). (NCES, 2013)

In addition, the Department of Homeland Security provides resources (including funding) and education to support school security in the event of an emergency. In 2002, the US Secret Service and the Department of Education, established the Safe School Initiative which studied school shootings from 1974 to 2000. The intention was to provide information on how to identify behaviors leading up to a school shooting in order that schools could try and prevent further similar violent attacks. The study indicated that school shootings were rarely carried out impulsively but were planned well ahead of the attack, and other students often knew of the threat but had not alerted their teachers or parents. In addition, nearly all attacker behavior had caused at least one teacher/parent serious concern, which went unreported. (USSS, 2013)

All the research and discussion over school violence has given rise to some helpful resources that schools can utilize to tackle the problem. One of those is a body called National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (the NCSSLE) which is funded by the US Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services. Its focus is the safety and health of staff and students in order to create an improved working and learning environment. It provides training and support to schools, their staff and students, and it also offers models for schools to measure the success of relevant programs in support of improving school environments and learning cultures. These measurements are then used to create national and state reports on the state of school environments and learning. (NCSSLE, 2013)

The training offered by the NCSSLE is in the form of training toolkits for teachers and staff, as well as webinar presentations and events such as national conferences and other in-person training events. The NCSSLE is also the body through which federal government grants are provided to schools to implement programs to tackle the adverse effects of school violence and measure their effectiveness on the learning environment. (NCSSLE, 2013)

Schools have implemented several different models to tackle school violence. Many schools have implemented programs where students themselves are involved in the resolution of school violence issues, and the NCES reports that in 2009/10, more schools with student populations greater than 1,000, involved students in this way. Other measures include zero-tolerance policies to violence in schools, controlling access to school buildings or grounds during school hours, the hiring of security staff, the implementation of student/bag searches, the installation of security cameras and telephones in classrooms, and student uniforms and staff ID badges. (NCES, 2013)

Approximately half of all schools have created a written action plan and for dealing with and taking refuge from incidents of violence, and they organize regular practices of their plan. Students that bring weapons other than guns into school are often subjected to disciplinary action such as detentions or suspensions for varying periods (e.g. less than five days, the remainder of the academic year.) Some students are transferred to special schools.

Issues that affect the ability of schools to tackle school violence are insufficient funding, a lack of alternative places for disruptive kids, and impractical policies on how to discipline students with special needs.

Success of Measures

Despite all this apparently negative data and high-profile media reports, studies have indicated that school violence is declining. After reaching a peak in 1993, the statistics show a continuing reduction in reported incidents. However, this may not be a result of the safe school programs and measures implemented in since the early 1990’s, but rather a reflection of the reduction in overall national rates of violent crime. (Neuman, 2013)

Some schools in poor neighborhoods still undoubtedly have major problems, but that is attributed to their location in a community with high crime rates. There is also criticism of zero-tolerance policies, which push many students causing reasonably minor incidents of violence being unnecessarily excluded from school. (Neuman, 2013)

Recent shooting incidents such as Sandy Hook continue to raise the issue of violence in schools, but skew public opinion by the fact that these types of violence are perpetrated by external assailants who often have mental issues but nevertheless have easy access to weapons. The government’s recent attempts to further limit access to firearms and large quantities of ammunition are admirable but not necessarily helpful in further reducing violence in schools. The National Rifle Association is attempting to defend the constitutional right to bear arms by, amongst other things, re-focussing gun reforms on improved screening of potential gun purchasers.

It is clear that being able to assess the rates of violence and criminal behaviour in schools is pre-requisite for addressing the problem. The persistent presence of gang culture and the associated drug issues, as well as recent examples of violence in schools highlighted in the media all contribute to school staff, students, their families and communities displaying a siege mentality when it comes to maintaining safe and supportive learning environments. To address what appears to be a situation that is out of control, federal and state governments, criminal justice enforcement agencies, and educational and teaching associations, are joining forces to gather together as much information and analysis as possible, in order to put in place effective law enforcement, and student education and teacher training programs. The overall reduction in violent crime in schools over the last 15 years is not widely recognized, owing to wide media coverage of school shooting incidents, and the public debate that follows.

NCES. (2013, March 23). Fast Facts . Retrieved from National Center for Education Statistics: http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=49

NCJRS. (2013, March 25). Retrieved from US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime: https://www.ncjrs.gov/ovc_archives/bulletins/legalseries/bulletin2/ncj189191.pdf

NCSSLE. (2013, March 23). Mission and Goals . Retrieved from National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments: http://safesupportiveschools.ed.gov/index.php?id=46

Neuman, S. (2013, March 25). Violence In Schools: How Big A Problem Is It? Retrieved from National Public Radio: http://www.npr.org/2012/03/16/148758783/violence-in-schools-how-big-a-problem-is-it

USSS. (2013, March 25). Secret Service Safe School Initiative . Retrieved from United States Secret Service: http://www.secretservice.gov/ntac_ssi.shtml

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Violence in schools.

