How can you start a successful bullying prevention/reduction program? Here are some important considerations.
Essential Components of School-Wide Bullying Programs
Dr. Melinda Bossenmeyer’s site Peaceful Playgrounds recommends the following.
School-wide approach. The first and foremost foundation of any bullying prevention program is a school-wide commitment and approach. Buy-in from the staff and administration is not only appropriate but essential. This requires changing the norms for social behavior and school climate. The school-wide message needs to be: Bullying is wrong. It violates school rules and will not be tolerated. It must stop immediately.
Assessment. Successful intervention programs assess bullying by distributing an anonymous bullying questionnaire to students and staff. This questionnaire seeks to identify bullying “hot spots” on campus and also serves as a baseline for future reference and success indicators.
Buy-in. The majority of the staff must be on board for the program to be successful. Parental support also is critical.
Bullying Prevention Leadership Team. Form a group to coordinate and provide direction for implementing a bullying program. This team should commit to ongoing reviews of the bullying situation, training, data collection and program assessment. Members should include staff from all position classifications, as well as parents and other community members.
Policies and rules on bullying. Establish and enforce school rules and policies on bullying. Align these with state legislation and district bullying policies. Policies and consequences must be clearly spelled out and communicated school-wide.
Staff training. Train staff (teachers, aides, crossing guards, office workers, lunchroom staff, bus drivers, etc.) in bullying identification and prevention, and how to intervene to stop bullying, especially “on the spot” skills.
Bullying supervision and intervention. Supervisors/teachers must be present in identified hot spots in which bullying occurs. When a bullying behavior is observed or uncovered, interventions must be consistent and appropriate. Incidences of bullying require separate follow-up meetings as appropriate.
Classroom instructional component. It’s best if an anti-bullying theme is incorporated throughout the curricula and school events. In addition, conduct weekly meetings of about 20-40 minutes that include mini lessons, discussions and instruction on bullying prevention strategies. These also help teachers informally monitor the progress of a bullying program and provide feedback.
No end date. There is no quick fix – this is an ongoing effort. Revisit bullying prevention themes and intertwine them in classroom curriculum, school events and in printed materials. Make decisions about the implementation or modification of program components after the regular analysis of data that is collected.
Bullying Strategies That Don’t Work
Zero tolerance policies. Simply eliminating all the bullies from school is neither feasible nor effective. Also, staff may be hesitant to refer someone who bullies if they feel the “no tolerance” consequence is too severe for the behavior; reporting of bullying may actually decrease.
Group therapy for students who bully. Children who bully others need good role models. Containing them with like offenders, while well-intentioned, provides more exposure to nonsocial behaviors.
Conflict resolution programs. These programs are a valuable part of a peaceful school environment. But the repeated harassment that characterizes bullying is not an appropriate conflict to handle through mediation’s win-win approach.
- Address bullying at the individual, classroom, school and community level.
- Adults across all school settings must continuously model kind, inclusive, positive behaviors.
- Implement or strengthen a school-wide climate of inclusion and support for all students, including recognition of students’ pro-social behaviors.
- Implement campus-wide, age-appropriate student awareness- and empathy-building programs.
- Implement mental health services/referrals and social support/social skill-building for students who bully, students who are the targets of bullies, and their families.
- Parents must receive education and training in bullying reduction strategies and become involved partners with the school.
- Programs must address bullying that occurs before and after school, outside campus, on the routes to and from school, bus stops and buses, and extracurricular events.
- Empower bystanders to bullying by increasing their understanding, awareness, intervention and reporting of witnessed or suspected bullying.
- Develop, provide and promote an anonymous, confidential reporting system (paper, phone, computer) that can be accessed at all hours.
- Identify and provide one or more designated in-school “safe zones/locations” where any student feeling threatened or unsafe may go at any time. These areas must have continuous access and adult presence, including immediately prior to and after the official school day.
- Identify ‘bully-buster’ staff members who are accessible to students for much of the day and provide these staff with immediate intervention skills.
- Periodic, anonymous school-specific student surveys should be utilized to assess ongoing and potential issues with school “hot spots,” and to identify specific needs and behaviors to be addressed. Alternate versions can be created/completed by staff and parents.