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

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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 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

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.

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Comments (18) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Bruce's picture
elementary tech teacher

If we always baby the children, the children will always be babies.

Frank Burtnett's picture
Frank Burtnett
Author of the Bound-For-Career Guidebook

Anne O'Brien's tips for educators on dealing with bullying fails to recognize the important role of the K-12 counselor in addressing the needs of the bullying victim and the perpetrator of this abhorrent behavior. The likelihood that a counselor is going to become engaged with one of both parties is a good one and not offering tips to counselors leaves the message seriously lacking.

Frank Burtnett, Ed.D.

Bruce's picture
elementary tech teacher

It's nice to think we can protect all the children, all the time. Ask 100 adults if they ever were bullied in their youth - 98 will say yes. Amazingly, we are still standing.

Muriel Rand's picture
Muriel Rand
Professor of Early Childhood Education & Classroom Management Specialist

I agree with the previous postings about taking responsibility and modeling for our students. Since I work with teachers of young children, I believe we can also PREVENT bullying before it starts by creating classroom communities in which children's love and belonging needs are met. We need to teach children how to care about each other, how to use kind words, how to support each others' learning, and so on. The Responsive Classroom ( has excellent resources for this, and you can check out my blog, The Positive Classroom:

butterfly9's picture

I think that it's a movement toward the greater good that the educational system is seriously addressing this in the curriculum. Culture change in schools in absolutely necessary to accomplish this. Our job as teachers is to prepare students for the real world, and that starts from early childhood where the basis of ones personality is established. Bullying has long been a thorn in the side of traditional education, like an ever present virus that was never treated. People who say that anti-bullying methods are a waste of time are just making a cop-out because they have given up on truly changing a child's life for the better. The key here is that the schools are now waking up and realizing that a child's emotional and social well-being is directly connected to their ability to succeed in school and learn. This initiative will benefit children who are bullied, as well as the bullies themselves, to become more mentally adept, open minded people. This will prepare kids for the real world because we all know that the smartest leaders are the ones who not only have strong knowledge base, but also have a strong sense of emotional intelligence, analytic ability, people skills and top notch communication skills. Children inherently want to feel connected and accepted and if they don't receive that, it will stunt their intellectual and emotional development. This new anti-bullying policy will help to boost the moral, analytical, and communication skills of the next generation. It will be interesting to see how far society has come in the next 10-20 yrs.

Foufou's picture

"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."

Bullying has truly become a major problem not only in school, but in our society, in the neighborhoods, and on online social networkings as well. It's important to find and utilize every way possible to prevent it since it could affect our children and students emotionally, socially, in addition to their education. Therefore, it's our responsibility and role, as parents to raise our children to be confident and strong with high self-esteems; and as teachers, to educate them and warn them not bully or stay quiet about it if witnessed; and as principals to start a bully-free atmosphere in the school and raise that awareness.
Thank you Mrs. Obrien for providing those tips since they're useful everyday and every time bullying occurs. I totally agree with every strategy you provided.

Courtney's picture

I think it's hard for a lot of parents these days to recognize symptoms of bullying in their children. Teachers say it starts at home, and it does, but I also think a lot of teachers want it to stay there. It's easier to look the other way than to deal head on with the bullies in the school. I'm not excusing parents of their own responsibilities (as I'm a parent of two boys myself) but teachers are responsible for our children up to 8 hours each day. Here's a link to an informative article that can help:

Tutorsforless's picture
Teacher and administrator

Often teachers put a blind eye and deaf ear when it comes to emotional bullying. Unless the students is physically hurt will the teacher usually get to the bottom of the incident of the why? and the who?. Schools should have a bullying prevention program at the beginning of the year. The teachers should also report perpetrators and victims to the school office. The school should then create a conference room with those students to discuss when? why? who? . After the initial meeting if the perpetrator continues with the bullying than it is the responsibility of the adminstration to make the next steps with the perpetrator. Visit our blog at

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

I'm a big fan of Kim John Payne's work in this realm. He focuses on a few basic ideas- first, that we can prevent bullying by increasing the predictability and decreasing the social complexity of points in the day (or locations in the building) that seem to be bullying "hotspots." Secondly, that when a student says or does something unkind and adults don't respond negatively, the student believes that we agree or support the behavior- so the world has to stop for the 10 seconds it takes to deal with the behavior. I'm oversimplifying his work, but you can learn more at

I've also summarized some of the key ideas here:

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