School violence has become an increasingly prevalent and worrisome issue in recent years. School violence is characterized as violence that occurs in educational institutions, from the way to and from schools, and also during school events. Violence occurs in many forms, and may include physical methods such as slapping or punching, or more dangerous forms, such as shootings. School violence occurs in several forms, and presents a range of harmful and detrimental effects on children. As defined by the World Health Organization, or the WHO, violence is the use of physical power or means against another individual, community, or group, thus inflicting harmful effects, such as injury, psychological damage, deprivation, and death (“Definition,” 2015). Bullying constitutes one of the more prominent ways of violence within schools. Bullying may occur between individuals in school, or even through other mediums, such as the Internet, phones, and messaging systems.

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Often, children will go to great lengths to avoid the fear of reoccurring punishment by the abuser but not telling adults or the proper authorities. Though the abuser may present a threat to a child’s well-being and health, often, the abused children or victim cannot find the fault in being exposed to such violence and thus do not understand it. They may see it as a justifiable or even necessary event in which they are punished. All too often, bullying inflicts shame in the victim, sometimes making them feel even guilty, thus contributing to their beliefs in maintaining their silence (James, 2014).

Violence in schools presents a range of detrimental impacts, such as stress, post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, proclivity to spread chaos, suicidal tendencies, and also a greater likelihood for affected individuals to develop violent or aggressive behaviors (Elders, 1994). Violence typically occurs in forms of bullying by teachers, by students, cyber bullying, physical harm, or shooting in schools. While deaths from school shootings present a significant and harsh effect, nonfatal injuries can also be prevalent. Minor injuries may include bruises, cuts, and broken bones, while other injuries may be more fatal, such as gunshot wounds or other internal traumas, which may lead death or a permanent impairment. However, nonfatal injuries and other negative health outcomes or behavior may transpire. For example, those who suffer from PTSD may develop an alcohol or drug dependency. Anxiety, depression, fear, and a host of other psychological issues can also arise following school violence (Elders, 1994).

There are a number of risk factors entailed that ultimately lead to violent acts occurring in schools. These factors are not always certain predictors; however, their presence often does correlate to a higher likelihood of violence occurring. Some risk factors among children may include a history of violence in the child’s life, the use of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, associating with delinquents, poor family structure at home, poor performance in school, and poverty. Additionally, research has found that other factors, such as poor supervision in schools, exposure to violent films, peer pressure and/or influence, and emotional instability or anxiety also play a significant role in determining violent behaviors (Wike, 2009).

While certain behaviors in children are often seen first in schools, much of a child’s first behaviors and learning skills come from their home. Studies have shown that children who are regularly exposed to violence or physical or verbal abuse at home have a greater tendency to develop introverted behaviors, and hence face a higher risk of being bullied whilst at school. Additionally, those who are exposed to violence often while at home possess a greater likelihood of developing behavioral and thinking patterns that resort to violence as a solution to a problem. As a result, these children begin to advocate for violence as being a viable option to problems or issues in school (James, 2014).

While this data is certainly concerning as it presents a host of worrisome possibilities, there are ways in which these behaviors can be halted. In order to stop violent acts from occurring in schools, parents and teachers should play more of an engaged role in every student’s life. Teachers can detect problems often before they occur, or notice particular behaviors that may need addressing. As an authority, the teacher can take the necessary steps when students find themselves in volatile situation and utilize professional help, such as the school psychologist. In addition, parents should be responsible for providing a moral framework for their children at home, thus providing the foundation for proper and healthy growth in their children (Jaycox, 2014). When both parents and teachers can work together as a team, they can work to ensure that such violent acts are prevented in school, thus promoting the safety of all children in school.

Unfortunately, the realities of life are so that teachers and parents lack enough time to monitor their children effectively. As urbanization occurs, the schools are consistently becoming overcrowded, making it extremely difficult for every child to be monitored and managed. Additionally, with school budget cuts in recent years, schools are lacking the necessary funds to supply the extra help that is needed.

In summary, school violence has become a more prominent issue in recent years, as a result of bullying, violent behaviors, and shootings. These forms of violence present a host of detrimental effects on children, drastically affecting their quality of education, as well as their lives. Until the underlying issues are addressed more effectively, such as children’s home structures and being subjected to violence or abuse, society will continue to see violence occurring amongst children in schools.

  • Definition and typology of violence. (2015). Retrieved November 3, 2015, from http://www.who.int/violenceprevention/approach/definition/en/.
  • Elders, J. (1994). Violence as a Public Health Issue for Children. Childhood Education.
  • James, K. “Perceived Injustice and School Violence: An Application of General Strain Theory” Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, February 2014.
  • Jaycox, L. “School Intervention Related to School and Community Violence” Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, Volume 23, Issue 2, April 2014, Pages 281–293.
  • Wike, T. ”School Shootings: Making Sense of the Senseless” Aggression and Violent Behavior, May-June 2009, Vol. 14, No. 3, 162-169.

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