Bullying has become one of the most serious issues facing our schools today. We’ve all heard the sad tales of children, some as young as 11, committing suicide because they could no longer deal with the bullying they experienced in school. In July 2008, the U.S. Congress began work on legislation for H.R. 2262, the Safe School Improvement Act, which would require schools to collect data, establish disciplinary guidelines and develop a system for registering complaints to combat bullying in our schools. However, as school counselors we can’t wait for laws to be passed to take action. We need to make a difference now.
I started my quest to stop bullying at Midway Elementary School in Midway, Utah, six years ago. I attended conferences, read books and studied various programs. I learned a lot about the statistics and issues but little about specifically what to do. So I began taking steps to develop a program that would help my school and others combat school bullying. In my search for knowledge I discovered a fascinating study by Dr. Kenneth Merrell from the University of Oregon on the effectiveness of school bullying intervention programs. The study results showed that bully intervention programs, especially those aimed specifically at bullies, were effective in raising the level of awareness among students and staff but did little to reduce bullying behaviors. Merrell, along with others, recommend a schoolwide comprehensive approach to bully prevention. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, programs cracking down on individual bullies rarely work, but when there is a schoolwide commitment to end bullying, it can be reduced by up to 50 percent.
As my program evolved over the years I identified four hallmarks of a successful schoolwide bully prevention program.
Lead to systemic change: Successful programs bring about systemic change. The factors contributing to bullying in any school environment are complex and nebulous. The only way to have an impact on these critical factors is to cast a wide net. There must be change at all levels in the school environment and in the community. You are literally changing the culture of the entire school. You need to utilize all existing programs and resources such as comprehensive school counseling programs, positive behavior interventions and supports, character education, the parent-teacher organization, schoolwide discipline programs, grade-level teams or professional learning communities and more.
Garner commitment from all: Schoolwide bully prevention programs require commitment from all stakeholders. Although your school may have a small team to oversee the bully prevention program, collaboration among administrators, school counselors, teachers, students, parents, secretaries, custodians, lunch workers, librarians, bus drivers, etc. is essential for success.
Teach comprehensive strategies and skills: Effective programs are comprehensive. Teaching students about specific issues related to bullying is only one aspect of an effective schoolwide program. There are many supporting concepts and social skills you also need to address, such as conflict resolution, tattling vs. reporting, respect, accepting differences, teasing, cliques, relational aggression, cooperation and more. Effective data analysis will help you identify many of these specific needs.
Continue year after year: Many times schools will bring in a pre-packaged bully prevention program, have a big anti-bullying campaign, raise a lot of awareness and then call it good. Effective bully prevention programs are not a one-shot deal. Effective prevention programs are nonstop. They require intervention, data to assess the program’s effectiveness and components, and ongoing specific targeted interventions for bullies, their victims and the bystander population.
Eight key components, best implemented sequentially, have led to the success of Midway...
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