Aren’t teachers already dealing with bullying in schools?
A great number of teachers are already doing many of the right things to address bullying. However, we are as susceptible to the same misconceptions about bullying as the general public. Some bullying, for example, is ignored due to gender stereotyping. Boys are expected to give and take a certain amount of “rough-housing”; girls are attributed with being “too sensitive” to the normal ins and outs of relationships or of taking things too seriously.
If the bullying behaviour is perpetrated by popular or respected students, teachers may tend to believe these students more than their targets. For students who bully but are also bullied, a common response may be that they are “only getting what they deserve.”
Some teachers are also often uncomfortable dealing with homophobic bullying, unsure of what they can do about cyberbullying, and culturally inclined to underestimate the endemic social and emotional bullying that permeates female peer groups.
Aren’t teachers supposed to concentrate on the curriculum? Are social issues really part of our job?
Teachers are responsible for the physical, emotional, and social well-being of their students while the students are under their control and care. Moreover, one of the most important variables in the learning process is an individual’s sense of self-worth. Bloom said that affective and cognitive behaviours were two sides to the same coin. Learning requires risk-taking; risk-taking requires a healthy sense of self-worth. Bullying not only destroys the self-esteem of students who are targeted but also casts a cloud of uncertainty and insecurity over the entire learning environment. The needs of the learners clash directly with the antisocial personality of the students who bully. The more influence those who bully have in the school environment, the less success teachers will have delivering the curriculum.
I’m trying to deal with bullying situations in my classroom and in the yard, but how far can I get when I never get much support from the school administrator?
The two most important factors in how effectively schools deal with bullying are the staff’s willingness to do something about bullying and the degree of collaboration among the staff. Both of these factors can be influenced by the school administrator. On the other hand, they aren’t solely the domain of the principal. A teacher’s long-term commitment to effective bullying prevention ensures a difference in an individual classroom. By collaborating with like-minded colleagues, a single teacher can also spread that commitment to the classrooms next door, for example, or persuade the teachers in a division to make it a priority.
Classrooms aren’t hermetically sealed, however, and students who bully are emboldened by inconsistencies from teacher to teacher. Leadership from the school administrator is also essential. Without a whole-school approach, led by a proactive, supportive school administrator, bullying prevention will remain a frustrating, but vital task. To learn more about using a whole-school approach, click here.
If bystanders can be so effective in short-circuiting a bullying situation, how do we get them to intervene more often?
It takes a lot of courage for a bystander, whether adult or student, to intervene in a bullying situation. We need to be careful about applying a double standard when considering the behaviour of student bystanders. In the adult workplace, for example, bystanders to episodes of adult bullying intervene about 20% of the time. We also have to be careful about oversimplifying why students don’t intervene more.
While we certainly don’t want students to intervene physically, we would like them to report a bullying episode to a trusted adult. A certain number, of course, either fear the power of the students who bully or want to avoid being labeled a “tattle-tale” or “snitch” if they tell. A 2000 report by Debra Pepler and Wendy Craig indicates that 85% of bullying episodes are witnessed by other students. This dynamic, coupled with the belief by about 50% of students that nothing effective would be done even if they did report a bullying episode, helps explain why bystanders intervene so infrequently.
Appropriate intervention by teachers is part of the solution. Students need to see teachers proactively and consistently engaged in bullying prevention in the classroom and throughout the school. They need to see all name-calling, put-downs, and slurs in the school or in the yard addressed, all reports of bullying investigated thoroughly and all bullying episodes logged centrally. The teacher’s respectful attitude towards all students, empowers them to learn through positive reinforcement, the understanding and acceptance of individual differences, and the encouragement of trial and error. When students truly believe that we are committed to bullying prevention, respect them as individuals, and take their confidences seriously, they will trust us enough to come forward and help stamp out bullying in their school.
You mention the long-term effects on students who bully but what are the long-term effects on students who are targeted by bullies?
Targets of bullying are fearful of telling. They suffer from a sense of hopelessness, shame and guilt, and become anxious and unhappy. Targets become isolated and excluded and may have difficulty forming interpersonal relationships, present as academically troubled, have trouble sleeping, exhibit signs of depression, become physically ill, have trouble focusing on school work, and regularly resist attending school. They may be involved in and blamed for fights. The more they’re bullied, the more isolated they become, and the more bullies are able to dehumanize them. As with those who bully, targets of bullying are at significant risk of developing antisocial behaviours as adolescents and into adulthood.
Where can we find time or space in our crowded curricula for another “add-on” like bullying prevention?
To be effective over time, bullying prevention must be integrated into and not “added on to” the curriculum. The curriculum actually offers a wealth of opportunities to enhance bullying prevention. The foundation of any bullying prevention policy, for example, is a belief in cooperation for the good of all, and in respect for self, peers, and students. That same belief lies at the heart of the learning/teaching process. Regardless of grade level, subject area, or course content, learning is maximized when students feel valued by their peers and adults, and physically, socially, and emotionally safe. All students have the right to be respected and the right to learn: the two are intertwined.
