Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

6 Essential R’s to Reduce School-Wide Bullying

March 24, 2014
Photo credit: Thinkstock

The best way to reduce bullying is not with a one-time assembly or a poster campaign, but with homegrown, data-driven, sustained efforts by a caring, committed staff -- a model I call the six R's, a blueprint for effective bullying prevention. I've shared this model with hundreds of educators worldwide, and on U.S. Army bases. Each "R" is crucial in creating what our students deserve -- a safe, caring learning environment that breeds acceptance and respect.

1st R - RULES: Establish an Anti-Bullying Policy

Develop an anti-bullying policy that fits your school values, focuses on prevention, features strong parental involvement, builds a respectful climate, and gets everyone on board.

  • Create a team representing all stakeholders to identify strong anti-bullying practices and procedures, and then develop a policy that fits your culture and students' needs.
  • Delegate tasks such as staff trainer, student coordinator, book club leader and parent educator to boost staff participation.
  • Charge staff study teams to start book discussion groups, visit schools and attend workshops. Clarify the school's desired outcomes.
  • At a community event, introduce your bullying policy and expectations for respect. Record it on video to show absent staff, students and parents.
  • Establish tiered consequences for bullying, which consider students' ages, maturity, intent and frequency. Emphasize positive discipline approaches -- not zero tolerance.
  • With student help, identify bullying hot spots and assign adults to monitor locations vigilantly. Custodians can watch stairwells, coaches can monitor locker rooms and teachers can check bathrooms. One principal put a cutout of herself in a hallway, labeled: "I'm watching you!" She curbed bullying and made students feel safer.
  • Evaluate progress and adjust accordingly.

2nd R - RECOGNIZE: Teach How to Identify Bullying

All stakeholders must understand what bullying is, recognize indicators and receive ongoing training so that they can intervene appropriately and consistently.

  • Develop one PowerPoint presentation so that all teachers teach the same bullying lesson.
  • Educate parents via coffees, speakers, book clubs, email blasts and newsletters.
  • Students can create videos, screensavers, PSA announcements and posters about bullying for sharing and display throughout your school, buses and community.
  • Ask local libraries to display books about bullying, and teachers to integrate bullying lessons using media clips, novels and discussions.
  • Review types of bullying and your policy at a school assembly.

3rd R - REPORT: Create Procedures to Report Bullying

Reports from stakeholders create evidence of bullying frequency and locations, include names of bullies and victims, and boost student security.

  • Create forms for staff, students and parents to report incidents.
  • Break the "No Snitch" code. Teach the difference between snitching (getting peers in trouble when they're not doing anything harmful) and reporting (keeping peers out of trouble because they may get hurt). Encourage reporting.
  • Introduce reporting options like a 24-hour phone hot line, a website partnered with police, and report boxes (locked boxes placed in key locations including on school buses). Administrators should review reports daily and follow up.

4th R - RESPOND: Teach How to Respond to Bullying

Develop a climate where staff, students and parents take responsibility for reducing bullying. Flip your norms so that it's cool to be kind.

  • Train adults how to intervene.
  • Encourage instructors to teach positive discipline, conflict resolution and social-emotional learning.
  • Train students to be Safe School Ambassadors, create Student Compassion Clubs and Principal Lunch Bunch Groups where students voice concerns. Listen and implement the best ideas.
  • Teach students bystander strategies.

5th R - REFUSE: Teach Strategies to Reduce Victimization

Ongoing training is essential to help everyone identify and support potential victims.

  • Review reports to gather names of targeted students. To identify excluded children, ask students to list peers they want to play or eat with.
  • Notify appropriate staff, psychological services and parents. Develop a safety plan together so that you can provide support.
  • Develop a confidential communication system to alert adults about vulnerable students. Build adult relationships with victims so they are more likely to seek help.
  • Provide "I Need Help" cards for nonverbal or shy students to present to an adult (especially secretaries) for help without saying anything.
  • Create Peer Buddies -- older students who can watch, protect or help victims on the playground, bus or cafeteria.
  • Counselors can provide emotional support, teach bully-proofing strategies, and offer ways to cognitively reframe events.

6th R - REPLACE: Replace Aggression with Pro-Social Habits

Bullying is learned and can be unlearned. Help students using bullying behaviors to adopt pro-social habits and to believe that aggression is not appropriate.

  • Identify students disposed to bullying through questionnaires, reports and referrals, and then develop a staff monitoring system. Share behavior expectations with students so they recognize that aggression will not be tolerated.
  • Do not label students as bullies (which can perpetuate behavior).
  • Use a multi-disciplinary team to create a student-specific intervention plan with healthier ways to relate and cope. Share with appropriate staff and parents.
  • Find adult mentors to serve as "lifelines" -- caring models who offer support. If needed, provide individual psychological care.
  • Offer meaningful ways for students to "do good" and develop empathy through cross-age tutoring or service projects.
  • Use a restorative justice approach (not peer mediation) to boost positive school and peer connections.

No single practice stops cruelty, but a combination of proven strategies used by committed staff trained in anti-bullying will maximize impact. Sustained effort among stakeholders is the fastest ways to defeat the culture of bullying and replace it with the power of character.

What practices help your school community reduce bullying?

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  • Bullying Prevention
  • Mental Health

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