More than three million students are bullied each year, yet one in four teachers don’t think bullying is a problem. To make matters worse, those who do see bullying as a problem aren’t battling it in effective ways.
Researchers have noticed that schools continue to address bullying in ways that are counterproductive. Anti-bullying strategies still rely on the age-old idea that a bully just needs a few hours in detention and they’ll walk out reformed.
If your school’s anti-bullying plan isn’t working, here are 11 effective strategies you can implement today that will help eliminate bullying in K-12 schools.
School districts across the country use i-Sight to investigate bullying incidents. Read the eBook to learn more about how case management software helps keep schools safe.
Before you can start implementing strategies that really work to eliminate bullying, you need to understand why bullying happens and the power dynamic at play.
Bullying comes in many shapes and forms, from physical and verbal attacks to deliberate social exclusion and, now, cyberbullying. However, behind any act of bullying is repeated intent to harm and an imbalance of power between bully and victim.
To eliminate bullying, first increase true knowledge about bullying, then dispel myths among school staff, parents and those in the community. The expression “boys will be boys” benefits nobody, especially not anyone trying to put a stop to bullying in schools.
Experts agree that a holistic and multifaceted approach is one of the best ways to eliminate bullying in K-12 schools. A sophisticated approach understands that anti-bullying efforts should be interpreted as one part of a comprehensive plan that engages the whole school community.
There are many benefits of organizing approaches in this way.
First, it makes it easier to implement and apply policies school- and district-wide. A school that embeds its anti-bullying efforts in a larger, multitiered behavioral framework, will find it easier to consistently implement behavior policies school- and district-wide. Plus, students who switch schools won’t need to relearn an entire set of behavioral rules.
Second, anti-bullying strategies are more effective when they’re aligned with other efforts to improve school climate. Instead of developing two distinct policies, one about bullying and the other about harassment, have them intertwine. Focus the policy on fostering a positive, safe community, and how this can be done by being kind and not bullying or harassing others.
Daniel Rothner, founder and director of Areyvut, says that addressing bullying once a year via school-wide assembly isn’t effective. Instead, he suggests, design an education program that addresses bullying consistently throughout the year.
For younger students especially, adding character education to the curriculum or incorporating it into existing classes, can develop favorable values and skills. Teachers can use this class to formally and actively teach students about appropriate and inappropriate behavior, and how to respond when bullying occurs. Use this time to equip students with phrases and actions to use in bullying situations.
Character education class can help to develop ideal traits such as kindness and empathy. Varda Epstein, a Parenting Expert and Writer at Kars4Kids, recommends using role-playing games to teach students the right way to handle various social situations. For example, she says to have students take turns being the bully and victim to illustrate what it means to hurt and be hurt by others.
Peer-support strategies are often much more effective than traditional adult-support strategies due to the disconnect between students and adults. These programs create opportunities for connection and facilitate healing for targeted students.
A peer-support strategy might train certain students to prevent and respond to school bullying. In Finland, for example, the KiVA program enlists high-status students to act as “defenders” of those who are being bullied. Studies show that teaching students to take a stand when a peer is targeted can reduce future bullying situations by more than 50 per cent.
Other peer-support strategies include buddy schemes and anti-bullying clubs for the younger grades and peer mediation or counseling for older grades.
It’s important to monitor the use of these programs. Some strategies, such as “buddy benches”, can actually worsen the situation by stigmatizing those who access the support.
Dr. Fran Walfish, family and relationship psychotherapist and author, says that students are under intense pressure to perform academically, socially, athletically and in extra-curricular activities to make their transcripts and resumes shine.
She argues that this tremendous amount of competition is unhealthy, and any additional bullying adds to the nearly unbearable stress. It’s important for parents, school staff and peers to know and be able to recognize the warning signs of bullying.
According to the Crisis Prevention Institute, warning signs that a child is being bullied can include:
- Unexplainable injuries
- Frequent headaches or stomachaches
- Changes in eating habits
- Difficulty sleeping
- Declining grades
- Loss of interest in school
- Loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
- Lost or destroyed personal items
- Decreased self-esteem
- Talk of self-harm
Not only is it important to know the warning signs, but also how to respond to them. Ensure that the school has a policy in place for open and honest communication, but more on this later.
Most school bullying happens in places with less supervision than usual: on the bus, at recess and at lunch, says Rothner.
The most obvious option to combat this is to increase adult supervision in areas identified as problematic, which includes those already mentioned, as well as the school’s cafeteria and hallways.
Customize, print and display this anti-bullying poster around your school to encourage staff and students to report incidents of bullying.
Other physical deterrents include using surveillance cameras in problem areas and prominently displaying anti-bullying posters.
