Would you believe that every day a child is suffering in a school because they are being bullied? Most schools discuss bullying at the beginning of each school year, and some schools invest in posters to reinforce school-wide behavioral expectations. For so long, bullying has been viewed as “a childhood rite of passage” that “made kids tougher,” but the reality has always been that bullying can leave devastating and often long-term effects. The research is clear about the impact of bullying on a student’s self-esteem, physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being.
As an instructional leader, bullying must be an area that is on your radar throughout the school year to ensure that staff, students, and their families know that their safety, health, and well-being are your number one priority. Proactive bullying prevention strategies must be implemented school-wide to ensure classroom environments are conducive to learning.
One of the things we know for sure is that bullies do not discriminate based on geography, demographics, ethnicity, culture, or socio-economic levels; any student can become a victim of bullying. That’s why it’s important that you use anti-bullying policies and procedures to strengthen your school’s culture and climate. Here are some of the best bullying prevention tips for principals.
Have a Clear Definition of Bullying
Schools should have a clear definition and common language about what bullying is and the prevention steps that are in place to protect students. The Crisis Prevention Institute defines bullying as “characterized by intentionally aggressive behavior that involves an imbalance of power and strength.” There is a distinct difference between teasing and bullying. Teasing is done to irritate, provoke, or annoy another person. However, bullying is vastly different because it’s about an imbalance of power over another individual.
Quite often, bullied students are afraid to defend themselves, which causes an imbalance of power. Bullying can consist of threats, teasing, name-calling, excluding another person, physical abuse, violence, and preventing others from exercising their free will to make choices for themselves.
Cyberbullying is the most common method used today because it allows the bully to hide behind a device and include others in the bullying episode. This type of bullying is serious because students are publicly humiliated, embarrassed, tormented, or intimidated. They cannot control who will be involved (one person or multiple people) and when these attacks will happen. Cyberbullying includes using text messages, emails, videos, social media posts, and direct messaging apps. When developing bullying prevention, and intervention policies must include cyberbullying.
Bullying Warning Signs
Teachers must have access to professional development, curriculum resource materials, and student support services to learn about the early warning signs of bullying and the steps they must take to address it. Students should be provided with lessons about bullying on topics such as:
- What are the early warning signs that someone is bullying them?
- What should a student do if they are being bullied?
- What are the signs that a student should look for to determine whether their behavior is considered bullying?
For teachers, these are some of the early warning signs of bullying, and you should pay close attention to them.
- The same students are always involved in verbal, nonverbal, or physical interactions, and negative behaviors are increasingly noticeable.
- Behavior and attitude changes are noticeable in a student.
- The same student is always involved in fights.
- A student is beginning to show signs of aggression toward other students.
- A student suddenly has new belongings and refuses to share what happened to them.
- Blaming other students for their problems and not being able to self-regulate their emotions.
- A student becomes increasingly concerned about being popular and about their reputation in school or on social media.
The student being bullied will also exhibit some signs that indicate they’re being bullied. These are some of the early warning signs that an administrator or teacher should look for:
- Frequent headaches or stomach aches
- Injuries they can’t or won’t explain
- Declining grades
- Loss of friends
- Less interest in school
- Changes in eating habits
The first step in prevention is to be able to identify the early warning signs of bullying. We identified some of the top early warning signs; however, relationships with your students matter. Schools must have an open-door policy and ensure that students know that they are valued, their voices will be heard without judgment, and most importantly, you are there to protect them. Teachers, students, and their parents must know that safety is your number one priority.
Set Clear Rules and Classroom Expectations
Set clear and enforceable rules and expectations that address bullying and the consequences for breaking the rules. Students should be included in establishing the rules, and they should be provided with activities to create anchor charts, signs, and symbols to reinforce expectations. For example, we are welcoming, accepting, and kind to each other and embrace our differences to build a safe classroom community for all; instead of vague classroom rules that state we will not make fun of people. Students must know that they are being held accountable for being reflective, responsible, and respectful.
The PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center identified the following classroom lessons, activities, and resources to support your school’s anti-bullying policies and procedures.
Animated Video Series for Elementary School Students: The series of animated videos creatively illustrates what it feels like to be bullied, what students can do if they see bullying, and how to be an advocate for kindness, acceptance, and inclusion. Watch each video, then hold a classroom discussion using the suggested questions.
Kids Against Bullying Website: A creative, innovative, and educational website designed for elementary school students to learn about bullying prevention, engage in activities and be inspired to take action.
Kids Against Bullying Classroom Activity Book: An eight-page classroom activity book designed with educational activities to help young learners in creative ways. The booklet provides activities to help students think about their feelings, explore responses to bullying situations, and take the pledge to be a Kid Against Bullying.
Get the Family Involved
Parents are very influential in a student’s life. Communicating regularly with your student’s parents can make the most meaningful impact, whether the student is the bully or being bullied.
