Guide to Bullying Prevention

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The possibilities for including parents do not have to be limited to your bullying prevention program. Consider creating a parent resource center, developing policies that include parents at every step, using parents as aides, and sustaining their involvement. When parents feel they are part of the school, they are more likely to support your day-to-day efforts.

The Importance of Training

Just as students need new skills and awareness to deal with bullying, so do staff and students’ families. Successful bullying prevention programs stress the importance of including all key school staff in training (e.g., teachers, counselors, safety officers, cafeteria workers, custodians, and bus drivers). Families of your students can be reached through a separate training or can be integrated into a portion of your staff training.

Tip: Create Cross-Age Peer Partnerships

Bullying appears to occur less frequently in mixed-aged settings, as opposed to same-age groupings. Cross-age peer mentoring is one way to help prevent bullying. Once you’ve identified a target population that is vulnerable to bullying in your school, you can design an effective strategy to support that group. If 6h graders are afraid of 8th graders (or avoid the 8th graders’ bathroom or floor), you may find that creating 8th grade mentors for 6th graders is an effective bullying preventative strategy.

Some key topics to address in training are:

  • Recognizing bullying when you see it (how to differentiate between ordinary conflict and bullying)

  • Myths about bullying

  • Knowing the facts about how bullying (left uncorrected) affects targets, bystanders, and bullies

  • How to support targets

  • How to help bystanders become allies

  • How to re-channel bullies’ need for power into more positive directions

  • How to develop pro-social skills

  • Community-building techniques

  • Discipline and guidance techniques

  • Policies and reporting procedures

Delve Deeper

The National Education Association (NEA) encourages bringing outside bullying prevention consultants into the school system to build up internal knowledge and capacity. The NEA can train your school staff and assist the district in developing a “Whole School Bullying Prevention/Intervention Program” at no cost. Many excellent sources for training assistance listed in this Guide’s resource section on page 66.

School Spotlight: Gloucester

A school in Gloucester, MA, stressed the importance of including bus drivers and cafeteria workers in prevention efforts. They found it was the bus drivers and cafeteria workers who really knew about patterns of abuse between students.

What Does Character Have to Do with It?

“Emotions are often the horse; (while) values and virtues (are) the rider trying to hang on.”

Rick Weissbourd85
Most bullying prevention efforts stress what we need to teach students, changes we need to make to our systems, and the policies we need in place. Yet some very compelling human needs, values, and feelings simmer beneath the surface of these efforts.

Fulfilling a need such as being accepted by peers can override an adolescent’s values—even an expressed value such as “bullying is wrong.” A young person may choose a behavior that allows her or him to fit in, even if it is dissonant with an internal value. Strong feelings likewise have an effect; when flooded with anger or shame, even a young person with a belief in pacifism can turn to violence to solve a problem. What tends to help young people (and adults) when faced with overwhelming emotions is the opportunity to examine their beliefs and biases in a non-threatening and caring environment.

Noticing the dissonance between one’s beliefs and one’s actions can ignite the flame that sustains a commitment to change. It is simply not enough to tell young people they should be caring or honest or not to bully. Young people need the opportunity to:

  • Connect their actions with their values

  • Examine the unique gifts that they and others bring to a situation

  • Feel safe admitting to mistakes they have made

  • Examine their biases

  • Be given the opportunity to try a different approach

  • Be given positive ways to channel their needs for initiation and a sense of belonging

This observation holds true for targets, bystanders, bullies, and the adults in their lives. What supports bullying prevention—and has the by-product of building character—is the process of reflecting and questioning oneself. For motivations to be “good” they must arise internally, rather than just externally.

School Spotlight: Holbrook

“Bullying prevention is successful when you link it with a character education program and offer peer mediation, which are then integrated.” — South School, Holbrook, MA

The Critical Role of Adults

“We will never greatly improve students’ moral development in schools without taking on the complex task of developing adults’ maturity and ethical capacities.”

Rick Weissbourd86

Apart from whatever adults model for young people, children are closely attuned to the adults in their lives and the treatment they receive from them. It is the quality of the relationships that most deeply influence young people’s behaviors. Character development expert Rick Weissbourd explains adults’ capacity “to appreciate students’ perspectives and to disentangle them from their own, their ability to admit and learn from moral error, their moral energy and idealism, their generosity, and their ability to help students develop moral thinking without shying away from their own moral authority.”87

While most efforts to develop young people’s character focus solely on them, we often ignore the adults in the building at our peril. The goal should be to support the adults in recognizing a sense of their efficacy, not in becoming “values police.” Supporting teachers in dealing with stress and students’ behavioral problems is critical. Give them the opportunity to reflect on hopes and dreams related to their service and to mitigate the isolation that is often endemic to teaching. This kind of support will fortify your bullying prevention efforts.

Teachers who are disillusioned and stressed can be depressed—leading to behavior that is contrary to creating a community of caring. It is difficult for depressed teachers to maintain positive qualities, but these “are exactly the qualities—empathy, patience, persistence, consistency, idealism—that are crucial for teachers to shepherd students’ moral growth.”88

Lessons from Character Education

Research into young people’s character development has implications for any pro-social program you develop, including one whose purpose is to prevent bullying.

  • When faced with inequities and other social problems, young people’s moral action is tied to their sense of their own ability to effect a change in relation to that problem. Conversely, young people who believe they have little ability to make a difference in the world become unable to act.

  • Young people need help developing the skills necessary to problem solve successfully (e.g., brainstorming, setting and evaluating goals, resolving conflicts in a group, appreciating differences, effectively communicating, and expressing feelings appropriately.)

  • Young people’s efforts to improve their environment are related to the degree to which they feel connected to one another and to the world as a whole.

  • Young people are deeply affected by the actions of important role models such as parents and teachers.

  • Finding sense and meaning in their world is an important component of young people’s moral development.

  • Young people naturally care about issues of fairness and the treatment of others. Character education is not instilling a list of values and behaviors in young people but rather a process of recognizing and encouraging key behaviors and values as they emerge.89

  • Strong emotions such as anger, shame, and disillusionment can undermine the sense of caring and the development of other important character traits.90

Things to Think About

  • Give young people an opportunity to successfully address problems in your school culture that are important to them. This means involving young people in both identifying problems and solutions in ways that are meaningful and supporting them to achieve success in meeting those goals.

  • Teach young people and adults problem-solving skills.

  • Foster a sense of community and connection between young people and the adults in your school.

  • Allow young people opportunities and a safe environment to explore their own values and sense of purpose and meaning.

  • Provide safe opportunities for teachers and school personnel to explore their own values and sense of purpose and meaning.

  • Involve all the adults in your school community in revitalizing their commitment to the profession.

  • Find ways to help empower adults in the school community to feel a sense of their own efficacy, manage stress, and stave off isolation. Encourage peer mentoring, sabbaticals, and offer help for teachers who might be suffering from depression.

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