Ten Cost Effective Strategies for Bullying Prevention

In a time where district budgets are being cut and pressure is increasing on administrators to ensure student safety, solutions need to be developed that can meet both of these competing interests. One of the biggest issues facing students, parents, and school personnel today is the frequency and long lasting effects of bullying. Incidents of bullying can affect the school environment, the community, and most importantly the psychological and developmental state of the youth involved (e.g. victims, perpetrators, and bystanders). Specifically, students who are bullied have shown higher levels of anxiety, higher levels of depression, and are more prone to sleeping disorders (Fekkes, Pijpers, and Vanhorick, 2004). Bullying has also shown to increase fear in the school environment, interfere with academic achievement, and foster a low level of trust in adults (Griffin, 2012). The following ten strategies have shown success in reducing bullying incidents, and for the most part can be implemented with minimal funding:

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

- Benjamin Franklin

1. Assess Bullying at your School

In order to respond appropriately to any problem, it is necessary to have a full understanding of the problem. This entails knowing the frequency of the problem, when and where it occurs, and how effective current interventions are at mitigating the problem (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012a). Bullying is no different. By using surveys or focus groups, school administration can gather information from the school community and use the information to respond accordingly (Black, Washington, Trent, Harner, and Pollock, 2010). School administrators can assess the effectiveness of current prevention efforts, student/staff perceptions of bullying, and teacher responses to bullying, among many other topics pertaining to bullying on campuses (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012b). Gathering information and perceptions from all facets of the school environment allows for a more comprehensive evaluation of the problem.

Incidents of bullying can affect the school environment, the community, and most importantly the psychological and developmental state of the youth involved

A district or campus should first choose a survey that answers the questions they want to be answered and is appropriate for their students. Next, obtain consent from parents and students prior to the assessment and stress that the information gathered is anonymous (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012b). Once information is gathered, it can be analyzed and an action plan should be developed to address the findings. This information can be used to guide bullying prevention efforts for the future and can act as a baseline measure to test the effectiveness of new prevention efforts. Continued annual assessments should be used to evaluate the prevention/intervention efforts over time. This strategy is minimal in cost, but takes some dedication from staff. Administering a survey school-wide is time consuming, but the efforts will allow a more targeted prevention effort from the district/school.

2. Target Areas Where Bullying is Most Common

This strategy may seem simple and straightforward, but is a key component of prevention efforts. The first step, and often the most difficult, is to identify where bullying incidents occur most frequently. This can be done through the formal assessment conducted at the campus (#1) or from input given by staff, students, and parents (#4). Once these areas have been identified, an action plan should be developed to increase or restructure supervision assignments to target these areas. Schools should be creative and utilize all staff personnel when addressing target areas (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012a).

Schools should be creative and utilize all staff personnel when addressing target areas

Bullying Target Areas

It might be hard for teachers to leave their classroom and monitor these areas during the day, but other staff such as maintenance, office staff, and cafeteria staff can often give a few minutes between classes or during lunch to supervise the identified areas. Ttofi and Farrington (2011) conducted a meta-analysis of 662 bullying prevention programs, and concluded those that increased supervision were found to be the most effective. The fact that an adult is present will be a big part in the school's bully prevention efforts because it allows for fast and appropriate intervention.

3. Create a Safe and Supportive School Environment

In order to reduce the number of bullying incidents, a safe and supportive school environment must be established. A safe environment is one that allows children to focus on learning, and not about the next time they are going to be the victim of bullying. A supportive environment is one where members of the school community (teachers, administrators, and other students) step up and speak out for someone who is being bullied (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012a). It must be made clear both through policy and action that bullying is not tolerated. In terms of youth, it must become "uncool" to bully others and also "uncool" to watch others being bullied and not take action (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012b). Empowering bystanders to speak up against the bullying behavior they are witnessing is crucial in prevention efforts.

