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Bullying Prevention: 5 Tips for Teachers, Principals, and Parents

Updated 10/2013

Approximately 32 percent of students report being bullied at school. Bullied students are more likely to take a weapon to school, get involved in physical fights, and suffer from anxiety and depression, health problems, and mental health problems. They suffer academically (especially high-achieving black and Latino students). And research suggests that schools where students report a more severe bullying climate score worse on standardized assessments than schools with a better climate.

This is all common sense to educators. They have known for decades that students need to be in safe, supportive learning environments to thrive. And the vast majority care deeply about keeping children safe.

But especially given that commitment to student safety, why do so many children experience bullying?

In Principal magazine, elementary principal, now retired, James Dillon writes that in bullying prevention trainings, he asks participants to choose the one group they believe is most responsible for addressing school violence and bullying: parents, students, school, or community. Inevitably, he gets a wide variety of responses. He suggests perhaps bullying problems are not addressed because "people think bullying prevention is someone else's responsibility."

A large-scale study by the NEA and Johns Hopkins University that examined school staff's perspectives on bullying and bullying prevention somewhat refutes that hypothesis, finding 98 percent of participants (all teachers and education support professionals) thought it was "their job" to intervene when they witnessed bullying. But just 54 percent received training on their district's bullying prevention policy.

Without such training, some of Dillon's other suggestions as to why bullying is so prevalent -- that adults don't recognize some behaviors as bullying and that bullying is often ineffectually addressed using the traditional discipline system of applying punishment to a perpetrator -- make sense. So whom should we blame for the state of bullying?

As Dillon puts it, "The reality is that no one is to blame, yet everyone is responsible." We all can work to prevent bullying, be it on a school- or classroom-wide basis, or even at home.

Five Tips to Help Principals Prevent Bullying

According to Dillon, effectively addressing a bullying problem requires a culture change. A true culture change takes time, but a few key steps to help principals get started:

  • Practice What You Preach Don't use your status as the school leader as the lever for change; instead, "listen before talking and reflect before acting" to ensure your staff feel valued (this is backed up by the NEA survey, which found an important predictor of adult willingness to intervene in bullying was their "connectedness" to the school, defined as their belief they are valued as individuals and professionals in the learning process).
  • Assess the Extent of the Problem Survey students, staff and parents to find out how much and what type of bullying is going, as well as where and when, to target prevention efforts.
  • Develop a School-wide Code of Conduct that reinforces school values and clearly defines unacceptable behavior and consequences. Empower bystanders -- teachers and especially students -- to help enforce it by training them to identify and respond to inappropriate behavior.
  • Increase Adult Supervision Most bullying happens when adults are not present, so make sure they are "visible and vigilant" in hallways, stairwells, cafeterias and locker rooms, as well as on buses and the way to and from school for students who walk.
  • Conduct Bullying Prevention Activities such as all-school assemblies, communications campaigns or creative arts contests highlighting school values to bring the community together and reinforce the message that bullying is wrong.

(These tips were adapted from articles by James Dillon from Principal magazine, Sept/Oct 2010 and Ted Feinberg from Principal Leadership, Sept. 2003.)

Five Tips to Help Teachers Prevent Bullying

Even when a school leader doesn't have a formal bullying prevention agenda, teachers can create safe, bully-free zones in their classrooms:

  • Know Your School and District Policies on Bullying Do your part to implement them effectively.
  • Treat Students and Others with Warmth and Respect Let students know that you are available to listen and help them.
  • Conduct Classroom Activities around Bullying Help your class identify bullying in books, TV shows and movies, and discuss the impact of that bullying and how it was/could be resolved. Hold class meetings in which students can talk about bullying and peer relations.
  • Discuss Bullying with Colleagues As a group, you will be better able to monitor the school environment. Discuss both bullying in general and concerns regarding specific students.
  • Take Immediate Action Failure to act provides tacit approval of the behavior and can cause it to spread.

