Parents and educators alike are concerned with the prevalence of bullying in schools, and with good reason. More than 70% of students – and an equal number of educators – have witnessed bullying, and up to 28% of students report being bullied. The climate in many communities makes it easy for bullying behavior to proliferate, and many school administrators are seeking strategies to combat this issue.
An Effective Approach to Stop Bullying
Three strategies appear to be the most promising for addressing bullying in schools. First, schools can shift their culture so that students feel safe and empowered to stand up to for each other. Second, schools can teach specific strategies for peer recognition and the peer-based reinforcement of positive, stand-up behavior. Third, schools can teach all students (perpetrators, victims, and bystanders) simple strategies for standing up to bullying, which effectively removes peer attention from incidents rather than reinforcing it.
Building a Powerful Anti-Bullying Program
Schoolwide bullying prevention, to be effective, relies on five crucial elements:
Establishing clear expectations that apply to the entire school is an all-important first step. Ensure that the school is implementing schoolwide PBIS or other multi-tiered systems of support with fidelity. Additionally, clearly define a leadership team as well as schoolwide expectations. Prior to implementation, the leadership team prepares initial lessons for faculty, plans for follow-up lessons, and plans to ensure implementation fidelity through a faculty checklist.
Clear Definitions of Bullying and Appropriate Responses
Recognizing bullying and responding appropriately are two key skills for both staff and students. Survey your students before you initiate any sort of anti-bullying program. This will give you insight into the issues your school faces and help your staff develop specific anti-bullying lessons. Deliver initial lessons within a two-week window, and follow-up with students for two to three minutes each week to discuss strategies and problem-solve continuing issues. Provide extra practice for students with greater needs. Some schools enlist the services of a bully prevention speaker to help jumpstart their efforts and get their program off on the right foot.
Student Leadership Team
Bully prevention programs are most effective when students take ownership of the issue. A leadership team consisting of students can review data collected from the student survey, identify the types and locations of social aggression at the school, and determine how students and staff respond to those incidents. These individuals help in the development of intervention strategies, including the creation of “stop” language, “stopping” language, and stand-up recognition strategies. They also implement stand-up recognition strategies where students are caught for standing up for others, including rewards for these individuals. Once the anti-bullying program is in place, the student leadership team reports the results of the follow-up survey to the rest of the school.
Support for Staff Implementation
A leadership team made up of teachers and administrators should meet monthly to discuss the implementation of bully prevention. This meeting should have a twofold purpose: to celebrate successes and to problem-solve continuing issues. They should also collect data on the implementation by school staff using the faculty implementation checklist.
Data Collection and Analysis
Ongoing data collection, particularly the student surveys conducted at the beginning and end of the year, provides a wealth of usable information for the staff leadership team. This data helps to determine the effectiveness of their efforts and to prepare for future modifications and implementation.
Schoolwide Buy-In Makes the Difference
Bullying has become a hot-button topic in schools and the media over the past decade. However, the term “bullying” has come to encompass a wide variety of actions, to the point that many things are mislabeled as bullying. It’s necessary to define what bullying is and is not.
Without a doubt, students deserve to feel safe and supported in the school environment, and an anti-bullying program can help to make great strides toward an improved school climate. The key to stopping bullying is schoolwide buy-in.
When your staff and students are all on the same page, an anti-bullying program can take off and flourish. Developing a plan of action and ongoing assessment helps to assure that the program will be effective throughout the course of the school year. Schools that employ the five steps above will find greater success in reducing and/or eliminating bullying from the school culture.