Empowering bystanders to speak up against the bullying behavior they are witnessing is crucial in prevention efforts

Creating a safe and supportive environment requires change in the norms and beliefs of individuals. It is not a simple behavioral change for a short time, but a cultural and attitudinal shift. A safe and supportive environment requires all staff (i.e. bus drivers, maintenance staff, cafeteria staff, teachers, and administrators) to be engaged in the efforts to change the environment (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012b). For example, encourage students and staff to be inclusive and reward them for it, stress the importance of respect, and ensure students are interacting appropriately. Adults in the school should lead by example. Though it is not easy to change a school environment and it often requires dedication, perseverance, and hard work, it can be done with minimal funding. Creating a safe and supportive environment is needed to ensure bullying prevention efforts sustain over time (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012a). This type of environment will create a culture where bullying is not accepted. Again, this cultural shift will not happen overnight, but should be the long term goal of bullying prevention efforts.

4. Engage Staff, Students, and Parents in Prevention Efforts

Administrators cannot implement bullying prevention efforts alone. Though a strong and dedicated administration is vital in implementing a successful prevention strategy, the support from members of the community is also needed in order to sustain the efforts over time (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012b). Members of the community include parents, students, staff, teachers, bus drivers, and community residents. This encourages everyone involved in the school to talk about the problem together. It allows the prevention efforts to not only occur in school, but extends them into the home and throughout the community.

Though a strong and dedicated administration is vital in implementing a successful prevention strategy, the support from members of the community is also needed in order to sustain the efforts over time

By engaging all members of the community, individuals will gain a sense of empowerment and feel a level of responsibility to contribute to the prevention efforts. In a sense, the school is extending its prevention efforts into the community and allowing for all stakeholders to have input on how to address the problem. Engaging adults and youth also fosters a deeper level of trust and communication between one another. A student is more likely to talk with an adult regarding a bullying incident if that youth perceives the adult as trustworthy and someone that can help again, this strategy requires little funding. It only requires that school districts/ campuses allow input from all members of the community when developing an action plan to address bullying.

5. Charge the School Safety and Security Committee with Coordinating All Bullying Prevention Efforts

It is required under Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code that schools adopt a school safety and security committee. This group's main goal is to handle all safety and security issues that pertain to the district/campus. This group can also assist in bullying prevention. For example, the committee can be charged with analyzing the data from the assessment (#1), collecting feedback from stakeholders, and ultimately implementing a prevention strategy (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012a). The group should act as a clearinghouse for all bullying prevention efforts for the district/campus.

This group should include members from the entire school community. This is often a good way to engage staff members, parents, and community members in the prevention efforts. Building a team that has a diverse background and set of skills allows for a comprehensive strategy to be developed. For example, a mental health professional may be able to provide guidance on how to treat such issues, parents can share the family components, and teachers can provide classroom difficulties associated with bullying (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012b). Having a diverse group handle all bullying prevention efforts for the district/campus allows for an organized, well-versed action plan to be created. It is important to include members who want to be on the committee and not require certain individuals to be on the committee that have no interest in the problem. There is no real cost associated to the creation of the group. Again, it requires time and dedication to making schools a safer place for youth.

6. Train/Teach Students and Staff about Bullying

All staff, not just teachers and administrators, should receive training on bullying prevention (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012a; United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012b). Staff (at minimum) should be able to identify the various types of bullying, be aware of the effects bullying has on individuals (victim, perpetrator, and bystanders), and have the knowledge to appropriately intervene when an incident of bullying occurs. Bullying incidents are not limited to just the classrooms where teachers are supervising. It has also been found to occur in areas where other school staff is present. A school can increase supervision in areas of need by training all staff in bullying prevention (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012a). It is more likely that a staff member (e.g. janitor or food service provider) will be working in the hallways or cafeteria than a teacher or administrator, thus training them will empower them to intervene.

All staff, not just teachers and administrators, should receive training on bullying prevention

It is equally important to teach youth about bullying, and there are creative and cost-effective ways to do so. Making sure students fully understand the components of bullying is an important step in prevention efforts, which does not necessitate an expensive commercial program. It is also necessary to provide students with guidance on how to appropriately intervene when they witness a bullying incident. A crucial part of a prevention program is empowering youth to act when they witness an act of bullying occurring. Districts/campuses should utilize free resources and also be creative in how the information is delivered.

