4 ways to stop bullying in its tracks!
We all know that horrible, helpless feeling of seeing a child being bullied. When we encounter it, we hope that it’s an isolated incident. Unfortunately, research shows that often it is not.
Approximately one in three children report being bullied at school. And the effects are paramount: Anne O’Brien, deputy director of the US-based Learning First Alliance, writes that bullied students are more likely to take a weapon to school, get involved in physical fights, and suffer from anxiety and depression. Their grades suffer, and “research suggests that schools where students report a more severe bullying climate score worse on standardized assessments than schools with a better climate,” says O’Brien.
The statistics point towards something we as teachers have begun to recognise inherently: bullying is a scourge at the centre of much of the dysfunction we witness in our schools. In the worst cases, its effects can stay with a victim for the rest of their lives. In the best cases, it can be soon stopped and its effects dissipate. But that takes decisive intervention from someone with authority: someone like us.
Here are 4 ways that teachers can help stop bullying as it begins.
1. Own it. Now-retired primary school principal James Dillon says that in training sessions, he asks participants to choose the one group they believe is most responsible for addressing school violence and bullying: parents, students, school, or community. Usually, people point toward a group that is not their own: parents point towards school, school points towards students, and so forth. He suggests that bullying problems are not addressed because "people think bullying prevention is someone else's responsibility."
The first step in effectively curtailing bullying is realizing that the environment we create as teachers can directly affect the amount of bullying that takes place in our classrooms. We can – and must – step in and change things.
2. Recognise its subtle beginnings. Bullying doesn’t begin with one student hanging another to the basketball hoop by his underwear. Its origins are a lot less visible. Mother of five Leslie Blanchard tells how her popular fourth-grade child said one day that a new girl was “annoying” her by following her around. “There was no overt unkindness or name-calling etc., just rejection,” writes Blanchard for huffpost.com. “I’ve been on every side of the bullying social dynamic, and I am convinced this is where it begins. A casual assessment and quick dismissal of an outsider.”
Blanchard dealt with it by convincing her daughter to come home and tell her three “cool things” that she didn’t previously know about the new girl. Her daughter resisted, but eventually took up the challenge. A few weeks later, the new girl was completely integrated into her desired social circle. By encouraging empathy, Blanchard changed her daughter’s behaviour and the new girl’s school-time experience.
3. Talk about it. As teachers, we might only see a particular class for a few hours a day, and we can’t be everywhere on the playground at once. We can discover so much more about social dynamics by inviting discussions with our students. “Help your class identify bullying in classroom resources, books, TV shows and movies, and discuss the impact of that bullying and how it was/could be resolved,” says O’Brien. “Hold class meetings in which students can talk about bullying and peer relations.” Once you’ve gained insights from these processes, quickly move on to step four (below):
4. Take immediate action. Clamping down on bullying as soon as you witness it creates the message that the behaviour will not be tolerated. Vacillating or hoping that kids “will sort things out amongst themselves” provides tacit approval of the misdemeanours, and could cause them to spread.
By adopting these four steps, teachers can help provide a healthy, uplifting learning environment that better enables us to make a difference in the lives of those we teach.