Recently, I had the pleasure of addressing the faculty and staff of the St. James, Minnesota, school district as part of an in-service staff training event. Standing in front of the entire faculty staff in a charming auditorium, I noticed a raised hand from the right side of the room. I had opened the floor for any specific questions or concerns school personnel had regarding bullying.
“Where does bullying happen?”
It was a great question. As a bully prevention speaker, I get my fair share of questions about the hows and whys of bullying. I share solid, actionable information about how to address bullying and how to create a culture of kindness. But what doesn’t often get discussed is the where of bullying.
Where Bullying Happens
In 2017, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) published an extensive report on school bullying. The numbers revealed in this report indicate that we still have a fair amount of work to do to end bullying in our schools. For starters, roughly 20% of students reported being bullied. But it is the locations that bullying takes place that is especially eye-opening.
According to the report, common areas for bullying include:
- Hallway/stairwell (42%)
- Classroom (34%)
- Cafeteria (22%)
- Outside/Playground (20%)
- Bathroom/locker room (10%)
- School bus (10%)
We commonly consider the playground as the top location for bullying behaviors, so it’s surprising that it isn’t at the top of the list. Hallways and stairwells, classrooms, and the cafeteria all outpace the playground as a spot for bullying. But why?
The How and Why of Bullying
Think about this for a moment: transitions are a prime opportunity for aggression of all types. Most transitions – changing classes, getting lunch, settling into a classroom – happen quickly and with a fair amount of disruption. When you look at it through this lens, it’s easy to see why these areas are popular for bullying behaviors.
Bullies seek a fast-moving environment to intimidate their victims. Reduced adult supervision in these areas sets the stage for quick interactions that are difficult to track. The types of bullying that happen in these situations include insults and name-calling, as well as physical actions such as pushing, shoving, or tripping. One popular bullying method is to push or trip an individual and video their reaction via cellphone. In many cases, such videos are widely shared, bringing a cyberbullying element into the event.
The “why” of bullying is a complicated topic. However, the why of bullying behaviors in these transitional spaces is clear. Bullies take advantage of ever-changing surroundings with less adult supervision to quickly target their victims. Witnesses to these behaviors are unlikely to report them and victims may have difficulty proving what happened.
What Schools Can Do
Maybe it surprises you to learn that bullying often takes place right under our noses. Maybe that fact doesn’t surprise you at all. Either way, there are measures that schools can take to help stop bullying behaviors.
Schoolwide Code of Conduct
Spelling out the types of behaviors that are appropriate can be effective, particularly if it gives students the power to identify bullying behaviors. Establish, teach, and promote these behavior expectations schoolwide. This is a great opportunity to put a PBIS framework in place.
Schoolwide Antibullying Standards
In addition to schoolwide expectations, establish a set of standards specific to bullying behaviors. Teach your students how to identify bullying behaviors. Focus on teaching kindness and give bystanders a way to help bullying victims.
System for Reporting
Many times, bullying goes unreported. Sometimes, it’s because students don’t see certain actions as bullying. More often, however, they may fear retaliation, feel ashamed, or think no one will help. Take the victim or bystander’s concerns seriously. Putting a system for reporting bullying into place may help students to open up about what they see or experience.
Teachers and administrators often bear the burden of student supervision, and frankly, they can’t be everywhere. Bullying behaviors may also take place in front of support staff. Students typically view bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and custodial staff as having no authority. Support staff may see themselves in this way, too. However, empowering every member of your staff to intervene and report bullying will provide increased supervision in many of the more problematic locations in your school community.
You may be reluctant to install security cameras in the transitional areas of your school. It might suggest that you don’t have complete control over every location in your building. But before you completely reject the idea of security cameras, consider how their presence might affect behavior. Additionally, if you ever need reliable proof about behavior in a certain location, your security camera footage can be a huge help.
Eliminating Bullying in Every Area
How do you know if bullying is taking place at your school? Do your teachers witness it? What about your support staff? Do you rely on student reports? Is it possible to measure through office discipline referrals? How do you involve your parents?
It’s been my experience that every school has at least some type of bullying, even if it’s happening off the radar. Your students know about the bullying “hot spots” but that knowledge isn’t always shared with the adults in their lives. That’s why in addition to student assemblies, I offer parent and community presentations as well as staff training as part of an in-service day. Addressing all three groups is critical to combatting bullying. I present to students at all levels – elementary, middle, and high school – and can help bring special attention to the fast-moving, transitional spaces within a school community. Want to know more? Contact us and let us set up a specialized event or series of events for your school!