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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Reduce Bullying by Improving Classroom Climate

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service

Bullying takes many forms, including intimidation in classrooms by peers, or at times, by teachers. Intentional or not, when students don't feel safe to participate in the classroom, their learning is severely impaired. Even the most stellar curriculum cannot get through when students are worried about negative reactions when they participate in class.

Red Bank (NJ) Middle School, grades 4-8, took an evidence-based list of positive contributors to classroom climates (from Ed Dunkelblau's 2009 Laminated SECD Resource Guide, available at National Professional Resources) and used it to create their own unique approach to improving the climate of their classrooms for caring, respect, and learning.

Here is what they did, adapted for your potential use:

Creating Relationship-Centered Classrooms and Schools

The following is a condensed list obtained from the SECD Laminated Guide. If teachers systematically implement one of the items from the list below, it will significantly increase students' success with Social and Emotional Character Development (SECD). In preparation for follow-up and discussion at our Grade Level meeting at the end of the third marking period (MP 3), each grade level team will collaboratively decide which 3 focus areas they will reinforce based on the schedule provided below.

Each Grade Level Team 4-8 (Special Ed will follow their Common Planning Time group), Special Area Team, and Bilingual/ESL Team will identify three focus areas that they will implement in their classrooms through the end of the school year. Please work collaboratively during Common Planning Time and decide which focus areas you will identify as #1, 2, and 3. By the end of the third marking period, all teachers should have integrated three focus areas from the list below.

Each grade level, as a team, should pick which focus areas they will be introducing to their students, so that there is continuity and consistency within each grade level. Please email this completed form to the Principal by [insert date]. If you need assistance with implementation, please use your team members and the school SECD Coordinator as resources and sources of ideas.

Timeline of Implementation

  • Focus area #1: implementation across grade level/content area from [insert date].
  • Focus area #1 and 2: implementation across grade level/content area from [insert date].
  • Focus area #1, 2 and 3: implementation across grade level/content area from [insert date] (end of MP 3).
  • Please place #1, 2, and 3 on the line provided for you below:

    • __Make sure bulletin boards and displays reflect the rich diversity of our students.
    • __Model SECD behaviors of respect, caring, self-control, and fair decision-making.
    • __Pay attention to student reactions, need for clarification, and need for change in activity, and address the needs promptly, even if they must be addressed fully later.
    • __Use "What do you think?" rather than "Why?" questions to stimulate divergent thinking.
    • __Present and connect new skills and information to the students' responses and interests.
    • __Respond respectfully to a wide variety of student responses to show respect and openness to divergent thinking, e.g.; "Okay," "All right," "Thank you."
    • __Share personal experiences from time to time to model and encourage appropriate and authentic student disclosure.
    • __Take time at the conclusion of group work to discuss and debrief the activity so students can identify successful experiences and partner skills, as well as, set goals for improving group work in the future.
    • __Emphasize positive roleplay examples and very clearly label examples of negative modeling.
    • __Encourage students to discuss solutions rather than blame others.
    • __Share my reactions to inappropriate behaviors and explain why the behaviors are unacceptable.
    • __Make arrangements to meet with students outside of instructional time who continue to disregard the group/class rules.
    • __Value social and emotional development as much as the cognitive development of students through the integration of RESPECT Initiatives into the curriculum.
    • __Create a safe, caring and responsive environment, help all students understand what it means to be responsible, involved citizens of the class and school by modeling and encouraging participation in school events and utilizing service learning activities.

    How Might It Be Useful to You?

    By using this gradual approach, along with conversations that emphasized the literature on the importance of a respectful, encouraging climate for reducing bullying and improving learning, Red Bank Middle School got all of their educational staff involved in creating more positive classroom climates. They credit this as working with other efforts in RBMS to significantly reduce bullying in their school.

    Most important is to note that this approach conveys much respect to the professionals involved, allowing them latitude to identify what is most important to them, to work together as a team to afford continuity for the students, to have a gradual schedule for implementation, and to clearly know the implementation supports available.

    See what you can adapt from this for your own bullying prevention efforts and let us know how it goes!

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service
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Comments (2)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Jenn Fairweather's picture
Jenn Fairweather
12+ yrs proud teacher

Thank you for these fantastic ideas. In the rush of meeting every curriculum demand, our children's social well-being often gets pushed by the wayside. We wonder why there are so many disciplinary issues? We are taking 5-10 minutes every day to send 'peace messages' and actually do yoga in the classroom. It's not Spelling or Accelerated Math,but the calm and positivity shows in the classroom atmosphere.

Lenora's picture
Lenora
6-12 Technology and English Teacher from Phoenix, AZ

If I could encourage teachers to adopt only one change from this list it would be the substitution of the word "why" with "what do you think" when composing questions. This simple change takes the question from a black-and-white right or wrong question to one soliciting the students thoughts. This is especially helpful in any classroom with students on the Autism/Aspergers Spectrum as these students can be very concrete and if they do not know for certain why they may not answer at all rather than venturing their own ideas. That aside though, it simply moves the question into a more welcoming one, soliciting ideas rather than purely evaluating correctness.

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