Creating a pro-social school environment increases the frequency of children’s positive behavior, develops their social skills, and may limit future aggressive behaviors. According to research being presented at the 108th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (APA) this week, two years of a school-wide climate changing program called PeaceBuilders gave children greater social competence and more positive behavior patterns.
Psychologists Daniel J. Flannery, PhD, and Alexander T. Vazsonyi, PhD, along with several colleagues, evaluated the PeaceBuilders program in seven Pima County, Arizona elementary schools. Students were surveyed about their aggressive behavior (e.g., “I hit someone”), and their peace-building behavior (e.g., “I helped build peace at school”). Teachers also rated their students’ social competence and aggressive behavior using two tools, the Walker-McConnell Scale of Social Competence and School Adjustment, and Achenbach’s Teacher Report Form. The PeaceBuilders program was instituted immediately in half the sample and a year later in the other schools.
The PeaceBuilders intervention teaches simple rules: praise people, avoid put-downs, seek wise people as advisers and friends, notice and correct hurts inflicted, and right wrongs. These principles were taught school-wide to both teachers and students in an attempt to change the setting that triggers aggressive or hostile behavior and to provide role models for good social behavior. The authors say the intervention was “purposely woven into the school’s everyday routine to make it a ‘way of life,’ not just a time or subject-limited curriculum.”
After beginning PeaceBuilders, teachers noted significant improvement in student social competence, rating students higher on factors like empathy, cooperation, and sensitivity. Students also reported increased peace-building behaviors like helping others and giving compliments for good behavior. The majority of improvement in social competence and peace-building occurred between six and 12 months into the program.
There was a small decline in aggressive behavior after the first six months, but by the end of the program aggression levels had returned to the baseline. However, in the six months that aggressive behavior was declining in the test schools, the control school’s aggressive behavior actually increased. So, PeaceBuilders may have an effect on future aggressive behavior. In order to reduce aggressive behavior significantly, say the authors, future programs should include more targeted behavioral efforts to complement the universal approach.
PeaceBuilders is different from previous violence prevention programs, say the researchers, because it attempted to change the school climate instead of individual risk factors, it lasted longer than many other programs and the program focused on universal prevention beginning in kindergarten. The authors believe that a school-wide climate intervention such as PeaceBuilders “can improve child social competence, increase the frequency of positive behavior and may buffer expected increases in aggressive behavior.”
Flannery, D. (2000). “Positive School Climate Equals Positive Children’s Behavior, Peacebuilders Program Teaches Social Competence.” American Psychological Association.