Research and Results

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What does research tell us about the impact of bullying on a school environment, and about the effectiveness of  bullying prevention efforts?

Bullying is Negatively Related to Academic Achievement

Gronna and Selvin (1999) analyzed achievement scores from 46 schools and found that, after controlling for student characteristics, school safety was significantly related to math and reading standard scores among eighth graders.

The academic performance of students in schools with pervasive bullying may suffer because students are less engaged in learning due to fears about bullying or due to a greater level of school disorder and/or intimidation associated with bullying. Teachers may be less effective because they spend more time focused on discipline. Bystanders to bullying are also impacted, as the climate of fear and disrespect that bullying creates can negatively impact student learning beyond the bullies and targets.

Studies support the case for school-wide bullying prevention programs as a means of improving school climate and facilitating school-wide academic achievement. Future intervention studies may show that decreasing bullying and teasing behavior may improve student performance on standardized exams.

When children know the school they attend actively works to make the learning environment a safe environment, and that bullying is not tolerated, they can afford to relax their guard and divert more of their attention and energy to learning rather than staying safe.

Research Results and Program Outcomes

What are some of the reported effects of bullying prevention programs?

  • Improved student and staff perception of school climate.
  • Increased student sense of school safety and attachment/connection to school.
  • Improved attendance – students who are bullied are more likely to miss school which in turn adds to being disconnected and missing educational opportunities and positive social experiences.
  • Increased academic engagement and involvement in student activities among all students.
  • Reduced dropout rate/higher student retention.
  • Improved adult-student relationships.

In addition, parent confidence and trust in the school increases when:

  • the school gains a reputation of being safe for all children and is seen as an active partner in taking care of children;
  • there is more positive parent communication and involvement, and schools are seen as allies; and
  • there are reduced negative perceptions of the school by the wider community.

In a review of studies on the impact of support in school, the Search Institute found that a caring school climate is associated with:

  • higher grades, engagement, attendance, expectations and aspirations, a sense of scholastic competence, fewer school suspensions, and on-time progression through grades (19 studies)
  • higher self-esteem and self-concept (5 studies)
  • less anxiety, depression and loneliness (3 studies)
  • less substance abuse (4 studies)

Lessons Learned from Other Bullying Programs

Lesson 1: While there is considerable evidence of success in the actions of schools against bullying, the level of success varies greatly between schools. Those schools that did the most achieved the most.

Lesson 2: Leadership by the principal or head teacher, and administrative commitment are critical to the success of a bully reduction program.

“A necessary prerequisite to the effective implementation of a Bullying Prevention Program is the commitment of the school administrator (principal) and a majority of school staff to addressing problems associated with bullying” (Limber et al, 2004, p. 66 – researcher who brought Olweus’ anti-bullying program to the U.S.)

Lesson 3: “Successful school-based interventions for bullying depend on teachers and principals to create a climate that discourages bullying and encourages peer processes that support and include vulnerable children. Teachers should label bullying behavior, not the person. Identify the problem as bullying behavior and avoid labeling children and youth as “bullies and victims.” These labels limit how they think about themselves and how others think of them.” (Pepler et al, 2004, p.311.)

Lesson 4: “Only with consistent sustained effort (at least two years of intervention) is the incidence of bullying and related behaviors likely to be reduced. It takes more than six months to effect change in bullying problems in elementary schools. “There are no “magic bullets, nor quick fixes.” True success requires extensive coordinated and sustainable efforts. (Pepler et al, 2004.)

Lesson 5: Anti-bullying efforts cannot be separated from the core tasks of effective teaching. Teachers who are engaging and who have good classroom management skills have less problems with students’ bullying behaviors. Academic progress increases when schools work to improve the quality of teachers’ classroom management and positive behavior discipline techniques. High student engagement reduces bullying opportunities.

Lesson 6: “It is difficult at this stage to identify the crucial elements in the anti-bullying programs or to say which programs are most effective. Most of the programs to counter bullying have resulted in a degree of success, at least on some outcome measures. This is encouraging.” (Rigby, Smith & Pepler, 2004, p. 2.)

Lesson 7: “There is a greater likelihood of success of anti-bullying intervention programs at younger primary grades (e.g., kindergarten to grade 4) than with older middle and secondary students. Changes in anti-bullying attitudes and group norms are more common in younger students who are more likely to respect the authority of teachers. Research on the stability of victim and bully status suggests that few pupils enter into stable roles before 8 to 9 years old.” (Rigby et al, 2004.)

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What to Look for In a Bullying Program

The key guideline in selecting a bullying response/prevention program is to look for comprehensive and ongoing approaches, as opposed to ‘one-shot’ events or short-term projects, which are unlikely to have lasting impact or to create cultural change.

Specifically, consider whether the program has the following characteristics:

  • A framework based on empirical research and a clear and sensible theory.
  • Involves the entire school community.
  • Addresses the role of adults in childhood bullying (e.g., modeling of bullying behavior, implicit acceptance or explicit endorsement of childhood bullying and inaction or inadequate response to bullying).
  • Integrated elements (program components work well together, fit an overall framework).
  • Long-term and adequate intensity (e.g., years not months; school-wide effort and impact).
  • Includes baseline measurements of the nature and extent of bullying in the setting (e.g., anonymous self-report surveys and/or student focus groups) and follow-up assessments to determine the effectiveness of the interventions.
  • Developmentally appropriate (e.g., language and materials used varies for children of different ages, addresses how bullying changes from pre-school through high school years).
  • Culturally responsive (e.g., accounts for program-relevant differences in communities and populations; affirming and strengthening cultural, sexual, racial and linguistic identities).
  • Community-based (extends beyond the school/agency, partners with other community organizations).
  • Parent/caregiver/family-oriented (e.g., helps parents/caregivers address bullying in home and community environments; cultivates partnerships between schools and families).
  • Actively supports at-risk or targeted students (e.g., by inclusion, by identifying and supporting individual strengths and interests).

Questions to Ask

  • Does the program foster a whole-school approach, with collaboration between administration, counseling staff, teaching staff (including coaches) and support staff (clerical, cafeteria, custodial, security, etc.), parents, community members and students?
  • Does the program foster a comprehensive approach, with interventions at the level of the whole school, the classroom (including teams and clubs) and the individuals who bully and are bullied?
  • Does the program emphasize training for all staff on identifying, reporting, confronting and imposing consequences for bullying behaviors?
  • Does the program empower student bystanders to withhold support from or actively dissuade/report bullying behavior?
  • Does the program include measures (such as character education, responsive school/classroom and collaborative learning) to improve school climate, particularly the ways in which students, teachers, administrators and other school staff communicate with one another?
  • Does the program address different forms of bullying (e.g., physical, verbal, relational, cyber-bullying)?
  • Does the program cover sexual harassment, bullying based on race, culture, gender-identity, disability and other forms of bias-based bullying?

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