Though we might want to think our classrooms are safe places for each of our students, the truth is sobering. A large study conducted by University of Arizona professor Stephen T. Russell revealed that 40% of middle and high school students in a California sample faced bullying. Reasons for bullying vary, but teachers and administrators can still help prevent and counter it both in the classroom and online.
What Is Bullying?
Very few students get through school without being teased or excluded. Like adults, most children experience random acts of meanness and thoughtlessness, even deliberate intimidation.
Personal actions are considered bullying, however, when all three of these characteristics are present:
- The bully is aggressive.
- There is an imbalance of power between the bully and the victim.
- The behavior is repeated.
Countering a culture of bullying is difficult but possible when teachers take deliberate steps to make school safe for all students.
Create an Inclusive Environment
Bullies tend to target marginalized groups of students, such as students of different minorities, sexual orientation, religion, etc. One way a teacher can prevent these groups from being bullied is by creating a classroom culture of inclusion where the intentional focus is in supporting each other so that bullying and offensive behavior become undesirable.
Activities such as Mix It up at Lunch Day, where students intentionally sit with students they do not know or have not spent significant time talking to, can be a productive way of creating inclusivity and interconnectedness in the student body. Activities like these should always be paired with classroom conversations about bullying. You might also consider posting anti-bullying posters, images and slogans around to create a cultural consciousness in your classroom to dissuade students from bullying.
Despite efforts to prevent bullying, it is still likely to happen. Therefore, students should feel teachers are approachable and available to talk if and when they or someone they know is being bullied.
Students, however, might feel embarrassed or partially responsible when they are subject to bullying, so it is helpful to keep your ears open when in the halls before and after class as well as during other unstructured times of the day. Though students may not use the term “bullying” when talking to their peers, other key words can provide clues about possible incidents in your school or classroom. Be listening for words like “always teasing me” or “won’t leave me alone.” Being sensitive to your classroom and school culture will help you take a more proactive approach to stopping bullying behavior before it worsens.
Not all bullying happens face-to-face, in the hallway, on the playground or in the cafeteria. What about cyberbullying? Although it would be impossible for a teacher to monitor every comment, post and hashtag their students use in the digital space, teachers must take time to talk about cyberbullying. When teachers stay up to date with social trends and platforms, they will have the expertise and credibility to set high expectations for student behavior in these online communities.
Get Parents Involved
Getting parents involved can be one of the most effective solutions to bullying at school. Since bullies often act out at school because of trouble they are experiencing elsewhere, invite parents to meet with you. Help them understand the real definition of bullying and its harmful and long-lasting consequences. Provide suggestions and resources so they can help respond appropriately when bullying involves their child.
Learn More at TAMIU
School administrators are uniquely placed to set expectations for what is acceptable in their schools. A master of education degree offers specialized training for principals to create inclusive and anti-bullying environments where their students can learn respect and appreciation for each other.