Anti-Bullying Efforts in Schools
October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. Whether online or in-person, bullying among students continues to be an issue that school districts must learn to navigate and address. Although there are no federal laws against bullying, all states have enacted some type of anti-bullying legislation (Hall, 2017). Previously, schools would implement disciplinary measures for bullies, with little to no support for those who were victimized. However, research has shown that harsh policies such as these don’t do much when it comes to reducing aggression and improving school safety (American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force, 2008).
To be proactive, school leaders must focus on building inclusive school cultures that effectively stop bullying in its tracks.
Here are five innovative ways that schools are spearheading anti-bullying initiatives:
#1 – Create a Positive School Culture With Zero Tolerance to Bullying
Studies have shown that creating a positive school environment plays a huge role in the healthy development of students, while negative school environments can lead to increased bullying and victimization, as well as decreased safety. One way schools can develop positive cultures is through social norm engineering, which helps students redefine typical norms surrounding feelings, relationships, power and expression of power, and media consumption (Divecha, 2019). Divencha defines social norm engineering as “a conscious process that builds a positive culture among student peers and school adults that becomes self-reinforcing. Like a healthy immune system, a positive school climate promotes optimal health and reduces the chances of dysfunction or disease.”
Hawaii Public Schools have implemented the “E Ola Pono” program, which encourages students to live with harmony and respect for all and cultivate welcoming and safe school environments. This annual initiative features student projects and activities which have shown to be effective in reducing bullying (Hawai’i State Department of Education, n.d.). The “E Ola Pono” approach can easily be adapted to fit the culture and values of other school districts as well.
#2 – Establish LGBTQIA+ Specific Policies
As LGBTQIA+ students are often victims of bullying, establishing specific protections focused on sexual orientation and gender identity have been shown to decrease bullying levels in K-12 schools. Specifically, these policies have led to decreased rates of students being victimized by bullies and increased rates of educator intervention (Hall, 2017). To date, approximately 22 states have at least some form of law or school regulations protecting LGBTQIA+ students (Movement Advancement Project, 2022).
The American Federation of Teachers that school-based extracurricular groups have the “potential to shape school climate, address inequality, and affect student performance” (Barile, 2022). Further, LGBTQ+ student organizations show great promise in “reducing discrimination against LGBTQ+ students, promoting their well-being, and fostering safe and affirming school environments” (Barile, 2022).
At the Dublin Coffman High School in Ohio, Algebra teacher Beverly Stuckwisch and a colleague helped students start the first gay-straight alliance (GSA) in 2014 (Stuckwisch, 2019). At this small, rural high school that was located in a politically conservative community, the group at first faced community opposition. Styckwisch said ultimately, “Difficult, uncomfortable conversations improved school culture for LBGTQ+ youth after our newly-developed gay-straight alliance faced community opposition.”
#3 – Develop Bullying Prevention Programs
Many schools are beginning to focus on promoting behaviors centered around accountability and compassion in addition to creating programs that support both bullies and victims. For example, schools may partner with local community agencies, health and wellness providers, and other organizations to initiate interventions and address home and school-related events contributing to bullying. This tailored support helps prevent future events by addressing the issue at its root (Hawai’i State Department of Education, n.d.).
Another helpful tool for bullying prevention programs is establishing a database that tracks student concerns and bullying events over time. This enables educators to make timely interventions as well as track data to determine whether programs are working or could use improvement (Hawai’i State Department of Education, n.d.).
#4 – Ensure That Teachers Are Prepared
According to Divecha (2019), a majority of teachers report that they feel unprepared when it comes to responding to bullying incidents. Not only do they feel they lack support from school leaders, but they often lack the training to effectively respond. This causes many teachers to revert back to disciplinary strategies that they themselves experienced growing up. Ensuring that teachers are properly trained and supported is critical for reducing bullying in schools.
#5 – Implement Social-Emotional Learning
Social Emotional Learning, or SEL, can teach children skills such as social and self-awareness, relationship management, and responsible decision-making. Studies also suggest that it can significantly reduce anxiety, depression, emotional distress, conflicts, and bullying among students while fostering creativity and leadership. Teaching children how to handle their emotions and have self-control over their behaviors helps address the issue of bullying at the root (Divecha, 2019). In fact, a study of 36 first-grade teachers found that students displayed significant improvements in behavior when they were emotionally supported by their teachers (Merritt et al., 2012).
SEL doesn’t only benefit students – it benefits teachers too! Teachers who take part in social-emotional learning have reported higher rates of job satisfaction, more positive emotions towards students, and better classroom management skills, among a range of other benefits (Divecha, 2019).
Bullying can have lifelong impacts on both bullies and victims, as it is often a sign of a deeper issue. The days of harsh disciplinary actions and little support for victims are no more. School districts are now turning toward helping students create healthy emotional habits and relationship building skills that will help them succeed far beyond graduation.
What has your school or district implemented to prevent or confront bullying? Please share your ideas or links to articles in our comments section. Let us know what is working for you!
Did you know?
SuperEval’s partner, PLS Classes, offers graduate and professional development training in social-emotional learning. PLS can also provide school or district in-service in-person training. Contact Sarah Menegay, Director of Professional Learning, for more information.
American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force. (2008). Are Zero Tolerance
Policies Effective in Schools? American Psychologist, 63(9), 852-862. Doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.63.9.852
Barile, N. (2022, May 18). 5 things you can do to support your LGBTQ students. Hey Teach! Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://www.wgu.edu/heyteach/article/5-things-you-can-do-support-your-lgbtq-students1809.html
Divecha, Diana. (2019). What Are The Best Ways to Prevent Bullying in Schools? Greater Good
Hall, William. (2017). “The Effectiveness of Policy Interventions for School Bullying: A
Systematic Review”. Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research, 8(1), 45-69. doi: https://doi.org/10.1086/690565
Hawai’i State Department of Education. (n.d.). “Bullying Prevention Work”. Hawai’i State
Department of Education. https://www.hawaiipublicschools.org/ParentsAndStudents/AntiBullyingWork/Pages/home.aspx
Merritt, Eileen, Wanless, Shannon B., Rimm-Kaufman, Sara, & Cameron, Claire Elizabeth.
(2012). The Contribution of Teachers’ Emotional Support to Children’s Social Behaviors and Self-Regulatory Skills in First Grade. School Psychology Review, 41(2), 141-159. DOI:10.1080/02796015.2012.12087517
Munsey, Christopher. (2012). “Anti-Bullying Efforts Ramping Up”. American Psychological
Association, 43(2), 54. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/02/anti-bullying
Safe Schools Laws. (2022). Safe Schools Laws. Movement Advancement Project.
Stuckwisch, B. (2019, January 11). Difficult conversations in support of LGBTQ+ students. Knowles Teacher Initiative. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://knowlesteachers.org/kaleidoscope/difficult-conversations-in-support-of-lgbtq-students?gclid=CjwKCAjwvsqZBhAlEiwAqAHElb5GfL_WDrSch1iK30u88-L-frzVpi-3FH1xb08LZgGVs1JLh16JjhoCfN8QAvD_BwE