The following white paper was provided by One Call Now, a SunGard K-12 Education premier solutions provider.
Wherever groups of children interact, bullying has a way of rearing its head. The phenomenon is widespread—but it’s also avoidable. Schools can take action against bullying behavior by working to change culture. With focus and commitment, anti-bullying programs can lead to long-term change.
Bullying affects a reported 15 to 25 percent of students in the United States. It can be physical, verbal or psychological. It is characterized by an imbalance of power, repeated incidents between the same children, and an intent to cause distress or harm.
And harm it does. Victimization can have profound effects on children’s physical, psychological, and emotional health. And these effects can carry over to schools and communities. Every day, more than 160,000 students miss school for fear of being bullied. Prolonged attacks may lead bullied students to drop out of school permanently, abuse drugs, develop violent or antisocial behaviors, or grow dependent on public assistance—societal costs that could have been avoided if bullying were stopped.
Many school leaders see bullying behavior as a problem without a solution. A rite of passage. Just part of growing up. But recent research into the long-term consequences of bullying reveals an issue schools can no longer afford to ignore.
In a meta-analysis of more than 50 anti-bullying initiatives, bullying and victimization were reduced by 17 to 23 percent in one year in schools with programs, compared to those without. Programs that worked shared a number of key characteristics. Here we’ll look at six tips to help ensure program success for schools considering an anti-bullying program.
Ensure program buy-in from the top down.
Systematic change can’t be achieved without strong leadership. Responsibility falls to principals and deans to set the tone for the program, provide adequate time for training, and ensure guidelines are enforced. In successful programs, leaders undergo training, attend program-related meetings, and set clear guidelines for what is expected of teachers and staff. If educators detect ambivalence toward the program from higher-ups, they’re less likely to commit to it themselves. A successful program depends on everyone’s buy-in. That begins with leaders leading by example.
Choose a program that is data-driven and proactive.
Combating bullying requires a different approach than other disciplinary issues. That’s because bullying is not a conflict between equals, but rather an act of victimization. Peer mediation and conflict resolution techniques fail to address this problem. In addition, bullying almost always happens out of teachers’ sight. So simply asking educators to be more vigilant is also insufficient.
For an anti-bullying program to work, educators have to know exactly what they’re up against. One proven intervention is the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. The program begins with an anonymous student questionnaire. This helps educators identify when, where, and among which groups of students bullying is most prevalent—allowing schools to respond accordingly.
Says Dr. Marlene Snyder, director of development of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, “The basic message of this program is simple: how we treat each other is important; bullying is not accepted here.” Olweus aims to promote a preventative culture of respect before bullying has a chance to take hold. Program guidelines recommend a kickoff meeting at the beginning of each new school year, helping schools get started on the right foot.
Teacher-facilitated discussions with all students (not just those who bully or are victimized) clarify the parameters for interacting with others. This is more effective than a teacher intervening only after a problem occurs. The program also provides educators with research-based “scripts” for talking with students, allowing them to speak and handle issues with confidence.
Implement the program school-wide.
School-wide implementation is perhaps the single most important element of a successful program. Lasting change requires changing school culture. Training just one grade level or group of students won’t produce results. And because bullying can take place anywhere, from the playground to the bus stop, it must be enforced in more than just the classroom. Not only teachers, but also custodians, librarians, cooks, and paraprofessionals should be trained, aware of program guidelines, and prepared to respond.
A program shouldn’t end beyond school grounds. Successful programs also involve community leaders, like local police, churches, after-school programs, sports leagues, and more.
Clearly outline rules and consequences—and stick to them.
A list of anti-bullying rules should be posted in every classroom. The Olweus program recommends the following:
- We will not bully others.
- We will try to help students who are bullied.
- We will make it a point to include students who are easily left out.
- If we know someone is being bullied, we will tell an adult at school and an adult at home.
It’s not enough to simply post these rules. They must be actively enforced. Students must understand what each rule means, how to help those who are being bullied, and the consequences if rules are broken. Students must know exactly what to do in case of victimization, and must feel safe reporting incidents to educators and parents. Students must feel confident that once a report is made, an adult will handle the situation effectively.
A smart supplement to an anti-bullying program is an anonymous tip line. For example, using the Safe School Helpline® (a product of Security Voice, Inc.), students, parents, staff, and community members can report any threat to student safety, from weapon possession to drug use. Security Voice also provides a live, 24-7 suicide helpline, which students can use to speak with licensed psychologists to get needed support.
Keep the program strong with regular communication and feedback.
Handing out packets of program materials and hoping teachers read them offers little chance of program success. Instead, educators should be carefully coached and encouraged to refine their skills over time. The Olweus program recommends teachers meet regularly to share best practices. Regular follow-up questionnaires can reveal the classrooms where interventions are working, and where more effort is needed to create a safe and welcoming school climate.
Regular discussions keep lines of communication open between students and educators. And parents and community members stay informed with take-home program materials.
Commit to change over the long term.
As with any major issue, lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. And because schools deal with many competing priorities, an anti-bullying program may be easy to brush aside. A program like Olweus can take as many as six months to launch. Schools are encouraged to implement for a minimum of three years for true transformation. But the payoff is well worth the commitment: schools with less bullying tend to see test scores rise and dropout rates sink.
“One-time events, such as rallies, and awareness campaigns, like theme weeks, are fun,” says Dr. Snyder. “They might get people talking that week. But they don’t lead to change. Full-scale transformation requires digging in to your organization systems and developing policies and procedures that, over time, become habit. Positive organizational change takes time.”
Says Dr. Snyder, “As long as you’re committed and moving toward changing outcomes, you’re on the right track.”
Above all, schools must remain committed. What happens to vulnerable children if there are bullying prevention efforts one year, but not the next? The techniques that work well at one school may fall flat at another. Fortunately, many programs can be customized to meet schools’ unique needs. According to Dr. Snyder, program leaders needn’t worry about setbacks, bumps in the road, or lack of instant change. If these steps are followed sincerely, results will come with time.
About One Call Now
When Messages Matter
One Call Now is America’s largest message notification provider, with 20 percent of American households depending on the company for messages that protect, inform, and engage. Schools nationwide use One Call Now to send messages to thousands of staff and parents simultaneously. One Call Now is proud to support the mission of educators through partnerships with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, sponsorship of The Million T-Shirt March Against Bullying, free levy calls for schools, and KidsReadNow.org, One Call Now’s national summer reading program designed to stop the summer reading slide in elementary schools. One Call Now also offers access to the Safe School Helpline® to its clients for $1 per student. For more information, please visit www.onecallnow.com.
About the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program
The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) is the most well-known and best-researched anti-bullying program in the world. Based on the work of Norwegian psychologist Dr. Dan Olweus, the program is supported by more than 35 years of research and results. OBPP is a “whole-school” program, emphasizing the need for school- classroom-, individual-, and community-level support to ensure program success. For more information, please visit www.violencepreventionworks.org.
Hazelden Foundation (2007). Olweus Bullying Prevention Program: Scope and Sequence. Available at THIS LINK.
The Highmark Foundation. (2012).The cost benefit of bullying prevention: A first-time analysis of savings. Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Windber Research Institute. Available at THIS LINK
Ttofi, M. M., Farrington, D. P. & Baldry, A. C. (2008). Effectiveness of programmes to reduce school bullying. Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. Available at THIS LINK.