Real-World Tips for Anti-Bullying
By Bruce Van Stone
Today it appears that bullying incidents are under the microscope as much as they have ever been. Some would say this is an undesired outcome of an expanded role by the media and the public’s greater access to various forms of communication through technology. In fact, I believe this to be the opposite, as increased anti-bullying awareness has allowed school officials to take a closer look at the issues and to create discourse and implement programs that are and will continue to have positive effects with our student populations. Bullying, despite the greater awareness, has not really increased or decreased in this generation, but has simply changed. Twenty years ago, bullying was perhaps more physical and confrontational in nature, while being more hidden and impersonal in today’s world. Of course, a lot of the changes have been as a direct result of the Internet where bullying in some cases can be more anonymous, and less risky for the perpetrator.
The greatest change I believe is that today there is more of a willingness on the part of victims to speak out against bullying. More and more victims are sharing their stories, which give a face and voice to the issue and in doing so, makes it harder to ignore. As part of such a change, school programs like Beyond the Hurt (BTH) at George Street Middle School in Fredericton, New Brunswick, have come to the forefront of the anti-bullying movement. This is in response to the need for student voices to be heard along with the realization that students, in most cases of bullying, can be empowered to create positive and viable solutions for themselves and their peers.
Once trained in the BTH principles, students can go on to present what they know to other students, educators, parents and other community members, with the idea that in doing so, all stakeholders will be active in the problem-solving. Last year, for instance, teachers at George Street were involved in a presentation by the BTH group that made them more aware of where bullying is most likely to occur in the school, as well as being given tips that students felt would make their peers feel more comfortable in approaching teachers with bullying issues. I believe the most successful tactics required to address anti-bullying in schools should centre on open communication between staff and students and creating an environment where students feel empowered to come forward and discuss the bullying that they see and experience themselves.
As a middle school and high school student, I was bullied almost daily. Most of it was social and verbal and all of it had a long-lasting impact on me. At that time, I felt alone and powerless to change anything. Fortunately, schools now realize they can help students to empower themselves and can give them the tools and skills necessary to stand up against bullying. In the three years that I have been running the BTH program at George Street, student morale and attitudes towards bullying have changed dramatically. For example, a recent survey called “Tell Them From Me” conducted by The Learning Bar—a survey evaluation system designed specifically to address the needs of schools—revealed that our school was well below the national average in terms of the prevalence of bullying. We were also significantly above the national average in terms of how safe students feel in terms of attending our school.
Below, I’d like to share some of my tips on addressing bullying in the schools and some accompanying anecdotes on their efficacy.
What is Bullying? What are the Rules?
Once school starts, have an open and frank talk with your students about what bullying is and is not and make them aware that you have no tolerance for it. Ensure that students are aware that they have the power to help stop bullying and that it is not simply up to the teaching staff.
Identify At-risk Students
Work with your colleagues to identify at risk-students. Here is an example of how this proactive step has helped a former student at my school:
A teacher colleague of mine came to see me one day in October of last year and told me that she suspected one of her students was being bullied. She expressed the frustration of her suspicion, yet was able to do absolutely nothing about it because none of the student’s peers would acknowledge that it was going on. I too knew this student, so I also agreed to monitor the situation and my colleague and I agreed to talk again soon. A few days later, it happened that this student was standing right beside my desk. I noticed that there were some visible marks on his arm. I did not say anything at the time, but I asked him quietly to come see me at lunch. When he did, my colleague and I introduced our concerns to him. Immediately, the floodgates of tears opened. For the next half hour, he told us about the incessant bullying that he was enduring at the school and that cutting had become his way of coping with what was happening to him. Fortunately, he was able to get the help that he needed and is now on a road to recovery, emotionally and physically due to our instincts and our vigilance.
Assess Student Understanding of Bullying
After the first few weeks of a new school year, have your students complete a simple survey about bullying. Examples of questions I use are:
“Have you been bullied in any way since you started the year, and if so, please describe the situation/situations?”
“Where are some of the areas in the school that you see the most bullying?”
“How can you report bullying at our school?”
This simple survey helps educators understand what the present bullying situation is truly like at our school.
Get Students Involved
If your school has a student anti-bullying program, allow members to make formal presentations to their peers.
Below, Lauren Chartrand, a former George Street Beyond the Hurt member in grade 8 comments:
“In today’s society, youth are the biggest influence among each other, therefore having the biggest impact on one another. One of the biggest conflicts that every young person has faced at one point or another is bullying. But when it comes to addressing it, I find it’s more effective to let the students not only take part, but also to conduct the anti-bullying presentations. Often when teachers are in front of a class, students take in and process the information given as more of a lecture, which is the teacher’s job, but isn’t something that grabs the attention of kids. When students take the lead in doing these presentations it seems to intrigue their peers, and when doing so, it’s important to inform them that you are not there to lecture but to simply enlighten them on the topic of bullying. By doing so, not only do youth teach other youth, but they teach themselves along the way. You could almost say that youth have their own language with each other, and it’s important to know that not only are they the present but the future as well. Through these presentations I often remind my audience that they have to be the change they want to see in the world because we believe you can be.”
