Keeping an Academic Focus

Technology for identifying and assessing concerning behaviors before they escalate.

GUEST COLUMN | by Katie Johnson

CREDIT AwareityMrs. Andrews is a 7th grade Science teacher. She has an average of 300 students in and out of her classroom each day. Does she know all of her students’ names? Yes. Is her classroom often interrupted due to conflicts between these students? Yes. Does she know how her students are behaving outside of her classroom? No. Does she know what types of interactions they are having on social media or other outside factors that may be influencing their decisions? No.

Can connecting students, teachers and district staff more effectively create a safer environment?

When an incident occurs in Mrs. Andrews’ classroom, whether it be bullying or an argument between students, she used to handle the conflict immediately and try to move on with her scheduled day. But, how did she know those students who argued in her class did not continue to fight the next period? What if those same individuals assaulted one another after school or made violent threats on Facebook? How can teachers connect the dots outside of their classrooms and help achieve a safer school climate for all community members?

Behavioral issues and safety concerns continue to prevent students from learning at their full academic potential and from meeting institutional expectations. Student safety is a challenging issue and one school administrators constantly strive to improve. Can connecting students, teachers and district staff more effectively create a safer environment? Oklahoma City Public Schools is working to eliminate the gaps across multiple schools, classrooms and staff by utilizing Awareity’s innovative TIPS Prevention Platform.

Now, with TIPS, when a classroom incident occurs Mrs. Andrews addresses the incident with the students as she normally would, but also quickly and easily makes an incident report in TIPS detailing the situation and how it was managed. This incident is now documented and automatically shared with appropriate personnel, including the principal and counselor from her school, district personnel, behavioral specialists and legal or law enforcement if necessary. Prior to using TIPS, it was often was very difficult for these staff members to schedule a time to discuss individual students and pull in necessary resources (Title IX, IEP teams, etc.). If Mrs. Andrews does have a question on school policy or guidelines for investigating/intervening in a situation, she can easily refer to handbook procedures and checklists securely stored in the connected TIPS Awareness Vault.

If other reports from staff, students or parents have been made in the TIPS system involving the same individuals (students or adults), a connection can be made and district staff will have a more comprehensive picture of the student(s) behavior. What may seem like a simple classroom incident or conflict between students to Mrs. Andrews, can actually be a missing piece of the puzzle in a more problematic situation. Other examples of why connecting the dots is so important may be if a student changes schools within the district, is mentioned in a truancy report, causes an incident on the bus, etc., all of this information can be immediately connected and appropriate intervention strategies can be formulated.

Like most schools, OKCPS utilizes a student records system and behavior issues are documented within, but primarily just an overview of the incident and resolution is shared within the student’s record. What the TIPS platform is specifically utilized for, outside of the anonymous reporting capability, is to document all steps in an internal investigation, threat assessment and/or intervention process, and ensure only those authorized personnel (teachers, counselors, principals, district staff, SROs, etc.) that need to be involved are. As OCR compliance fines, requirements and liabilities continue to increase, documentation is critical and having actions tracked for later review can play a huge role in preventing lawsuits and tragedies. Maintaining this information in a central secure platform separate from the student records helps ensure only the participating parties are involved and can communicate and collaborate efficiently while also being equipped to set automated reminders and tasks to ensure proper follow-up and make sure no students slip through the gaps.

“One of the things we continue to stress with our school staff is that we cannot allow any incidents to slip through the cracks. Just because you think you stopped the bullying in your classroom does not mean that student is not being continually harassed on the bus, online, etc. Our teams use TIPS to set reminders to follow-up and check in with students (both the victims and the aggressors) and ensure the situation has indeed improved,” says Tracy Alvarez, Safe and Drug Free Schools Coordinator for OKCPS.

“Since implementing the TIPS platform and 587-STOP hotline in 2012,” says Alvarez, “our schools have logged over 4000 reports across multiple categories – truancy, vandalism, threats to harm, suspected abuse, self-harm, weapons, drugs/alcohol, assault and bullying.” What makes TIPS so valuable to their district is its “ability to document all types of investigations, including suspension appeals and accident reports,” says Alvarez. “We can customize the incident report forms to meet our needs and assign the appropriate team members from the safety office, truancy officers, district staff, etc., as those responsible for responding,” she says.

During a recent presentation to the PTA’s Anti-Bullying Collaborative, Alvarez emphasized how TIPS is also helping to share their overall bullying prevention strategy.

Now in the 3rd year of implementation of the TIPS reporting system and hotline (587-STOP), anyone – students, parents, staff, community, etc. can report issues 24/7. Reports can be made in English or Spanish and all reporters can remain anonymous if they so choose. Using smartphones or PCs, students can share concerns easily at school or from the safety of their own homes. OCKPS also encourages students to talk to their parents about issues they may be having and then fill out the report as they have the conversation with their parents. This not only helps foster communication at home, but also helps the district proactively investigate and avoid calls from frustrated parents down the road.

Once an incident report is submitted, notifications are automatically and immediately routed to site specific team members for investigation and follow-up, as well as a School Resource Officer. All reports are met immediately with a thorough investigation and timely and decisive action is important. In a recent Student Safety Survey conducted by Awareity, students nationwide revealed that even when they reported bullying to an adult, their situation was not improving. With a solution like the TIPS prevention platform, OKCPS has the right tools to hold administrators accountable and ensure all incident reports are addressed and appropriate follow-up is taking place to ensure issues are not escalating and all actions can be documented through reminders, tasks, etc.

Additional efforts have also been put in place to ensure bullying prevention goes a step further into thoughts of self-harm and/or suicidal ideation. OKCPS does not endorse a zero tolerance policy, instead the district supports intervention to help curtail the problem(s) with minimal amount of lost instruction.

Are bullying claims, disruptive student behaviors and other student safety issues causing your district hours of headaches and lost time in meetings, e-mails, paper shuffling, and spreadsheets?

School leaders like Alvarez at OKCPS continue to challenge conventional methods and look for more efficient and effective methods for improving student safety. Proactive prevention strategies and proven automated tools can help ensure you are spending less time in reaction mode and more time in learning mode.

Katie Johnson is VP of Marketing and Client Services for Awareity. She is dedicated to helping schools improve ongoing prevention and intervention efforts with Awareity’s award-winning web-based platform, TIPS. In 2012, Katie became a mom to a beautiful little girl named Emma, enhancing her passion for student safety and bullying prevention. Katie.johnson@awareity.com

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