by Phyllis Kaufman Goodstein, author of Stand Up to Bullying!
Bullying has become an omnipresent word in media headlines.
That’s not surprising, because bullying occurs every 25 minutes in classrooms and every 12 minutes on school playgrounds. Peer-on-peer aggression has been part of human culture for centuries, but that doesn’t mean we have to live with brutality. The simple fact is that bullying happens because adults and children allow it to continue.
Teachers can say “NO!” and put a stop to abuse. In fact, some educators already do; researchers found that bullying varies in classrooms from 0 to 54 percent. Educators at the lower end of the spectrum are ending harmful behavior by proactively creating anti-bullying plans. The best time to start is before the school year begins.
These seven steps will jump-start your anti-bullying plan.
1. Create an anti-bullying environment. Saturate classrooms with posters illustrating the types of bullying, its painful consequences, and ways students can counter aggression. Use catchy slogans such as “The End of Bullying Begins with You” and “Be a Buddy, Not a Bully.” Search “anti-bullying posters” under Google Images for more ideas.
Prepare classroom supplies that have anti-bullying-themed labels attached. For example, include erasers (“We will erase bullying from our classroom by speaking out against harmful behavior”), stickers (“We will stick together by including everyone in all activities”), and pencils (“Getting adult help is the ‘write’ thing to do, if we can’t stop bullying ourselves”).
Later on, let students design their own posters, work on anti-bullying projects, and discuss bullying, tolerance, diversity, and acceptance.
2. Explain your position on bullying. On the first day of school, tell students that bullying hurts, and that because you value and respect each student, you will not allow abusive behavior in your classroom. You must back up your words by immediately intervening in bullying incidents and using each incident as a teachable moment. Discuss what happened, the harm it caused, and positive ways to meet needs. Appropriate consequences that teach, not punish, should round out the lesson.
3. Nonnegotiable expectations. Bully free behavior must become a nonnegotiable expectation, giving its elimination the same priority as rules about calling out, standing on desks, and getting out of seats. When these actions occur, teachers stop what they are doing and respond, “Joe, you can’t stand on your desk because you can fall and hurt yourself.” Addressing aggressive behavior every time it occurs sends a strong message: Bullying will not be tolerated or accepted.
4. Classroom rules against bullying. Create anti-bullying guidelines with the class and prominently post them on classroom walls and doors. Afterwards students can create and sign a contract agreeing to the rules. Tape a copy to children’s desks or inside notebooks as a gentle reminder not to bully and to help those who are bullied.
5. Focus on improving relationships. Bullying experts refer to bullying as a relationship problem. One such expert, Dr. Debra J. Pepler, endorses using “social architecture” and “social scaffolding” to effectively develop healthy relationships and erase bullying. Social architecture, according to Pepler, is “the opportunity to structure children’s peer groups to promote positive peer experiences and to minimize or deconstruct negative experiences.” Social scaffolding is defined as a set of “supports required to provide children with the skills, capacities, and social cognitions to move out of the bullying and victimization roles.”
You can help improve students’ relationships by providing a bullying education; teaching friendship, conflict resolution, and social skills; setting up activities that encourage relationships, respect, and kindness; creating peer support programs; increasing empathy; stressing the role of bystanders and their accountability; and using strong classroom management skills.
6. Encourage bystander intervention. Increase prevention and intervention by showing bystanders the contributing role they play in bullying even when they think they are doing “nothing.” Teach safe and effective ways to stop abuse, as well as empathy; share research that shows the majority of students do not like bullying and want it to stop.
7. Increase inclusion. Exclusion is the very essence of bullying. Inclusion decreases bullying. Select teams, groups, and partners and make seating arrangements. If teachers don’t do this, students will gravitate toward their friends and leave less popular students alone on the sidelines, increasing their risk of being targeted. Create situations in which classmates work with those they don’t normally associate with. Select games that require many players, are easy to learn and play, and are more fun with lots of participants. Make Vivian Gussin Paley’s “You can’t say you can’t play” rule an ironclad part of your classroom. When children work and play together, they get to know one another, planting the seeds of friendship.
These suggestions will provide the groundwork for caring, accepting, tolerant, and respectful environments where educators are able to devote 100 percent of their time to teaching.
In what ways do you prevent and address bullying?
Phyllis Kaufman Goodstein, LMSW, is an anti-bullying advocate, social worker, writer, and magician. She lives on Long Island, New York, with her husband Arnie, sons Eric and Steven, and dogs Bandit and Chewy. Phyllis is the author of How to Stop Bullying in Classrooms and Schools and 200+ Ready-to-Use Reproducible Activity Sheets That Help Educators Take a Bite Out of Bullying, and coauthor of Stand Up to Bullying!
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Stand Up to Bullying! (Upstanders to the Rescue!) by Phyllis Kaufman Goodstein and Elizabeth Verdick has helpful ways students can intervene in bullying.
How to Stop Bullying in Classrooms and Schools (Using Social Architecture to Prevent, Lessen, and End Bullying) by Phyllis Kaufman Goodstein has more strategies on setting up bully free classrooms.