I’m going to come right out and say it: Many schools don’t do enough to prevent bullying behaviors. Schools try—through assemblies, policies, positive culture, conflict resolution and swift interventions. But, inevitably, institutions fall short, and the costs are high. Although reports vary, one large study estimated that approximately 30 percent of middle school students had experienced bullying in the classroom. This takes my breath away. We all know the sad, oft-repeated story of a student who was demeaned in a restroom, taunted in the hallway or pushed around on a bus. But, is it possible that these actions can happen right in front of our own eyes?
In my first years of teaching, I unwittingly created the perfect storm of circumstances so that exclusionary bullying was not only possible, but even likely. Letting students choose their own seats, and then frequently changing my seating arrangements, forced students to regularly confront that “where do I sit?” stress and the possibility that a seat was “saved” (despite my saying that was not allowed, of course).
The “saved seat” was the least venomous of the exclusionary tactics, I am sure, but there I was, blithely taking attendance and making small talk. Eventually, I would encourage students to hurry up and take their seats—not knowing, of course, that some of them didn’t have a seat yet and were dying inside trying to navigate yet another quiet form of bullying.
I don’t confess this ignorance as a penance, though I can’t believe I was ever so naive. Rather, it is Bullying Prevention Awareness month, and when I heard it phrased that way, bullying awareness, it occurred to me that being aware that bullying exists is very different from being aware of when bullying behaviors are actually occurring. This is an eye-opening distinction for me, one I wish I had understood earlier in my career, particularly before bullying became a talking point instead of a silent shame.
As a new teacher, I would have loved to have Share My Lesson’s “Bullying Behavior in the Classroom” provided by Safe and Supportive Schools. This resource is a ready-to-go trainer’s guide or simply a great tool for teachers to categorically extract what research says about bullying from what they’ve assumed about it. Probably the most helpful information I learned was the best way to respond to bullying, using the five Rs: Respond, Research, Record, Report and Revisit. In the moment, it is important for teachers to be levelheaded and act in a way that will best protect the bullied and have the potential to change the behavior of the child who bullies.
Even when teachers are at their most vigilant, aware of what bullying is and when it is happening, it is still not enough. An environment where bullying is not tolerated is, of course, necessary; however, the most effective way to combat bullying is to empower the bullied and arm the bystanders with a repertoire of solutions to the situation. Particularly, students should be taught loudly and clearly to stop bullying. Creating such a culture is crucial for students who are most susceptible to being bullied. GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) provided Share My Lesson with a great lesson plan called “Blow the Whistle on Name-Calling” that teaches self-monitoring for students. Teaching, at its best, occurs when teachers are facilitating student learning. It turns out that the same is true for bullying prevention — students who exhibit bullying behaviors will learn most from their peers who are armed with a repertoire of authoritative responses.