From a shove on the playground to hazing in the locker room to embarrassing videos posted online, bullying is real and it’s a real problem.
According to studies cited on stopbullying.gov, 70.6% of young people say they have observed bullying in their schools. There’s the less obvious as well — 9% of students in grades 6–12 have experienced cyberbullying.
While cases of verbal and social bullying are generally more common than physical altercations, bullying is happening all around us and it’s often going unreported. The impacts of bullying on young people today can have potential long-term deleterious effects on their social and emotional well-being and there are things we can do to spot it and prevent it. With some knowledge, a keen open eye and an action plan in place, any educator can help mitigate the problem of bullying at their school.
Here are three basic steps you can take today to prevent bullying.
Know the Warning Signs
Whether it’s physical or intellectual gifts, social/economical status, or simply the clothes a student wears, it’s often difficult to identify the reasons one child gets bullied over others. For students who are being bullied there are often warning signs: poor attendance, declining grades, loss of interest in school or other enjoyable activities, and decreased self-esteem. On the other side, children who bully tend to have impulsive personalities and difficulty conforming to rules.
Review information and data on your student with in-depth student assessment tools that can provide you detailed streams of information on your students’ attendance, grades, and demographics. For example, attendance issues could actually be social anxiety or school refusal caused by bullying. Additionally, you can monitor reported incidents of bullying and analyze trends using these software systems. More and more schools are utilizing student surveys to measure the school and classroom climate and to get a gauge on the nature, frequency and severity of bullying. These survey data can help schools identify if things are improving or getting worse. Finally, observe your students and their interactions in multiple areas in the school to potentially spot bullying behavior and intervene immediately.
A key thing to remember when assessing your students is to stay impartial and nonjudgmental. Every student that walks into our classrooms enters with their own issues and unique circumstances. Get to know your students beyond grades and performance, and utilize assessments and surveys to build rapport with them — and their parents. By knowing what’s going on with students inside and outside the classroom, we can stay out in front of potential conflicts and stop bullying before it even starts.
Get Their Peers Involved
As you gather information on your students and keep a keen eye on student interactions, take student-parent-teacher conferences one step further by holding classroom meetings where students are given an open forum to discuss school-related issues beyond academics. Lead the conversation and focus on specific topics, not individual conflicts or gossip. Build trust and respect between students and make sure everyone knows they can speak freely without fear. Keep an eye out for students who seem particularly affected or moved by a topic and follow up with them to see if they need help. Meetings like these will give an overall view of the student population, and let the students know they can feel safe and supported.
Bullies threaten their victims and bystanders with retaliation to keep them quiet, and this silence only allows the bullying to continue or worsen. Young children are taught not to be “tattletales,” and teen culture demonizes “rats” and “snitches.” Reinforce students for coming forward with information on bullying so that it becomes an expected and acceptable behavior. Students must know that they can and should be comfortable talking to you and other school officials about the incidents they experience and see — that there are supportive adults who will do something about it, and that by speaking up, they are helping their peers and building a stronger school culture.
Foster a safe learning environment by showing students that the school takes bullying seriously. Work with administrators to develop an anti-bullying code of conduct and clearly communicate it to all staff, students and parents. Reinforce that code of conduct with consistent reminders that bullying is unacceptable and that it will be met with consequences.
Change the Climate
On top of knowing our students, being aware of warning signs, and creating an open dialogue, we can work to build a comprehensive program that will prevent bullying school-wide. To truly stop bullying, every school administrator needs to be on board and on the same page. Become an expert on bullying and encourage your colleagues to do the same. Share notes and experiences. There are a host of resources — articles, videos, lesson plans, activities for students, bullying statistics, and more — available online that can be used for personal development or to educate students.
Does your school have a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program? If so, utilize it to create universal definitions of what bullying is, what to do when you see it happen, how to encourage others to take action, and how to foster an environment that renders bullying ineffective. If not, consider that schools who implement PBIS programs with fidelity experience significantly fewer behavior incidents associated with bullying. Solid data can help identify different types of bullying, where the bullying occurs, who the repeat offenders and victims are, and more. With this information, we can create a clear plan of action to address bullying and begin to reinforce positive behaviors.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), bullying victims — and the bullies themselves — are at risk for psychiatric problems, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide when they become adults. By taking a proactive approach, we can prevent bullying in our schools, benefiting our students now, and in the future.
At Illuminate Education we intend to be your school district’s comprehensive provider of cloud-based products and services offering innovative data solutions. Serving the K-12 education market, our turnkey data-focused software and services currently assist more than 1,300 school districts across the United States.
Ready to discover your one-stop-shop for all your district’s educational data needs? We’re here to talk.