Despite its perception as a “rite of passage” for school-aged children, bullying is actually a significant threat to student safety and well-being. Students who are bullied are at an increased risk for lower academic achievement, depression, anxiety, and sleep difficulties. Students who bully are at an increased risk for substance abuse, poor academic performance, and violence. Those who experience both bullying and being bullied are at a greater risk for mental and behavioral problems. Clearly, this rite of passage is quite dangerous, indeed.
Bully Prevention Checklist
Most administrators understand that bullying can be a serious issue. The news is filled with reports of bullied students taking matters into their own hands, often with tragic consequences. As a result, parents and communities frequently demand that schools take greater action in preventing bullying. However, not all bully prevention programs are created equal.
For your bully prevention program to be its most effective, make sure it contains these elements:
Policies and Rules
School districts typically produce a district-wide statement regarding policies related to bullying. For each individual school, however, this is merely a starting point. District-wide policies tend to use broad language to be all-inclusive for every school in their domain, regardless of grade level or size. Take these policies and make them specific to your school. Define bullying, create schoolwide expectations, and develop age-appropriate rules.
Survey your school community, including students, staff, and parents, in order to evaluate school climate on an ongoing basis. Use these surveys to better assess perceived student safety as well as identify what bullying behaviors are occurring as well as specific locations that need close attention. Do your students feel as if they have someone they can turn to for help? Does your staff feel as if they are able to help these individuals? Are parent concerns addressed in a satisfactory manner? The data you collect from these surveys will help you to assess how well your initiatives are working.
Training and Curriculum
Implement training for staff and students to help them identify bullying behaviors as well as provide them with strategies for addressing these behaviors. Bringing in a guest speaker for an all-school assembly is a great way to introduce this kind of instruction. Classroom strategies and lesson plans built around the concept of social-emotional learning can help build a positive school culture. Parent involvement is critical, as well. By including parents in informational communications, you clarify what they can do to help your school meet its goals.
Some locations in a school lend themselves to socially or physically aggressive behaviors. These tend to be areas in which adult supervision is minimal. Student surveys will help you to identify these locations so that you and your staff can monitor the activity in these areas.
Creating oversight for your bully prevention program is critical to staying on course. Administration, staff, students, and parents all should have a say in how your initiative operates. Input from these different perspectives will make it possible to create a positive school climate. In fact, input from your students helps them to take ownership of the issue, which can make your leaders’ job easier.
Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS)
Bullying often has its roots in the differences found among students. Evaluating all students and extending support for behavioral or academic challenges are key in MTSS. The tiers of support in MTSS address student needs overall, as part of a group, or individually. Having MTSS available will help to reduce the friction that can lead to bullying.
Bystanders are often overlooked in a bullying situation, even though they are witnesses to bullying 85% of the time. Providing these individuals with solid strategies to diffuse a bullying situation can be effective in reducing bullying incidents.
Complaint Process and Response Strategies
When bullying behaviors occur, it is important to have a process in place to address the issue. A form or electronic referral can help staff to bring a bullying incident to the attention of administrators. Administrators can use this process to further document response to an incident, up to and including resolution. Giving students the means to file a complaint as well as a step-by-step process for action can help to mitigate socially aggressive behavior over time.
While your school should conduct a survey before the beginning of a bully prevention program, you are far from done. Tracking bullying incidents as well as performing periodic surveys will help your school to see how your program is progressing. This information should be available to your leadership committee, as well. Ongoing assessment will allow you to fine-tune your program as time goes on.
Bully prevention programs must take the long view in order to realize results. From the first day of school to the last, year in and year out, preventing bullying is a continuous effort. Making bully prevention part of the expected school culture allows for regular conversation on the topic.
Focus on Climate
When a school moves away from a punitive discipline response to negative behavior, it affects overall school climate. The recognition of positive behavior produces a positive school climate, which is a natural fit for a bully prevention program.
Promotion of your bully prevention program will help to keep it visible, both on campus and in the community. Publicize expectations throughout your school, in newsletters home, on social media, and anywhere else that your staff, students, and community will see them. Encourage your staff and students to create their own bully prevention displays, such as a poster contest, student-produced videos, or social media content. When your school community takes ownership of its bully-prevention program in these ways, it’s great public relations for your school.
Taken individually, each of these elements can produce effective change in your school. Together, however, they can be a powerful force for bully prevention.
Starting a Bully Prevention Program at Your School
Like the age-old question about the chicken and the egg, it’s often hard to determine which comes first. Does a positive school culture come out of a bully prevention program? Or is a bully prevention program a natural extension of a positive school culture?
Either way, starting a bully prevention program can reap huge rewards in terms of your school’s culture and climate. Creating a positive atmosphere in which every student feels safe and respected takes time and commitment. An all-school assembly with a guest speaker can help to jumpstart the conversation, but the real work begins well in advance and continues long after that speaker leaves. Defining bullying, teaching appropriate response strategies, and cultivating kindness among your students should be a schoolwide effort.