(These tips were adapted from NEA's Bully Free: It Starts With Me and AFT's See A Bully, Stop A Bully campaign resources.)

Five Tips to Help Parents Prevent Bullying

Parents and guardians are among a school's best allies in bullying prevention:

  • Talk with and Listen to Your Children Everyday Ask questions about their school day, including experiences on the way to and from school, lunch, and recess. Ask about their peers. Children who feel comfortable talking to their parents about these matters before they are involved in bullying are more likely to get them involved after.
  • Spend time at School and Recess Schools can lack the resources to provide all students individualized attention during "free" time like recess. Volunteer to coordinate games and activities that encourage children to interact with peers aside from their best friends.
  • Be a Good Example When you get angry at waiters, other drivers or others, model effective communication techniques. As Education.com puts it, "Any time you speak to another person in a mean or abusive way, you're teaching your child that bullying is ok."
  • Create Healthy Anti-Bullying Habits Starting as young as possible, coach your children on both what not to do (push, tease, and be mean to others) as well as what to do (be kind, empathize, and take turns). Also coach your child on what to do if someone is mean to him or to another (get an adult, tell the bully to stop, walk away and ignore the bully).
  • Make Sure Your Child Understands Bullying Explicitly explain what it is and that it's not normal or tolerable for them to bully, be bullied, or stand by and watch other kids be bullied.

(These tips were adapted from materials by the National PTA and Education.com.)

The Bottom Line

Bullying is an enormous problem, and we must all do our part to impact it. If nothing else, remember one of Dillon's suggestions (intended for school leaders but I think applicable to all):

"Little things can make a big difference. Simple and genuine gestures, such as regularly greeting students, talking to students, and addressing students by name, help to make students feel connected."

Anyone can start doing those types of things today. If you are interested in further resources on bullying and its prevention, check out Learning First Alliance member resources and the StopBullying website.

Comments (18)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Elke Miglionico O'Connell's picture
Elke Miglionico O'Connell
Seventh grade social studies teacher

I agree with the blog dealing with bullying prevention. My school is trying to address this very issue. We are planning on using time during our guided learning class to deal with bullying in the middle school. I look forward to addressing this issue as a school.

ntcook's picture

As a future teacher, I know bullying is something that I will have to deal with at some point. Bullying has been out there for a long time, but it seems that it has become more intense and sneaky (such as online-community and text message bullying where adults cannot take control of) these days. It is very intimidating. Yet, we all have to contribute to creating a bully-free society as much as possible.

I liked all the suggestions made in this blog, but agreed very much with the one, 'Discuss Bullying with Colleagues.' I believe is is a great idea that teachers share what they hear and see in the hallway or classroom to monitor the whole school better. While they do that, may I suggest that teachers reflect on their own verbal and physical communications with students and colleagues? I have been in school environment as a volunteer, tutor, substitute teacher, and student teacher. I have seen teachers rolling their eyes to students. One of my dear friends, who is now a retired teacher, said one co-worker at her school ignored her everyday and never said hello. Hopefully, these are rare cases, but I just wanted to add that teachers could monitor their own behaviors as well.

I also like the suggestion, 'Conduct Bullying Prevention Activities.' My son's school had a anti-bully poster making activity last year, and he brought it home. I put it up on the door to the garage, so that we would see it everyday. This helps me discuss bullying with my children from time to time. He has not done any anti-bullying activities yet this school year, but I hope his class/grade/whole school will conduct another campaign against bullying soon. By doing anti-bullying projects, students will learn that adults/teachers care about students' safety, and bullying is not tolerated.

When I become a teacher, I will definitely join any school-wide anti-bullying events. If the school does not do anything, I hope to be able to squeeze some time for anti-bullying discussion and activities in my classroom and promote them.

Bill Belsey's picture
Bill Belsey
Grade Five Teacher Calgary, Alberta Canada


As a parent and educator, I read your post about bullying with interest.