Have Class Discussions
Hold informal, but regular class meetings (about once a month) so that students can discuss any bullying occurring in or outside of the classroom. I generally lead the first few of these meetings, but then I allow students to talk to each other without me being present to give them the extra comfort of opening up. I appoint rotating anti-bullying monitors in the class to run these short meetings whenever I step out into the hallway. Students are told that I will only be made aware of issues if they are serious, but that they are to discuss and talk out/solve together as many issues as they can.
Below, Brooke Duffie, a former George Street Beyond the Hurt member in grade 8 comments:
“I think it is important to discuss bullying sometimes when teachers aren’t around because it gives students a chance to talk about the subject more freely. The majority of students would feel more comfortable talking about bullying with their peers or friends rather than with teachers. An idea could be maybe teachers could leave the room for a short period of time in a class every once in a while so students can have a chance to talk about past experiences or issues that they see going on and how often it occurs. In my opinion, this would be an effective way to get students to discuss bullying situations in a classroom together without feeling like they could potentially get in trouble with a teacher. I do understand that teachers are a great resource when it comes to addressing a serious bullying situation and all students should go to an adult if need be, but I think when it comes to just talking about bullying as a class, things might get resolved easier if a teacher was not present.”
Get parents involved early in the year. If a student is being bullied or is exhibiting bullying behaviour, bring in the parent along with the child for a conference to try to work on positive and helpful solutions.
Employ Covert Tactics
To get as authentic a picture as you possibly can concerning your class(es), drop by unexpectedly to observe them in less structured places (cafeteria, gym, hallways, etc.).
Ask other school staff that work with your students if they have observed any bullying behavior within your class(es) and agree to keep each other informed of any changes.
File a Complaint
Have your school create an anti-bullying report form that students can fill out explaining what happened and who was involved. The forms can then be dropped off in various drop-box locations throughout the school. Alternatively, schools can also create an online bully report form on your school’s website where students can report bullying incidents without having to be face-to-face with teachers or administrators.
Below, Megan Stone, a George Street Beyond the Hurt member comments:
“In George Street Middle School we have bullying report forms. If a student in the school has been bullied or has witnessed bullying, they fill out the report form and put it in one of the many report form boxes located around the school. When the school day is over a staff member collects all the forms and deals with the situation immediately. It would be effective in other schools because it is a confidential way to report bullying and you can get all the facts of the problem down on paper.”
Get to know the Grounds
Go on a school walking tour with your students and ask them to show you the places are where bullying is most likely to occur.
Find the Blind Spots
Make sure you don’t have any “blind spots” in your classroom where students can exhibit bullying behavior outside of your view.
Open Office Hours
Often, students approach teachers at the busiest times (when they are about to start or dismiss a class). Tell your students that if they observe bullying behavior or are victimized, that they can also write you a short note and put it on your desk for you to read at an appropriate time.
It is essential that kids see that when they do report bullying it will be taken seriously and handled discreetly, promptly, and effectively, by you and the school.
Below, Abby McAllister, a former George Street Beyond the Hurt member in grade 8 says:
“In my experience, having a teacher act quickly and with knowledge to a bullying incident is key. It takes courage for some students to approach a teacher and discuss bullying issues, and the student always expects the teacher to act and respond immediately. If the teacher doesn’t know how to react properly to an incident, then the student will most likely feel let down. I know that’s the case for me usually. I also know that when I report a bullying incident I want to know how the school dealt with the issue so that I know it has been resolved.
Just recently, there was a situation where I was faced with information a student told me that could have been life threatening. I didn’t know how to handle the situation so I contacted one of my teachers and waited for a reply. Soon enough I received a phone call from him telling me what to do. He told me how to handle the situation and he informed me on how he was going to deal with it. Later that day, he even thanked me for telling him about what happened. Before I told him about it, I wasn’t sure if I should have. But with the way he acted once I’d told him, it never made me regret it at all.
I strongly believe workshops or courses on bullying should be mandatory for teachers. Not only does the student who reports the incident have a lot of responsibilities, but so do the teachers.”
Encourage students who are uncomfortable approaching a teacher or administrator about bullying to do so in pairs.
Below, Mara Broad, a George Street Beyond the Hurt member states:
“When it comes to bullying, children, teens and maybe even adults feel the need to report such events in pairs. To me this is a more comforting way to discuss personal problems. It’s always easier to have a trustworthy companion by your side in case you get choked up, too emotional or perhaps they were even there at the time to witness the bullying. People tend to feel stronger or more confident when supported by a peer. There are some people who’d rather share things alone with someone they are close to or trust, that’s perfectly fine also. As long as you deal with the issue somehow.”
People Who Bully Aren’t the Only Ones Who Make Choices
Make sure students know that bystanders who take part in the bullying behaviour will face consequences for actions.
Have assigned students help monitor the hallways and hidden areas of the school at least several times a week.
Bullying is not something that is going to go away. It is something, however, that can be reduced significantly and requires that teachers, administrators, students, and parents share in their efforts to find positive solutions that encourage every student to enter the doors of their school each day with a smile and without fear of being a target. As teachers, we enter the field to make a difference in young people’s lives and we all do our best. As disheartening as it can be to try to play many demanding roles, we do need to remember every positive thing we do in a young person’s life will put them one step closer to self-love and respect. To me and to most of us, that kind of trade-off is worth it.
Bruce Van Stone is an educator at George Street Middle School in Fredericton, New Brunswick. You can contact Bruce at firstname.lastname@example.org.