Whether your school plans to implement one or more bullying prevention strategies, or a comprehensive bullying prevention or school improvement initiative, there are several issues to keep in mind that can increase your chances of success. The following are some of the key elements of successful bullying prevention efforts:
Support and Participation of School Leaders
Effective programs require strong leadership and ongoing commitment on the
part of school personnel. Before moving forward with an anti-bullying program, be sure to secure administrative support and involvement at both the school and district levels. Depending on the scope of the program, this may mean soliciting funding, release time, and/or support for new policies and curriculum. In addition to the value of their active participation in prevention efforts, teachers and school staff will also be more supportive and effective participants in bullying prevention activities if they know that these activities are fully backed by administrators.
Staff Training and Support
Ongoing staff development and training are critical to the success of your bullying prevention initiative. Set aside time during the school year to share and discuss information about bullying with all school employees. If possible, make an effort to include staff members who are likely to be present in places bullying tends to occur: playground monitors, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodial staff, and so forth. Training should include definitions of bullying, indicators of bullying behavior, characteristics of bullies and victims, ways to integrate anti-bullying material into the curriculum, and strategies for addressing bullying behavior. Quality training and opportunities for discussion are essential if all staff are to become supportive and effective participants in your school's anti-bullying activities. According to the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory:
"Teachers need to understand that their response to bullying makes a difference. Children can’t do it alone. You must develop an atmosphere of trust within which kids can have the courage to report bullying, either of themselves or others. If you teach the students to report bullying, but you don’t prepare your staff to respond appropriately and effectively, you will be defeating your purpose. Children will quickly learn that they will receive inconsistent or non-responses and will no longer report bullying."
Parent and Community Involvement
Parental and community involvement in the planning and execution of bullying prevention activities is critical to their success. If possible, get parents and other interested citizens involved in both program planning and implementation. Invite them to provide information for program assessments, share survey results with them, offer them training and information about bullying, and keep them abreast of program developments and progress. Furthermore, encourage parents to contact teachers or administrators if they suspect that a child is bullying or being bullied.
Integration Within the Curriculum and Across the K-12 Grade Range
One-shot workshops or a handful of isolated lessons are unlikely to improve bullying problems at school. There are no magic bullets, no quick fixes; true success requires extensive and coordinated efforts. Ideally, such efforts should begin early -- during preschool or kindergarten -- and continue throughout a child's formal education. Bullying prevention activities should, of course, take on different forms according to the developmental stage and sociocultural mix of the students involved. While they will change over the years, it is important to keep in mind that the most effective anti-bullying efforts are ongoing throughout the school year, and are integrated with the curriculum, the school’s discipline policies, and other violence prevention efforts at school.
It is crucial to develop and consistently implement a balanced, thoughtfully written policy that is not overresponsive. As mentioned previously, punitive policies such as “zero tolerance” and “three strikes and you’re out” policies are not likely to be effective and may even be counterproductive in your school's efforts to combat bullying. According to the Northwestern Regional Educational Laboratory:
"Tougher rules with tougher consequences won’t build a positive culture."
Work with parents, students, administrators, teachers, and other school staff to develop a comprehensive, schoolwide policy on bullying that includes a clear definition of bullying and a description of how the school will respond to bullying incidents, as well as a discussion of program philosophy and goals.
Supervision and Intervention
Identify places on school grounds where bullying is more likely to occur, and work with the school staff to ensure that such areas are adequately and consistently supervised. Playgrounds, bus stops, hallways, cafeterias, and school bathrooms often provide easy opportunities for bullies to isolate and assult their victims. The individuals responsible for supervising these areas should be alert and prepared to respond immediately and effectively to any problems that arise.
Skill-Building Among Students
In addition to training school personnel and parents to help prevent and respond appropriately to bullying problems among young people, the students themselves need to learn effective strategies as well. Children need to learn how to avoid or safely defuse potentially aggressive situations, support peers who are or have been involved in such situations, and seek help from adults when necessary. For example, teach students that by simply inviting a student who is standing alone to join their conversation or game, the child will be a less likely target for bullying.
Resources for Bullies, Victims, and Families
Efforts to address bullying behavior are not over when the bully is caught and disciplined. Students who bully repeatedly may benefit from anger management classes or individual counseling, while students who have been victimized may require support in dealing with anxiety and depression. Because many children who bully or are victimized experience bullying at home, it may be necessary to develop intervention strategies involving the whole family. Anti-bullying programs should clearly identify resources for students and families that are available both at school and in the community. Keep in mind, though, that it is important to make sure that your efforts do not result in students being stigmatized, either as bullies or as victims. Placing a label on a student may ensure that he or she gets help, but it may also work to reinforce the bullying dynamic and make it more difficult for students to escape those roles.
Fried, S., & Fried, P. (1996). Bullies & Victims: Helping Your Child Survive the Schoolyard Battlefield. New York: M. Evans.
Hoover, J. H., & Oliver, R. (1996). The Bullying Prevention Handbook: A Guide for Principals, Teachers, and Counselors. Bloomington, IN: National Educational Service.
Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Schoolwide Prevention of Bullying. Available on-line at: www.nwrel.org/request/dec01/foreword.html. Retrieved January, 2004.
U.S. Department of Education (1998). Preventing Bullying: A Manual for Schools and Communities. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.