It is fairly obvious that the overarching purpose of schools is to educate. However, the underlying and ancillary roles schools must fulfill in support of this mission are not always so apparent. For example, choosing the proper curriculum, coordinating multifarious logistics, or securing a safe learning environment. The role of schools in bullying is also one such ancillary role.
All schools, both public and private, are accountable to the student body and to the local community. Controversial and destructive behaviors, such as bullying, should be openly discussed and school administrators should be held accountable for preventing and / or minimizing the adverse effects of such behaviors. Parents and interested third parties can ask three questions when measuring the soundness of a school’s policy regarding bullying.
The first question to ask is, “Does the policy equip students and associates to control bullying?”
An effective anti-bullying policy includes a plan equipping students, teachers, assistants, and administrators with useful tools for identifying, moderating, and reporting bullying behavior. The tools can range from printed circulars to lectures and tutorials delivered on a regular basis. For example, children should be taught direct action steps to take when confronted by a bully [see my article How to deal with being bullied]. Teachers should receive training on how to spot the non-verbal warning signs of bullying. And, students who exhibit bullying behavior should be counseled, mentored, and coached so they learn more constructive ways to interact.
The second question is, “Does the policy ensure a safe and secure learning experience for all?”
Bullying turns schools into prisons and a prison is not conducive to scholarly learning nor do traumatized children make great students. Therefore, it is imperative that an anti-bullying policy establish a safe and secure setting for students. No student should experience prolonged or repeated episodes of fear instigated by another student. Just as schools provide guards at street crossings, stewards should protect students from bullying as they travel to and from school as well as the entire time they are on school grounds. The goal is not to establish a police like state, but rather, to implement the ‘sunshine principle”-boosting transparency by expanding the visibility of monitoring. Bullies, like cockroaches, run and hide from sunshine.
The third and final question, “Does the policy call for engaging the local community and soliciting their support?”
It should go without saying that parents must be an integral part of any anti-bullying policy. Regular reports should be sent to parents and they should be recruited to assist with monitoring. Parents can also help maintain a healthy context for discussions on bullying. Demonizing bullying behavior is just as counterproductive as ignoring it. Therefore, schools should partner with parents to ensure a rational, but conscientious atmosphere when addressing specific incidents. Additionally, local businesses and civic groups should be informed of anti-bullying policies and asked to report incidents to school officials OR to alert law enforcement if someone’s personal safety is at risk.
If the answer to any of the three questions is, “No,” a review of the policy and further discussion is warranted.