Bullying in schools is a frequent and serious problem that is often a precursor of aggressive and violent behavior. Schools, in concert with parents and community members, can significantly reduce bullying behavior.
Brief Historical Perspective
The first major anti-bullying intervention program in schools was conducted in Bergen, Norway in 1983 by Dan Olweus. This program was introduced following three suicide deaths of boys ages 10 to 14 year-old, who had each been severely bullied by their peers.
In the initial Olweus intervention program there was a reduction of up to 50% in bullying behavior. This change was maintained after two years of the intervention. There was no displacement from bullying at school to bullying on the way to and from the school. Moreover, the results revealed more positive pupil relationships and a significant drop in rates of vandalism, theft and truancy.
Since 1983, bullying prevention programs have been implemented in 11 countries and on three continents.
We can now ask:
- What are the lessons that have been learned from these many anti-bullying interventions?
How can my school can benefit from these lessons?
- What are the core elements of a bullying prevention program, and how can we implement and evaluate such interventions?
Lessons Learned From Previous Efforts to Implement Bullying Prevention Programs
Lesson 1. While there is considerable evidence of success in the actions of schools against bullying, the level of success varies greatly between schools. Those schools that did the most, achieved the most.
Lesson 2. The leadership by the principal or head teacher and administrative commitment are critical to the success of a bully reduction program. Consider the following observations offered by leading researchers in anti-bullying:
- “A principal can influence the staff’s attitudes and behavior by putting anti-bullying work in the school’s
official agenda, initiating plenary meetings with staff and parents, and providing clear guidelines
about the organization of the supervisory system during break periods. It is important that the
principal allocate time and financial resources to such activities”
(Dan Olweus, 2004, p. 32.)
"We believe that without the commitment of the leadership and staff,
the anti-bullying program would not get off the ground"
(Pepler, 2004, p. 126 - leading Canadian researcher on bullying.)
- “A necessary prerequisite to the effective implementation of a Bullying Prevention Program
is the commitment of the school administrator (principal) and a majority of school staff to
addressing problems associated with bullying"
(Limber et al, 2004, p. 66 researcher who brought Olweus’ anti-bullying program to the U.S.)
- “Administrative commitment to the classroom meeting concept proved particularly crucial
in our middle schools, as the principal needed to approve changes to the students’ schedules
and creatively encourage teachers to hold such meetings”
(Limber et al, 2004, p. 69.)
- “As would be expected, the principal’s involvement was pivotal to the success of the
project’s implementation, particularly the whole-school activities. The promising gains in policy
implementation initiatives were made in intervention schools where the principals attended the
training and were actively involved in their whole-school committee”
(Cross et al, 2004, p 199 – researcher who created the Friendly Schools project in Australia.)
- In short, bullying prevention programs are unlikely to be effective without the commitment and investment of the principal.
Lesson 3. "Successful school-based interventions for bullying depend on teachers and principals to create a climate that discourages bullying and encourages peer processes that support and include vulnerable children. Teachers should label bullying behavior, not the person. Identify the problem as bullying behavior and avoid labeling children and youth as "bullies and victims." These labels limit how they think about themselves and how others think of them." (Pepler et al, 2004, p.311.)
Lesson 4. “Only with consistent sustained effort (at least two years of intervention) is the incidence of bullying and related behaviors likely to be reduced. It takes more than six (6) months to effect change in bullying problems in elementary schools.” (Pepler et al, 2004.)
Lesson 5. Anti-bullying efforts cannot be separated from the core tasks of effective teaching. Teachers who are engaging and who have good classroom management skills have less problems with students’ bullying behaviors. Academic progress increases when schools work to improve the quality of teachers’ classroom management and positive behavior discipline techniques. High student engagement reduces bullying opportunities.
Lesson 6. “It is difficult at this stage to identify the crucial elements in the anti-bullying programs or to say which programs are most effective. Most of the programs to counter bullying have resulted in a degree of success, at least on some outcome measures. This is encouraging." (Rigby, Smith & Pepler, 2004, p. 2.)
Lesson 7. “There is a greater likelihood of success of anti-bullying intervention programs at younger primary grades (e.g. kindergarten to grade 4) than with older middle and secondary students. Changes in anti-bullying attitudes and group norms are more common in younger students who are more likely to respect the authority of teachers. Research on the stability of victim and bully status suggests that few pupils enter into stable roles before 8 to 9 years old." (Rigby et al, 2004.)
Lesson 8. “At this stage in the development and refinement of bullying interventions, the research is not at the point where we can reliably point to specific elements of interventions that are known to be the active and essential elements associated with change.” (Pepler, 2004, p. 313.)
Lesson 9. Hazler and Carney (2006) propose that effective bullying prevention should:
- involve diverse groups in the planning and implementation of the program;
- increase initial awareness by bringing the problem of bullying to the surface and foster empathy by focusing student and staff attention on the feelings of all participants in bullying;
- implement policies that create nurture pro-social behavior;
- foster skill development in which perpetrators, victims and bystanders are targeted with a wide array of social skills training;
- nurture continuing staff involvement that keeps the issues, changes, problems and necessary actions alive for ongoing discussion;
- conduct assessment of progress and adjustment of effort
Lesson 10. There are no "magic bullets, nor quick fixes". True success requires extensive coordinated and sustainable efforts.
With these lessons in mind, we can consider the core elements of any anti-bullying program. All too often, bully reduction programs are implemented in a short-term fashion, with some staff members enthusiastically advocating one aspect of the intervention (e.g.; use of role-playing and videotaping of students in high risk settings, or changes in supervision patterns, or implementation of a school wide anti-bullying curriculum.)A successful anti-bullying program is an ongoing, rather than a one-time only program.
How many of the following core elements does your school implement?
Reprinted with the permission of TeachSafeSchools.org.
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