I would like to share some anti-bullying resources I have created that seek to prevent bullying through education and awareness. I hope that they may be of help, information and support to others.

The world's most visited and referenced Website about bullying

The world's first Website about cyberbullying

The official Website of the annual Bullying Awareness Week

Offering online courses and Webinars about bullying and cyberbullying for educators and parents

You can download and print off our famous anti-bullying pledge poster at:

Here is our video that accompanies our award-winning "Take the (anti-bullying) Pledge" campaign:

Here is some information that provides some background about my work that relates to this issue: Bio: http://is.gd/Bes2fG

I hope that these educational resources may prove helpful to you and the students, parent and communities you serve.


Bill Belsey
"Where you are NOT alone!"

e-mail: help@bullying.org

Follow us on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Bullying_org

Ron's picture
Sixth grade science teacher from New Jersey

The beginning of this school year in New Jersey brings with it the implementation of actions in response to a new law regarding Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB). Although most school districts have existing policies dealing with HIB, the new law covers formal reporting, investigation and follow up procedures. Each district must appoint an Anti-bullying Coordinator and have Anti-bullying Specialists to expedite the reported cases. Teacher and staff training is part of the new procedures as well as conveying information to students and parents. Part of the goal is educating everyone about what HIB is and taking actions in the schools to reduce such incidents and when they do occur, that guidelines are followed in reporting and handling the matters. I'm not an expert in this area, but hopefully, it will help the campaign against harassment, intimidation and bullying.

ReadingRox1980's picture
Elementary Special Education Teacher

I agree with the strategies provided in this article. I think one of the best things we can do to help prevent bullying is set a good example. We as teachers need to model the appropriate way to treat one another and the students. I strongly feel that parents need to be the best role model for how to treat others. More often than not I have discovered that children get those kind of bad habits from their environment. I feel like a lot of times bullying flies under the radar especially with older kids. A lot of times they are much to embarrassed to even admit it is going on. The resentment most definitely builds up. I too was bullied a lot in school. This occurred mainly in middle school and junior high. I now understand why I was chosen, but as a child, it was damaging to my self-esteem. I was a high-achiever in school and I am of course African-American, so sadly the fact given is true. I hope this is a problem that is more closely paid attention to and taken seriously. Teacher and parents need to be aware of the bullying that is going on in school, outside of school, and especially on social networking sites.

Brianna Dill's picture
Brianna Dill
2nd Grade Teacher from Birmingham, AL

My school has been struggling with bullying for a years now. This year, the principal has made it a goal to stop bullying before it starts this year. I believe this should start in the classroom. Teachers need to address all issues, no matter how big or small. Thanks everyone for the helpful advice.

Ms. B's picture
Ms. B
Fourth Grade Teacher from Maryland

I like the thought of "listen before talking and reflect before acting". This is not something that applies to principals and their staff but teacher to student as well. I have found that some students dont feel comfotable talking to their teacher, parent, or another adult. I always try to make my students feel as if I will always be there for them. That way when there is a problem they feel comfortable and safe enough to come and talk with me about it. I create the not judgmental environment where I will help them if they need help and guide them in the right direction if they are doing wrong. Great post this is an ongoing problem I would love to see stopped all over our country.

Janel Jackson-LeFebvre's picture
Janel Jackson-LeFebvre
Seventh grade science teacher from Miami, Florida

I agree that bullying is a serious problem in schools. Making sure that anti-bullying strategies are consistently implemented is a wonderful idea. As a parent and teacher, however, I would posit that the most important thing parents can do is help build a strong sense of self. Many of the children I teach are vulnerable to bullying because they derive so much of their self-concept from their peers, not necessarily their families. Middle school students want to be unique - just like everyone else. The less time children spend interacting with their parents outside of school, the more likely they are to be vulnerable in school to bullying in all its forms. Children who have been given the gift of confidence and unconditional positive regard from their parents are not bully bait. They can deal with being different from everyone else because school is only one part of their lives.

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