Bullying

To ensure a positive school climate and optimal learning for every student, it is imperative that a school community understands the characteristics, frequency, and dynamics of bullying. The rampant spread and dire consequences of bullying are prominent in our society, especially in academic institutions. Bullying occurs when a more powerful person inflicts physical or emotional injury on a less powerful person, violating the victim’s rights, creating a hostile school environment, and disrupting the educational process of the school. Schools must utilize bully prevention strategies, appropriate social skills curricula, laws, and policies effectively to stop the aggressive behaviors that have led to tragic outcomes for our students and society. Furthermore, schools should determine the root causes of bullying, its manifestations for the perpetrators and the victims, and its effects on students’ social-emotional health and achievement.

All communities must begin the initial steps toward preventing bully behavior in our schools by recognizing its many characteristics. Physical bullying is the use of physical force to harm someone, destroy the victim’s property, or extort money or belongings. Verbal bullying is the use threats, taunts, hate speech, intimidation, insults, sarcasm, name-calling, putdowns, ridicule, and hostile gestures to cause the victim emotional harm. Relational bullying disrupts the victim’s peer relationships by using gossip, whispers, the silent treatment, or the cold shoulder to exclude or ostracize someone. Cyber bullying is the use of the internet or cell phones to send threats, insults, or rumors, to post false information or personal pictures, to use another person’s online accounts to cause harm, or to forward personal messages.

To address bullying, all school constituents need specific knowledge and skills to ensure the effective implementation of social curricula and policies to yield positive results. All staff members need appropriate professional development to identify bully behavior and to prevent bullying. Students need appropriate strategies to confront bullies, ask for help, and gain self-esteem and confidence. Several social programs have been established nationally and globally to counter bullying, and provide current information and tools to schools and communities. Several states and local communities have provided a legal framework, requiring schools to improve policies and procedures for eliminating hurtful behaviors. Massachusetts’s recently enacted bullying law sets legal requirements for schools and communities, and designates the fourth Wednesday of January as a “No Name Calling Day” to increase public awareness of this serious issue.

 

 

The laws, policies, and proven prevention strategies enable schools to develop and implement a comprehensive anti-bullying plan. The plan must identify specific procedures and personnel for addressing all types of incidents, clearly defining the role and responsibilities of the victim, the perpetrator, the parents of both parties, and the school staff. The Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) program, an effective model for creating a positive school climate, focuses on teaching appropriate behaviors to all constituents of a school. The anti-bullying lessons of this program teach students to recognize bully behaviors and the support available for victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. The implementation of an effective social curriculum is ideal in a school where universal expectations for appropriate behavior are established, taught, and practiced through a collaborative process.

Students need guidance and tools to understand the characteristics of effective citizenship, specifically their individual rights and responsibilities. A meaningful social curriculum teaches relevant skills by engaging students directly in defining, discussing, and practicing positive roles of citizenship. School and class expectations with the accompanying appropriate behaviors should be displayed in classrooms and all other areas of the school. Programs, such as Student Advisories, provide meaningful opportunities for students to gain self-awareness and connectedness to their school community. Students’ participation in various extra-curricular groups, such as student council, national honor society, school climate committee, and universal team must be meaningful and foster real-life skills and a positive school climate.

In sum, schools need a universal, systematic approach to address and prevent bullying on an individual and school-wide basis. This approach must provide professional development so that all staff members have the skills and confidence to recognize and intervene during bullying incidences. Each intervention is an opportunity for students to learn the appropriate response to bully behavior. The approach must also include a framework for creating a school culture where caring adults collaborate to create a school community that guides all students to feel self-confidence and a sense of belonging.

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