How Great Teachers Can Identify and Prevent Bullying in Schools

by Contributor on Apr 21, 2012

Bullies and their victims often cannot be recognized by teachers, but students know who they are. Many studies over the past several years have revealed how teachers and parents can recognize bullies. Some of these observations include some work, such as surveys among students and listening to “self-reported” bullies talk about their exploits and to victims as they share their plights. But, the bullying doesn’t stop there, as recent reports show that teachers also can be the bullies. Learn more about how bullying is defined, and what teachers and other authority figures can do about reducing this behavior across the board in schools.

What Constitutes Bullying?

Bully Free ZoneAccording to the government site, Stop Bullying, bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” Bullying is emotional, verbal and physical and includes actions such as:

  • Making threats
  • Spreading rumors
  • Attacking someone physically or verbally
  • Excluding someone from a group on purpose

Many of these behaviors are considered crimes under state and federal law and may trigger serious consequences after the age of 18. But, it is important to remember that young children are learning how to share, cooperate, and get along. Sometimes, aggressive behaviors constitute learning opportunities, and these acts and appropriate responses often do not constitute bullying, especially among younger children. When two students of the same strength or age argue or fight, this also does not represent bullying.

Bullying behavior affects everyone, including the bullies. But, victims often are at higher risk, as they may not receive help until it’s too late. Although anyone is at risk for becoming a victim, there are high-risk populations among school-aged children. These populations include:

  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) youth
  • Youth with disabilities
  • Socially isolated youth

While it can be difficult to discern bullying on school grounds, it is even more difficult to learn about this behavior when the attacks are made through the Internet. Cyberbullying is on the increase, and this behavior includes mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.

Bully Identification

Responses to BullyingDan Olweus, a Swedish psychology professor, spent decades researching bullying, and is generally recognized as a pioneer and Founding Father of research on bully/victim issues. Olweus’s intervention program against bullying has gained both international and national recognition. Among other things, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program was recently selected as one of 10 “model programs” to be used in a national violence prevention initiative in the U.S. and supported by the U.S. Department of Justice.

This program identifies bullies and victims, and can provide a way for teachers and other authority figures to recognize some key proponents that constitute bullies:

  • They have a strong need to dominate and subdue other students and to get their own way
  • Are impulsive and are easily angered
  • Are often defiant and aggressive toward adults, including parents and teachers
  • Show little empathy toward students who are victimized
  • If they are boys, they are physically stronger than boys in general

Typical characteristics of submissive victims include:

  • Are cautious, sensitive, quiet, withdrawn and shy
  • Are often anxious, insecure, unhappy and have low self-esteem
  • Are depressed and engage in suicidal ideation much more often than their peers
  • Often do not have a single good friend and relate better to adults than to peers
  • If they are boys, they may be physically weaker than their peers

A helpful chart [PDF] shows how bullying can escalate when no one stops the cycle. This cycle also identifies how others become involved in bullying, even on a passive level, as they are disengaged, don’t take a stand, or like the bullying but don’t take an active part. The only way to stop this cycle is to defend the victim.

Finding the Student Bullies

Anti LGBT BullyingJoanna Cole, MS, Dewey Cornell, PhD, and Peter Sheras, PhD, assembled a youth violence presentation [PDF] that contends that one of the only ways teachers and parents may learn about bullying is to conduct an anonymous and confidential survey among students. This survey allows for a well-respected approach in research on children’s social status and emotional adjustment. Teachers also do not have to rely on any single student, so the problem of minimizing or over- and under-reporting is not an issue.

From one survey, the researchers learned that many teachers do not identify bullies that students identified through the survey. Despite the success of this survey, a multimethod approach is recommended, including self-report surveys, teacher nominations, peer nominations, student interviews with victims, and school-wide awareness and education.

Other than the links already provided, teachers also can take advantage of the following resources to learn more about how to identify and prevent bullying in the classroom:

  • Bully Free Program: This program offers “Bully-Free Lesson Plans,” products, training, and services.
  • Bully Free World: A wealth of resources for parents and teachers about bullying and harassment.
  • No Name-Calling Week: This site carries resources, kits, and partnerships to learn how to develop a “No name-calling week” at your school or in your classroom.
  • Preventing Classroom Bullying — What Teachers Can Do [PDF]: This free booklet by Jim Wright offers a complete program for teachers to prevent bullying in the classroom.
  • TeacherVision: This site page offers dozens of resources for teachers, including information about socially inappropriate behaviors, the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, and the National Center for Bullying Prevention.
  • The Bully Proof Classroom: This blog includes lessons, anti-bullying quotes, activities and lesson plans, and other great resources for teachers.

The Other Bully in the Classroom

No BullyingUnfortunately, recent reports show that teachers also can be bullies in the classroom. From Education News to personal blogs, this topic has gained more attention as the topic about bullying receives wider acceptance. This news can be disturbing, especially when parents are seeking help for their student victim from teachers who display the same characteristics as peer bullies.

How do you stop this behavior when it comes from authority figures? In one case, parents, students and gay-rights supporters packed a school board meeting and protested on the first day of classes, calling for two teachers to be fired. More than 2,000 people have joined a Facebook group dedicated to the same cause. While both teachers still have their jobs, the focus now is on their behaviors, and supportive of the teen who was harassed by those instructors.

Finding the bully in the classroom may not be easy. But, once uncovered, hopefully some understandings can be reached about modifying behaviors to include respect, understanding, and maturity. Until students and adults learn these lessons, the prospect of becoming a victim remains ever present.

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