How Should School Staff Respond to Bullying Behavior? (page 2)

By — Stop Bullying Now!
Updated on Jan 23, 2009

After reaching consensus- next steps

When the school as a community has come close to consensus about expectations and about the seriousness of different actions within the school community, we can follow through on behavior as illustrated in the following diagram:


It is important to stress that different staff members will each have their own ways to intervene with yellow-zone behaviors. Some will stop instructing for a moment to have a brief quiet word with the student who does these behaviors. Some will ask the student to stay after class for minute. Some will conduct a brief in-the-moment lesson for the whole class. Some will discourage the behavior with a look. In choosing to have an action in the Yellow category, staff have committed to take some kind of action rather than ignoring the behavior- to show what has been called “zero indifference” rather than “zero tolerance.”

When the red behavior list is created, the administrator should, I believe, work toward the creation of a rubric for dealing with severe peer to peer negative behavior. A rubric might look like this:


Within the red peer to peer behaviors, it is useful to differentiate again between least and most severe, based on potential for physical and emotional harm. That differentiation allows us to create sequences of consequences which can be applied consistently based on the student’s actions and the number of times the student has chosen those actions in the current school year. If students choose to repeat these serious actions more than three times, it is useful to create individual action plans to help them change their behavior. Individual plans may also be created for students who have handicaps. It is crucial, though, that the same expectations apply for all students, though consequences for students with special needs may differ based on their needs as determined through their Individual Education Plan. More details about rubrics and about specific consequences at different grade levels can be found in Schools Where Everyone Belongs.

Back to that incident in the gym:

This behavior seemed to me to be within our school’s yellow behavior zone. I took three steps that day and one additional step after he returned from vacation:

  • I asked the student what he had done. “I shoved her,” he said, “but I was only kidding around.” I thanked him for his honesty and pointed out that we do not allow shoving.
  • I used a micro-consequence, telling him calmly to spend the rest of beach day (ten more minutes) outside the gym. A chair in the office was available and the secretary was willing to supervise him for the time remaining. He began arguing with me about why he should have to leave beach day. “It was an accident,” he said. I reminded him calmly that I had seen the whole series of events, and that I had seen him run across the gym, stop, focus on the target of the behavior, and then shove her. He walked with me into the office, still arguing. Our principal, knowing that any student would only be asked to sit in the office if he or she had done something wrong, pointed out calmly student that he had a choice. He could accept his small consequence and return to the rest of the day’s activities, or he could continue arguing and make things worse for himself. Then the principal and I moved away from him for a moment to see which choice he would make. When he calmed himself, she said to him: “You decided to calm yourself down.”
  • Later that day I asked the student what he had done and what was wrong with it. He told me he had shoved another student and that she could have been hurt. I commended him for his honesty and for thinking this incident through.
  • When he returned from vacation a week later I asked the student again what he had done and what had been wrong with it. Again he told me he had shoved another student and that he could have hit her.

Four things seem important to me about this intervention. First, it was easy to do. None of the elements of the intervention were time consuming. Second, it maintained my relationship with the student, because he knew that I was reacting to his behavior in exactly the same way that I would react to any other similar action by any student. He also knew that other staff members would have handled the situation in a similar way. Third, because of the calm tone of the intervention and the small size of the consequence, he was able to focus his attention on what he had done and on what was wrong with that action. And fourth, the intervention was a public one that others could learn from. When I returned to the gym after walking the student to the office, some of his friends asked me why he wasn’t in the gym. I asked them what they thought. “Because he pushed someone?” one asked. “Right,” I said. “Oh,” said another thoughtfully.

This article has outlined techniques for building consistent, caring disciplinary interventions in schools. It is a supplement to much more material on this topic which will be found in the books Schools Where Everyone Belongs and Empowering Bystanders, by Stan Davis with Julia Davis (both published by Research Press). See for details.

For more on reaching consensus about behavioral expectations in schools, click here.
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