Rethinking Our Response to School Violence

Rethinking Our Response to School Violence by Building Student Connection and Belonging 

In a new featured session of the 2022 Joint Annual Conference offered on Saturday, November 19, Licensed Clinical Psychologist Doug Bolton, Ph.D., prompted school leaders to rethink how they respond to school violence, which continues to escalate in the country.   

Because schools are the primary communities for children for 13 years, they have the power to reduce the risk of violence in students. Unfortunately, as Bolton told the audience, many efforts to make schools safe only further exclude students who struggle behaviorally, which can increase the risk of violence.


Bolton emphasized research to inform practices for promoting safety, with the idea of looking “upstream” to connect with students who are at risk.  

“We learn better when we have a sense of belonging,” Bolton emphasized as he encouraged school leaders to reflect on how they can create experiences of belonging for their students. Through this connection, kids who are struggling will be identified before they think about acts of violence.  

Bolton defines belonging as the feeling that we’re part of a larger group that values, respects, and cares for us and to which we have something to contribute. He said belonging does two things: It opens our brains for learning and it buffers the impact of stress and trauma.  

Students who have a sense of belonging at school and home are more motivated to learn, perform better academically, have better attendance, engage in less misconduct, are healthier, have higher self-esteem, and have better mental health. 

“We always have to be shining a light on kids who are hurting the most. That is how we will get upstream,” Bolton concluded. 

Following his presentation, Bolton fielded questions from the audience, moderated by IASB Executive Director Tom Bertrand. 

A copy of the presentation is available to IASB members through the Conference handouts webpage

Bolton is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with Formative Psychological Services in Northbrook who has worked with children, adolescents, couples, and families for over 25 years. As a former psychologist and principal at North Shore Academy, a K-12 therapeutic school in Highland Park, he provided intensive therapeutic services to students and families and supervised the school’s clinical services. Currently, in addition to his private practice, Dr. Bolton provides consultation, supervision and professional development to parents, educators, and clinicians throughout northern Illinois on building children’s resilience, mental health issues in schools, and creating trauma-responsive school communities.