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Student Pledges: Preventing Harassment and Bullying at Your School

Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (
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Now that we're heading into summer, it's a perfect time to start planning a pledge for your students. I used to be skeptical about the value of pledges by students, particularly around things like harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB). But I have changed my mind. The new school year is a time to consider any such pledges, and now is the time to think through your position on the topic.

Here are my suggestions for how to have powerful pledges that are meaningful:

#1. Have the creation of the pledge be a shared activity with students. Involve them in the idea and the wording. It's fine to have several versions even in the same school to make them developmentally appropriate and meaningful.

#2. Make sure the pledge addresses HIB prevention and also affirms positive values that students pledge to uphold. This is what turns students from bystanders into upstanders. Values such as respect for all classmates, being responsible to self, others, and the environment, and acting with integrity all create antidotes to HIB. Be sure to discuss whatever positive values are affirmed and integrate them into class and school rules, academic subject work, school report cards, and conversations with parents.

#3. Every student should read aloud (individually or in small groups) the pledge in a public forum and sign their own individual copy, which they keep. Consider wallet-card versions of the pledge as well as how to share the pledge with parents and community groups.

#4. No less often than the end of each marking period, ask students to rate how they have been doing in terms of keeping to the pledge and generate ideas for what individuals, classes, and the school as a whole can do better.

#5. Ensure that the principles in the pledge are incorporated into disciplinary conversations, guidance sessions, special education IEP's and processes, after-school, extracurricular and athletic and other programs and events, including bus behaviors and Internet behavior.

I am sure you can think of ways to refine this list. It is based on social-emotional learning principles, such as deterring potential bullies through cognitive dissonance, creating widely shared, positive social norms, providing ways for all students to make valued contributions and identify with larger, pro-social purposes, and building skills of social participation.

Please share pledges, and procedures surrounding them, that you have found helpful, so we can all go into the new school year better prepared to provide our students with safe, civil, supportive, and challenging learning environments.

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Maurice J. Elias

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

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Bill Belsey's picture
Bill Belsey

Hello Maurice and all,

Thank you for your post.

As a parent and educator, see, I would like to share four Websites 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.

Here is some information that provides some background about my work that relates to this issue: Bio:

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

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

I hope that these educational resources may prove helpful to you and your learning community.


Bill Belsey
"Where you are NOT alone!"


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Rhonda Carrier's picture

Thank-you for the suggestions above. We aren't there yet but we have a good start. I hoped to have recommendations from the students for the handbook for next year but it is incomplete. We'll finish it in the fall with the (then) 7th grade students doing tutorials on digital citizenship with other ES/MS grades.

Carol Blair's picture
Carol Blair
Gifted teacher in New Port Richey, FL

Hello, Maurice:
You asked for other versions of pledges, and I wanted to tell you about something similar we do for our weekly journalism class at Melrose Elementary School, a magnet school for communications and multimedia in St. Petersburg, FL. It is called a code of conduct, and it focuses on our journalism jobs as we gear up to become newsrooms in third, fourth, and fifth grades and we want to set up "professional" standards to do our assignments. Because I see students only once a week, I wanted to do standards based on our class purpose, rather than general behavior guidlines, but they also incorporate social building blocks of respect and consideration that will thwart intimidation and bullying along the way. I have found that having everyone help in writing the code and having a student from the class read it out loud each week make it more meaningful.

It goes like this: I will have a page started on the SMART Board with a big heading like "Mr. X's class code of conduct," and I ask for hands and suggestions of what we need to do as journalists out on the job. I steer the discussion in the directions of teamwork, respect, and responsibility as well as journalism skills, and we end up with statements like "Take turns with the walkie talkie (which they use to report back to the editor)," "Listen to each other's ideas," "Look the person you are interviewing in the eye," as well as "be careful with the cameras," or "Don't run in the halls," "get good quotes" and "ask good questions."

As we agree on the best additions to their "code," I type it onto the SMART Board, and I have students come up one by one after they get into their groups to come up and sign it. I save this page, and call it up at the beginning of each class and have someone volunteer to read it to get us started. You would be surprised how eager they are to read it! It seems to calm and focus them, to prepare them to start the class. The great thing about it is that most of their ideas, even if they are skill-based, have to do with being respectful and responsible toward equipment and others, and they fit in with the anti-harassment message you are getting out with your standards. But in this case, the message is couched in a specific discipline and isn't so overt.

This kind of "code" could be adapted to any subject or grade level. I really like your idea of having a wallet-sized version of the pledge made up for them to keep. It reminds me of a few years ago, before I had a SMART Board, and I laminated the code for each class to sign and then take turns holding to read. At the end of the year, I was giving back their student folders and one student asked if they could take home the code of conduct from their class! I started giving them out and was surprised to find out how much students treasured them. I didn't have a laminated version to give out this year because they could all see it on the SMART Board, but I can print out SMART Board pages and I am now thinking I should go back to handing out hard copies to lucky students again next year!

--Carol Blair
Journalism teacher
Melrose Elementary School
St. Petersburg, FL

Traci Van's picture
Traci Van
Fourth grade teacher from Clearwater, FL

Thank you for you insights on your class Code of Conduct. I take time at the beginning of each school year to establish classroom guidelines and routines that all of the students agree upon. The time we spend setting ground rules and expectations pays off all year long. When the students feel their input is important, they buy into the expectations more. I see so many positive outcomes from students when they get to be in charge of creating classroom environment standards. As the year progresses, I hear students talking about right choices and remembering how they created and agreed upon the class guidelines. It is such a positive experience for all students.

Maurice J. Elias's picture
Maurice J. Elias
Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (

Thank you to Carol and others for excellent suggestions about how to make SECD-related pledges effective!

Jeffrey Newton's picture

Thanks for your thoughts Maurice.Every principal in the country would love this idea. I don't believe however that they all would handle it the same way. I liked how you layed out your suggestions. I believe some schools would run with the idea but not use all of your suggestions that I believe are crucial.
Creating the pledge with the students and having them involved in the wording is a must.I remember my first middle school in Alief, Texas where they had started a peer mediation program to help with the severe gang problems. Everyone believed that the program was so successful due to the students being involved in the creation part of it from the beginning to the end.
I also liked the idea of the school taking class time at least once a quarter to reevaluate the entire process for the participants.

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