4 Traits of Effective Bully Prevention
As a bully prevention speaker, I’ve talked with schools and students from kindergarten all the way through high school. That’s a wide range of ages and developmental stages, and yet, I’ve found that bullying exists at every level. When I speak to a school assembly, one of the first things I do is define what bullying is. The term bullying is commonly understood to involve physical aggression – think of every schoolyard bully in every movie you’ve seen. However, it’s much more likely for students to experience verbal or social bullying, particularly because these actions happen under the radar and can be more easily concealed.
Schools take bullying very seriously, and rightly so. So far, I’ve presented my reACT to Bullying program to more than 170 schools and nearly 200,000 people. It’s my personal mission to help schools eliminate bullying in all its forms.
Four Qualities of Effective Schoolwide Bully Prevention
Bullying is a complicated and multi-faceted issue, and bully prevention programs can be as varied as the schools that employ them. For a bullying prevention program to be effective, it must fit the personality of the school. However, I’ve noticed that schools that are doing it right have four distinct traits:
1. They take a schoolwide approach.
I’ve definitely been to schools where administrators and teachers expect me, as a bully prevention speaker and expert, to solve all of their problems in a single 50-minute assembly. This isn’t a realistic expectation. You can expect a speaker to clarify definitions and give students a common language to use when talking about bullying. You also want a speaker to be dynamic and memorable for your students. But what happens when they leave? How do you help your students process and take action on the things they learned from the speaker? A schoolwide approach to bully prevention must include a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS).
2. They share appropriate response strategies for everyone involved.
There are clearly three actors in a bullying situation – those who bully, those who are bullied, and bystanders. Effective schools know that each player needs to be instructed and even practice response strategies. Often, bystanders are forgotten. Creating an expectation of accountability for everyone – bystanders included – helps to eliminate bullying behavior before it gains a foothold.
3. They provide support and professional development to school staff.
I am a bully victim myself. I also have more than 20 years of experience in the classroom as a teacher. Still, I wasn’t able to clearly define bullying or help those students who came to me for help. I knew that if I wanted to be an effective advocate and bully prevention speaker, I had to educate myself on current research and best practices. I undertook this task in the hopes of providing both students and adults with practical strategies to combat bullying. The schools that I visit typically conduct staff development sessions on a wide range of topics. Schools committed to eliminating bullying provide character education and promote a culture of kindness. They also bring in outside speakers to conduct staff workshops that support the information provided in student assemblies.
4. They systematically implement and evaluate strategies.
Successful schools actively pursue improvement through planning and implementation. They don’t just wish for improved school climate, they make it happen. They also examine their strategies in terms of data – including information such as earned points, office referrals, and teacher buy-in. This kind of progress monitoring is important. Without data, we truly don’t know if our students feel safe. We truly don’t know if our staff feels prepared or if our efforts are effective. At a minimum, effective schools start with a baseline survey of everyone involved. They examine their referral data centered on bullying. They strategically implement programs and strategies which focus their efforts. Then, they measure their results. Sharing this data with staff and parents is also key.
Bully Prevention and PBIS
It’s not a coincidence that some schools actively pursuing bully prevention also use PBIS. What’s PBIS? PBIS is an acronym for Positive Behavior Interventions and Support. It’s in use in schools at all levels, all around the world.
For schools using a PBIS initiative, the support structure necessary for a bully prevention program is already there. The focus on positive behavior, accountability, and kindness dovetails perfectly with efforts to eliminate bullying behaviors. The data generated by such an effort helps the school to understand what progress they’re making.
When I speak at a school using PBIS, my presentation seems to go a little more smoothly. The students are “tuned in” to positive behavior, and they seem to be more engaged with what I have to say. Sometimes I can almost see the light bulb moment when they connect the dots. The school has given them the tools they need to eliminate bullying behavior, and all I have to do is tell them what to look for. PBIS also gives staff and parents a solid foundation for addressing bullying behaviors from an adult’s perspective.
It’s a winning situation for everyone!