To eliminate bullying, every K-12 school should have an anti-bullying committee consisting of at least one counselor, administrator, teacher, parent and student.
The committee will primarily be responsible for developing a thorough anti-bullying policy consistent with federal, state and local laws. They would also be tasked with rolling out the policy, raising awareness, providing training and monitoring the policy’s implementation.
The policy must be tailored to the audience by using clear, enforceable, age-appropriate rules. At a minimum, it must include:
- A clear definition of bullying
- The difference between bullying and teasing
- Practical examples of appropriate behavior
- Practical examples of inappropriate behavior
- An explanation of reporting incidents
- A specific list of disciplinary sanctions
- Contact info of the anti-bullying committee
- A section dedicated to cyberbullying
What’s in a Great Reporting Plan?
A school’s reporting plan is one of the most important efforts in any anti-bullying strategy. If a school doesn’t have a clear, concrete way to report bullying incidents, administrators are unlikely to ever hear of them and therefore will never be able to intervene.
Victims, witnesses and the parents of victims need to know how to report an incident and that the report will actually be addressed. Options for reporting tools include a designated professional to speak to in-person, a hotline to call, a webform to fill out, a number to text or even a box to place written notes.
Beyond just providing these tools, ensure that staff, students, parents and the surrounding community are aware of them. Also make sure that someone is responsible for reading, addressing and following up on complaints.
What’s in a Great Response Plan?
The way that a school responds to bullying incidents leaves a lasting impression on the victims, the bullies, the parents of students and the surrounding community. There is a wide range of possible responses, many poor, which is why it’s important for a school to have a well-thought-out plan in place before a bullying incident occurs.
To the victim, a poor response might say that they won’t be believed, they can’t trust adults for support and they’re better off dealing with the problem on their own. The bully might think they can continue to treat others without respect and it’s okay to break school rules because they won’t be disciplined. And for the parents and the surrounding community, it says that school is just a place for learning and a student’s well-being is measured only academically.
A great response plan explains clearly how to ensure the safety of a victim, how to interview witnesses and gather evidence, how to notify the parents and how to provide targeted support. It will provide practical, safe intervention techniques.
Software makes it easy to collect and analyze data from bullying incidents. Case management software, for example, makes it easy to collect accurate, informative data about the number, location and types of bullying that occur school- and district-wide.
For students moving between schools within the same district, officials can retrieve incident information from their previous school to better understand the student’s situation.
By tracking all incidents, not just bullying behaviors, school officials can identify at-risk students who display “gateway” behaviors, such as:
- Eye rolling
- Laughing cruelly
- Name calling
- Ignoring or excluding others
- Causing physical harm
- Spying or stalking
Once the school identifies an individual who routinely displays these behaviors, they can offer support to mitigate the chance that these behaviors grow into something more problematic.
Every school has areas where bullying occurs more frequently, called ‘hot spots’, but often the pattern doesn’t become apparent until it’s too late. By analyzing incident data, school officials can identify trouble areas that require additional attention, supervision or deterrents. Data can also inform decision making on policies and guide the planning of prevention efforts.
According to the CPI, the biggest difference occurs when everyone in a child’s life works together. Parents, teachers, other school personnel and the surrounding community can each offer unique insight and support.
Speaking with the parents of both the bully and the bullied can be stressful and difficult. The Busy Teacher’s Guide to Talking to Parents about Bullying can help.
Notify parents when bullying occurs, no matter if their child is the victim, bully, bystander or simply a peer. Include parents as well in the development and implementation of anti-bullying strategies. An effective action plan that addresses and prevents bullying is only possible with the help of those actually involved in a student’s life.
In addition to involving parents and the community, students should be involved in creating policies, too. Seeking student input is beneficial for both: it makes the students feel important and reveals to school officials students’ biggest concerns.
There are many ways for a school to obtain student insight. You could distribute a schoolwide survey, set up a hotline or online suggestion box, randomly select students for a focus group or schedule a meeting and invite volunteers.
By involving students in this process, you’re receiving valuable advice straight from the source. Beyond that, it helps raise awareness about processes to those who might need to use them.
For example, requesting input on the types of reporting mechanisms students want has two benefits:
- You will learn which reporting tools students want and will (likely) use.
- You are teaching students that reporting tools exist and how to use them.
The final tip for eliminating bullying, and definitely the most important of all, is to sustain your anti-bullying efforts. A six-month push against cyberbullying won’t do much for the long-term and probably won’t do much for the short-term either.
Efforts against bullying should be ongoing, permanent and an integral component of the school’s overall behavioral framework. Anti-bullying plans should be continuously monitored, revised and fine-tuned to improve effectiveness.