A school that insists on maintaining an environment free from sexist, racist, cultural, ability-related, and homophobic harassment, name-calling, put-downs, and slurs undermines bullies and empowers learners.
Dealing with physical bullying seems straightforward; but how are we supposed to deal with less obvious types of bullying, such as exclusion and name-calling?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Stop all forms of harassment, including name-calling on the basis of race, socio-economic status, gender, culture, ability, or sexual orientation. Every incident should be addressed and dealt with. Those doing the bullying will receive the message that their behaviour is wrong; those being harassed will receive the message that they have done nothing wrong and will be supported.
- Refuse to allow students to trivialize the behaviour. Students using inappropriate language and even those who are the brunt of the language will often claim that it’s only a joke, no offence was meant or taken, or that everyone talks like that. Challenge this thinking.
- React to signs of exclusion by talking privately and confidentially to students who seem to be socially at odds or personally unhappy. Even having someone to talk to makes a difference. Parents, guidance counselors, administrators, or other educational support staff may also be able to help.
- Become proactive by using a variety of approaches to explore different types of bullying, such as including books with bullying themes in your literature or reading program, accessing Resources for Classroom and Student Use or employing media literacy, and journal writing in various parts of your program. Use cooperative learning strategies, such as those found in Integrating with Curriculum. Cooperative learning advances a wide range of intellectual skills while developing processing skills students need to become aware of and be able to counter bias, discrimination, and bigotry of all kinds.
- Remember that discipline is a function of program. The goals of any program should be to raise self-esteem; to involve students in worthwhile, relevant, interesting, and challenging activities; to foster trust and cooperation; and to eliminate stereotypes.
- Never use a peer conflict resolution model for any kind of bullying, especially instances of exclusion. Bullies retain their power in these kinds of situations and are able to subvert the process. If your school bullying prevention policy doesn’t include a process for participants to develop greater empathy and understanding by deconstructing bullying episodes, create a process for your own classroom. Students who bully and targets of bullying must be counseled separately. Time is precious in classroom teaching but time spent, counseling and guiding students is well spent. To learn more about appropriate and inappropriate use of conflict resolution strategies, click here.
If parenting styles have an impact on the development of bullying behaviours, what can a school do about it?
For any bullying prevention program to be effective, parents must be included. They have to be fully informed, consulted often, and recognized as equal partners in the bullying prevention process. Schools can take a variety of steps to promote a collaborative and inclusive anti-bullying environment by reaching into their community.
Schools can keep their communities informed. Parents need information on the behaviours that constitute bullying, the home factors that contribute to bullying, the warning signs that will help them detect both bully and target, and the actions they can take to stop bullying. Arranging informational meetings at the school, introducing school and community resource personnel, and sending home regular up-dates on current research or new books are all proactive steps for a school to take.
Each year, the school should solicit the community’s observations, and questions about bullying. A bullying questionnaire, for example, would remind parents of the behaviours that constitute bullying, reinforce the importance the school places on bullying prevention, and enlist their unique perspective on the state of bullying in and around the school.
When parents feel welcome in the school and their participation is valued, collaboration on bullying prevention becomes a natural extension of that partnership. Community members also have valuable expertise that can be used throughout the curriculum. The more that parents engage with the school on a regular basis, the more the separation between home and school is blurred.
Finally, teachers must continue to reach out to parents for information whenever they’re concerned or confused about a student’s behaviour. Working together, parents and teachers nip many bullying behaviours in the bud and save students from personal harm.
I’ve taught bullying prevention programs for years now and the students always respond appropriately in class but nothing changes outside the classroom. What kind of program will make a difference?
One teacher can make some difference in countering bullying, but prevention is most effective with the involvement of the whole school community. Otherwise, there is often a difficulty with consistency within the school. Inconsistency in a bullying prevention approach from teacher to teacher, month to month, or location to location around the school encourages students who bully. Inconsistency allows them to view bullying prevention as arbitrary and impermanent. A whole-school approach on the other hand, can make a difference.
The term, “whole school,” however, can mean different things to different people. Over the long haul, popular strategies, such as engaging all the students in periodic bullying prevention assemblies or requiring all teachers to present a pre-packaged, bullying prevention lesson once a week, have little lasting value.
An effective whole-school approach requires, first, that the staff identify a real need in their school for bullying prevention. This can be accomplished by using a school survey. Then it’s essential that the staff commit themselves over an extended period of time to making a difference. They need to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to identify and resolve bullying situations and to educate their students and their community about the responsibilities involved in pro-social behaviour versus the consequences of antisocial behaviour. They need to develop and implement a comprehensive, school-wide, bullying prevention plan including curricular complements, supervision, tracking bullying episodes, integrating special presentations, and counselling everyone affected by bullying. Finally, an objective evaluation component must be built into the plan to assess the effectiveness of the program and help set goals for the following year. This kind of whole-school program does make a difference.