A Bullying Prevention Program
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
Bullying is a pervasive school problem that can have serious consequences for students. Fortunately it is a problem that schools can do something about. Research indicates that when schools implement a comprehensive program of bullying prevention, they can significantly reduce the problem of bullying. In fact, studies by Professor Dan Olweus, a Norwegian psychologist who is considered the world’s foremost authority on bullying, show that bullying incidents can be cut in half by implementing a school-wide anti-bullying program. Bullying prevention programs hold the promise of doing more than preventing bullying. Schools that implement these programs may also see a decrease in other anti-social behavior, including vandalism, fighting, theft and truancy.
For a bullying prevention program to be effective, it must be comprehensive in the true sense of the word. It must involve the entire school staff. All adult members of the school community, including administrators, teachers, counselors, psychologists, nurses, coaches, paraprofessionals, secretaries, bus drivers, custodians and after-school staff, should participate in the program inasmuch as they are all in a position to witness acts of bullying.
A bullying prevention program must of course deal with individual students, but it must also address the school culture. Towards this end, it is important to take steps to promote a climate of cooperation and caring. Schools can help deter bullying by reinforcing acts of kindness and communicating values of tolerance, respect and responsibility.
Schools that are committed to implementing comprehensive bullying prevention programs should take the following steps:
- Establish a committee to develop a school bullying policy and coordinate bullying prevention activities. This might be an already existing group such as the school safety committee or it might be a committee established for just this purpose.
- Conduct a survey of students about bullying. An important part of a bullying prevention program is to understand the dimensions of the problem in your school. A useful way of obtaining this information is to conduct an anonymous survey of students.
- Establish a clear policy prohibiting bullying and then communicate it to students, staff and parents. This policy might be incorporated into the written code of conduct and should include at a minimum a definition of bullying, a clear statement that bullying of any kind is prohibited, a description of the possible consequences for bullying, and instructions for students who witness bullying.
- Provide close and adequate supervision of areas where bullying is likely. Bullying often takes place outside of the classroom, including the hallway, bus stop, playground, locker room, cafeteria and bathroom.
- Provide training for teachers and other school staff on bullying. School personnel need training in recognizing the signs of bullying, knowing what to do when incidents happen, and learning how to prevent bullying.
- Raise student and staff awareness about bullying through school-wide activities. These activities help to remind students about the school policy regarding bullying and the importance of supporting their classmates. In addition, they help to generate energy for the program.
- Integrate bullying lessons and activities into the classroom curriculum. This might take the form of conducting a lesson about bullying, having students read a book about bullying followed by a classroom discussion, or having a classroom meeting focused exclusively on the issue of bullying.
- Empower bystanders to support the victims of bullying. While school staff are often unaware that bullying is taking place, other students are typically not only aware of the incidents but present when they occur. These bystanders to bullying can thus play a crucial role in helping to address the problem.
- Involve parents in the program. They need to be informed of school policies regarding bullying and encouraged to reinforce this policy with their children. Schools may also survey parents to elicit their views and knowledge of bullying in the school. Parents also need to be informed if their child has been bullied or has been bullying another child.
- Pay special attention to students who are at risk for being bullied. Students are more likely to be bullied if they are isolated from their classmates, in special education programs, speak English as a second language, have some physical characteristic that makes them stand out from their peers or are new to the school.
- Take reports of bullying seriously and act quickly. Encourage staff to respond to all reports of bullying that come to their attention. An incident may appear minor to them but may loom large to the student.
- Respond to bullying incidents with a combination of disciplinary and guidance strategies. If incidents happen, it is essential that school staff work with both students, providing the bully with appropriate discipline as well as guidance and providing the victim with emotional support as well as help in developing coping skills to deal with future incidents.