Understanding and Preventing Bullying in Your Classroom
In October, schools worldwide will take part in National Bullying Prevention Month, a campaign aimed at educating and raising awareness of bullying prevention in our schools. The campaign culminates on October 25, which is recognized as UNITY DAY, when teachers and students wear orange in support of kindness, acceptance, and inclusion.
During National Bullying Prevention Month, and all throughout the school year, you have the opportunity to prevent bullying in your classroom and school-wide by developing a safe environment where students can learn and play without the feelings of fear or anxiety that come from being bullied.
What is Bullying and What is Not Bullying
The first step in preventing bullying in your classroom is to understand the difference between bullying and actions that are often mistaken for bullying.
There are four main characteristics of bullying that have been identified by Connect with Kids:
- Pain – Bullying causes physical or psychological pain through actions that are intentional.
- Power – A bully is someone who is more powerful than his/her victim and wields that power over a victim.
- Persistence – Bullying includes actions that happen more than once. Bullying is repeated over time.
- Permission – Bullying often takes place in front of an audience or someone who knows it’s happening, but isn’t taking any action to stop it.
Although they are not kind or appropriate (and should most definitely be addressed), the actions listed below are not considered bullying, as long as the behavior is not being repeated:
- Arguments or conflicts
- Choosing one friend over another
- Being bossy
- Telling a joke about someone
- Telling another person you don’t like him/her
- Stand-alone acts of aggression or harassment
What’s Behind Bullying?
When you’re working to prevent bullying, it’s also important to know what can drive a student to start bullying his or her peers.
In elementary school:
Elementary school children are still learning how to make friends, and they may not fully understand the power of their words or the consequences of aggressive behavior. In addition, they may be beginning to explore the idea of being “popular.” For boys, this can be expressed through toughness, confidence, and athleticism. Amongst girls, it can be gained by excluding or manipulating others.
In middle school:
At this age, students are gaining more independence, and “finding their place” in peer groups is becoming more important. At the same time, changing to a new school environment can provoke a student’s emotional or academic issues, such as isolation, anxiety, or poor academic performance, which can leave them feeling vulnerable.
Students often begin bullying as a way to manipulate peer groups to gain social status or power. While a bully may seem popular and self-confident, bullying can often be a mask for those who are insecure.
Preventing Bullying in Your Classroom
Now that you understand what actions are considered bullying and the motivations behind bullying, here are ways that you can discourage bullying in your classroom and throughout your school.
Open discussion in the classroom.
Let your students know that you want them to feel that school is a safe environment and not a place where they feel afraid. Discuss your school’s bullying prevention policies with your students and discuss the discipline and consequences for bullies.
Do not ignore bullying.
When you witness bullying taking place, take immediate action to stop it. Be visible throughout the day and keep an eye on “hot spots” where bullying can most frequently take place — the playground, lunchroom, hallways, stairwells, or bus lines.
Encourage bystanders to take action.
Peers can play a huge role in bullying prevention. Research has shown that in 57% of bullying episodes, the bullying stopped within 10 seconds when another student intervened. Encourage your class to be “upstanders,” instead of bystanders, by supporting (not ignoring) victims of bullying:
- Don’t laugh, encourage the bully in any way, or become an audience for the bully.
- Stay at a safe distance, and help the target get away.
- Reach out in friendship, support the victim in private, and help the victim in any way you can.
- If you notice someone being isolated from others, invite them to join you.
- Tell an adult.
Forge new friendships.
Victims of bullying often share similar characteristics, among them a lack of self-confidence and limited peers. Use class time as a way to encourage new friendships amongst students. When working in groups or with partners, assign students to work together, instead of allowing students to choose who they work with. Pairing vulnerable students with student leaders can create a partnership that gives insecure students an opportunity to gain self-esteem, knowing they have a friend in their corner.
Open communication with parents.
Through school-wide communications, social media, or PTO/PTA groups, make sure all parents are familiar with your school’s bullying prevention policies; this way, they know what actions to take if their child is a victim of bullying. Share resources with parents that provide important information on types of bullying and the signs that a child is being bullied.