Of course, these conversations can be tricky. That’s why it’s important to build rapport with students and parents by communicating with them regularly. Keep them informed of their child’s grades, friends, behaviors, and attitudes. When you need to talk to them about a bullying problem, they’ll be more receptive to what you have to say.
Some parents are more accessible to connect with than others. Some parents distrust school personnel because of negative interactions that may have taken place in the past with their child, especially if this is not the first time, they must address an issue with bullying or behavior. When you are dealing with a parent who may not be receptive or is defensive, the best way to engage is by sharing that you are concerned about their child’s behavior and would like to partner with them to find some solutions to address them. Parents are more willing to discuss their child’s behavior when they are invited into a dialogue that values their opinion, thoughts, and practical solutions to address the areas of concern.
Prevention is only as good as your ability to monitor and track incidents of bullying. Being proactive means that your school has systems that can track each incident and document who was involved, what happened, when and where did the incident occur, and what steps were taken to address the needs of the student who was bullied, and what steps were taken for the student who was identified as the bully in each incident. This information will help you plan professional development and student support services that are proactive and targeted to ensure your school culture and climate are healthy and safe.
We encourage instructional leaders to implement the systems thinking approach to develop a logical and timely reporting system that will provide information about suspected and confirmed bullying incidents. The only way to prevent bullying is to ensure that all adults within your school building can recognize the signs.
Train Teachers and Staff
We have discussed the importance of providing professional development learning opportunities to ensure that all staff members know how to prevent and intervene. Let’s shift the focus to how schools can reduce the incidents of bullying.
Reward Positive Behavior
By default, adults usually think about what type of punishment/consequence to implement when a child misbehaves to address the behavior. We expect students to know what appropriate and acceptable behavior is. However, the same way we teach students to read and write, lessons should include specific behavioral expectations. Some students we refer to as bad may need to be taught what is expected of them in school, classrooms, and all common spaces. Then we have leveled the playing field to positively reinforce and reward the behaviors we want students to exhibit school-wide.
When you “catch” a student behaving responsibly, acknowledge and reward them. This is a powerful strategy that will reinforce more positive social interactions. Just like setting clear expectations lets students know what behaviors are appropriate and acceptable, students also begin to understand the consequences of their actions.
Have Open Communication
When teachers build rapport with their students, they are more likely to openly communicate what’s going on. One-way teachers can do this is by using active listening skills that are empathetic and supportive. Students need to feel like they can trust their teachers if they’re being bullied. Students who are nervous or afraid to speak up will feel more comfortable speaking one-on-one with someone they know cares about them.
Evidence-Based Bullying Prevention Programs
There’s a lot of programs and information available on the topic of how to prevent bullying. We would like to share a few evidence-based programs that have research-proven results. A 2013 study by the Congressional Research Service found that a school-based bullying prevention program can decrease bullying behavior in students by up to 25 percent.
Implementing a school-wide approach to bullying prevention is an important first step. However, some students will need additional support.
Bullying Prevention – PBIS (BP-PBIS)
Bullying prevention positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) is a three-tiered approach designed to provide a school-wide approach at the universal level, tier two, and tier three for students who need more intensive support.
The BP-PBIS program is available online for free. However, professional development and coaching support are core components to implementing this approach with fidelity. This is an evidence-based program that is designed to be implemented as part of a school’s universal behavior management system. There are two separate programs, one for elementary school students and the secondary program is designed for middle and high school students.
Second Step Program and Bullying Prevention Unit
The Second Step: Social and Emotional Learning Program (SS-SEL) is a whole-school bullying prevention program designed for grades K-8. In the Second Step Bullying Prevention Unit (SS-BPU), a 30-minute interactive lesson plan is implemented each week over five lessons covering topics such as recognizing and reporting bullying, as well as bystander intervention. There are lesson plans that are specific to each grade band; the descriptions for grades K-3 and 4-5 lessons are designed to equip students with developmentally appropriate behavioral expectations.
Professional development and follow-up coaching support should be provided to all staff. There are three training modules available on the SS-BPU website that instructional leaders and school staff should complete to ensure a comprehensive and consistent understanding of bullying behaviors and intervention. The SS-BPU is designed to be implemented as part of the Second Step: Social and Emotional Learning Program. In addition, while there is not currently an SS-BPU for middle school students, the middle school SS-SEL program includes units on bullying prevention.
In order to stop bullying, a school-wide anti-bullying program for students should address several areas, including school culture, parent involvement, and community engagement.
We are passionate about equity, inclusion, safe and orderly schools and would love to provide personalized recommendations for classroom management and evidence-based bullying prevention programs and strategies! Schedule a free call with one of our experienced consultants to help us understand the challenges you face as a school leader and design a plan to improve your school’s culture and climate