School Commitment and Teacher Coaching Reduces Playground Victimization

— Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Apr 6, 2011

The motive for bullying is to gain an unfair advantage by hurting or threatening to hurt others. Whether such an attempt succeeds or not depends on the surrounding culture. Some schools have cultures of bullying which tolerate abuse of weaker citizens by more powerful ones. Other schools create social norms and procedures to provide respect and equal opportunities. Widespread bullying is not inevitable in schools. Both the problem and solution depend on the vision and commitment of a school’s leaders.

Our two-year study of the Steps to Respect program demonstrates how a sustained commitment to creating a respectful, egalitarian culture can reduce bullying and victimization. Some of the program strategies can be used by individual teachers and administrators, although the strongest results are likely to occur as part of a school-wide effort.

About The Steps to Respect Program

The Steps to Respect program works at the school, class, and individual levels.

  • School-wide elements include leadership training for the entire staff.
  • The focus is on helping adults provide caring and ethical guidance during emotionally charged situations.
  • Manuals show how to create, implement, and communicate clear and fair policies.
  • These steps provide a practical demonstration of adult leadership, fostering the sense that school personnel can be trusted to respond effectively to bullying reports.
  • Classroom curricula in grades 3 to 6 further support adult leadership by opening a teacher-student dialogue on bullying, and providing guidelines for bystander and victim responses.
  • Instruction and practice in social-emotional skills empower students to use respectful, effective methods of self-defense and conflict resolution.

When bullying events occur, individual coaching for victims and bullies provides timely, consistent, and proportionate responses. These sessions focus on proactive measures that forestall future problems, encourage student reporting, and enact norms of civility, justice, and respect.

The Steps to Respect Program Can Work

  • We observed no increase of bullying in schools participating in the Steps to Respect Program.
  • Students who had bullied others in the fall were less likely to bully in the spring.
  • We also observed that bystanders who had previously encouraged bullying did so less often. This suggested that the culture of bullying might already be changing in the experimental schools.
  • In the second year of the program, we found an overall 34.5% decrease in bullying and victimization, and a whopping 78% decrease in destructive bystander behavior (Frey, Edstrom, & Hirschstein, 2005).    

Benefits of Coaching for Students

Although students may be punished for repeated or particularly severe infractions, the focus of coaching is to improve behavior. Steps to Respect training offers instruction and practice in how to coach students involved in bullying.

  • These brief individual sessions aim to establish facts and immediate safety needs, while empowering students to avoid future problems.
  • Coaching sessions provide practice in essential skills such as empathy, problem-solving, and assertiveness.
  • Educators remind students of school norms and that everyone shares responsibility for school safety.
  • Some schools set up procedures that help children identify their own problem behaviors and participate in creating a behavior-change plan
  • When communicating with students or parents, the focus remains on behavior, rather than a pejorative label (see Frey, Edstrom, et al., 2005, for more details).
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