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Battling Bullying: A Whole-School Approach

By — Committee for Children
Updated on May 20, 2009

Long considered just another childhood rite of passage, bullying has recently come under closer scrutiny. As increasing amounts of research emerge about bullying's effects on children—some of which can be devastating—adults are paying more attention to the problem. But too often, when teachers hear about bullying, they expect youngsters to work it out on their own.

"Telling the child to solve the problem himself doesn't address how powerless he is," says Debra Pepler, professor of psychology at York University in Ontario. "By the time the child who's been targeted is distressed or courageous enough to tell a teacher, the child doing the bullying has immense power."

"The problem of bullying is in all schools," says Wendy Craig, professor of psychology at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. "If schools don't acknowledge it, they inadvertently support it. If schools don't address the problem, we know it'll get worse. It's like an infection—if you don't take steps early to stop it, it'll grow."

Systematic Bullying Prevention

Committee for Children has developed a program to help schools decrease bullying and create a safe and respectful learning climate. Titled STEPS TO RESPECT: A Bullying Prevention Program, it is designed as a proactive, systemic approach for elementary schools to deal with bullying.

The STEPS TO RESPECT program is designed to rally an entire school community—students, staff, teachers, and parents—against bullying. Says Craig, "For programs to work effectively, the whole school needs to be on board…so you have a consistent approach in dealing with problems."

William King Elementary, a Nova Scotia school that piloted the STEPS TO RESPECT program, experienced a significant change in their school climate. "Students realized the impact of bullying on people, and its seriousness," says sixth-grade teacher Shirley Everett. "We've noticed a decrease in bullying across grade levels."

The Importance of Adult Training

To ensure that staff and teachers have the information they need to take consistent and appropriate action when responding to bullying, a three-section training component is included in the program kit. "Adults need to learn how to respond appropriately to show students that they care and to build trust," says Karen Summers, an implementation specialist at Committee for Children. "The lessons teach all children to report bullying—adults need to learn to listen and coach children on how to deal with it. Children know their problems will be taken seriously when teachers take action."

The Curriculum Component

"A lot of children try out bullying in third or fourth grade," says Pepler. "Data shows that there's an increase in the prevalence of bullying in these grades, as children become aware of their position and status in the social group. This is a good time to teach children about issues of power."

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