The role of schools in dealing with bullying

School bullying has been around for decades. Recent research results show that one out of four students dread going to school because of their experiences with bullies. Bullying in the past was an accepted part of growing up. Dr. Dan Olweus identified the problem as real and detrimental to the mental and physical wellbeing of bullied victims. Since Olweus’s pioneering studies, ongoing research has made bullying a focus of study.

Ted Feinberg (EdD, NCSP-Nationally Certified School Psychologist) relates that 15-30 percent of all students nationwide are either victims or bullies. It is the underlying cause of schools’ serious problems of suicide, substance abuse, absenteeism, and academic failure.

What many school administrators and teachers fail to recognize is that most bully behavior is surreptitious. Nearly 25 percent of teachers report that they do not believe bullying is a problem. There is a need to change this erroneous perception in schools. By not having a policy in place, it gives unspoken approval to the behavior of bullies. Victims have no recourse if the school system does not recognize the behavior.

In 1997, Dr. Olweus developed an approach that targets the contexts in which bullying occurs. His approach shows a reduction in bullying behavior by 50 percent.

Three tips for schools

1. There must be a schoolwide policy that offers interventions based on the following criteria: caring, respect, and personal responsibility; positive discipline and supports; behavioral expectations and consequences; skills development; increased adult supervision and parental involvement.

2. Lessons need to be developed within the classroom setting that teach positive behavior, and critical thinking skills. Parents should be a part of the classroom lessons with input and support.

3. Individual interventions that help the bully recognize destructive behavior and counseling. There should be support for the individual victims with counseling. Schools need to involve parents with both interventions and support.

How Schools Implement Programs

The school should provide assessments of the problems. Survey students, teachers, staff members and parents to find the areas of concern: targets, locations, times of bullying, sexual harassment, or cyber bullying.

Form a team to help coordinate the interventions. This should include administrators, psychologists, teachers, parents and students. They present the findings of the surveys and activities to enhance awareness.

Research shows that many school staff and parents do not believe there should be interventions because it takes time away from the core curriculum. Expect resistance and follow through with plans. Be sure that even the resistant adults are included in all plans.

Schoolwide Participation

The team should develop a code of conduct for the entire school community. The code should emphasize positive values of empathy, caring, respect, fairness and personal responsibility. The code should be clearcut. Guidelines are as follows:

  • Define expected behavior.
  • Define unacceptable behavior.
  • Consequences for violating the code of conduct.
  • The codes and consequences should be posted for all adults and children to see. 

The importance of involving everyone is essential. If the codes and consequences are consistent, school becomes a place of academic learning.