Elementary- and Middle-school Teachers' Reasoning about Intervening in School Violence: An examination of violence-prone school subcontexts

Journal of Moral Education 30 (2):131-153 (2001)
Abstract
The study compared middle-school and elementary-school teachers' (N = 108) reasoning about their professional roles when violence occurred in "undefined" and potentially violence-prone school subcontexts (e.g. hallways, cafeterias, playgrounds). The study combined concepts from urban planing, architecture, criminology and cognitive developmental domain theory to explore teachers' moral attributions towards school spaces. Participants were asked to locate dangerous locations and discuss their professional roles in those locations. Teachers were also given hypothetical situations where the specific subcontexts (i.e. hallways, classroom, school yard) and school type (middle versus elementary schools) were systematically manipulated to assess the impact of context on reasoning and judgement. The results indicated that middle-school teachers were more likely than elementary-school teachers to identify school subcontexts where they would not intervene. Middle-school teachers' reasoning patterns were closely associated with their perceived role in "undefined" spaces. Furthermore, middle-school teachers' reasoning about intervention was complex and included moral, social-conventional and personal explanations as to why intervention was not possible in all school subcontexts. In contrast, elementary school teachers were more likely to perceive the entire school context as within their professional purview. Their reasoning about intervention focused mainly on the potential physical harm to the students. The data imply that teachers' views of "role within context" and "subcontext" influence their decisions to intervene or not intervene. Implications for research, theory and intervention are discussed
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