7. Create and Enforce Clear Rules Pertaining to Bullying

In addition to inclusion in the district code of conduct, it should be made clear in the campus rules that bullying will not be tolerated. These rules should be discussed frequently with students and their parents. It is not enough to discuss the rules at the beginning of the year and not have follow-up discussions throughout the school year. The term bullying should be used explicitly in the rules and actions that constitute bullying should be clearly identified (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012a). To take it a step further, rules should not only forbid bullying, but encourage students who witness bullying to take action (bystanders). Clearly stating what is required of students who witness bullying will ensure students know the appropriate actions to take when bullying behavior is witnessed (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012a). These rules again should be clearly stated and use the term "bullying" explicitly. For example, use the term "bullying" in your school mission statement. A sentence in the mission statement could read "School X is committed to establishing a safe environment free of bullying, violence and harassment" (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012b). Make sure the rules are posted throughout the school, including classrooms, so students are frequently reminded of what is expected of them.

Once rules are clearly stated, they should be strictly enforced. If rules are enforced on some days and not on others, or for some students and not others, they lose all power to prevent unwanted behaviors. Like many of the other strategies discussed, enforcement requires all staff to be involved. Rules should be enforced in the same manner by all staff members. Typically, including all staff in the developmental process of the rules can ensure a better understanding of the rules and what is expected of staff in terms of enforcement (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012b). Schools that implement rules which are clearly stated and are enforced fairly and consistently have been shown to experience less bullying behavior (Cook, Gotfredson, Chongmin, 2010). The key to effective rules is clarity and enforcement. If rules are simple as well as consistently and fairly applied, they will be valuable assets in bullying prevention efforts.

8. Empower Staff to Intervene During a Bullying Incident

The previous seven strategies have encompassed #8 indirectly, but its importance requires it be directly stated. Empowering ALL staff to intervene may be one of the most important strategies when coordinating bullying prevention efforts (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012a; United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012b). All staff includes maintenance/janitorial staff, food service providers, office personnel, and any other adult present in the school on a daily basis. This strategy requires that all staff have the knowledge and authority to intervene when they witness a bullying incident (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012a). Staff should have the skills to actually engage the problem and handle it in an appropriate manner. It is not enough to have a staff member call the office to request the presence of an administrator to handle the incident. By that time, the incident may have taken place and the damage may be already done. Effective intervention requires staff diffuse the situation in the first 1-2 minutes (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012a). The key to this strategy is communicating to school staff that they have the authority to intervene.

9. Infuse Bullying Prevention Education into Existing Curriculum

Administrators should allow teachers to creatively infuse bullying education into their existing lesson plans. For example, a writing class can focus a paper around a bullying topic, or an art class can focus a project around depicting the effects of bullying from a visual perspective (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012b). In addition, it is also useful to allow teachers a short amount of time (20-30 minutes) every few weeks to discuss bullying and peer relationships (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012a). This will not only provide students with the prevention education they need, but also allow teachers to bring areas of concern to the safety and security committee for further analysis. A short amount of class time dedicated to bullying prevention coupled with creative assignment ideas that pertain to bullying will allow necessary information to be delivered to youth in a cost-effective way for the district/campus.

10. Continue Efforts over Time

Bullying prevention efforts are a continuous process with no established end date (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012a). Prevention should be considered an ongoing process and not simply a one-time event. These strategies should be built into the school culture over time. It is not realistic to think that in just one school year, all of these strategies can be accomplished to their full potential. The campus/district should continuously assess the bullying problem in an effort to alter or shift focus as time goes on.

Prevention should be considered an ongoing process and not simply a one-time event

Bullying Target Areas

(Original cartoon by Rob Tornoe: http://www.cagle.com/2012/10/bullying/)

All ten strategies can be utilized with minimal funding. On the other hand, these strategies take hard work, dedication, and a long-term commitment. Research has shown that these strategies are an effective course for bullying prevention efforts. They attempt to build a culture with clear rules, norms, and beliefs that do not allow for bullying.

Considering the damaging effects bullying can have on a school, the community, and the youth, it is vital that effective strategies are implemented. Implementing effective strategies have often been associated with a hefty cost. However, the ten strategies provided are evidence that with commitment and hard work, bullying prevention efforts can be effective without the large cost attached to them. These ten strategies are not all inclusive to prevention efforts, but rather a foundation for districts/campuses to build upon. Bullying prevention strategies will vary among each campus depending on certain environmental components. Therefore, each district/campus should consider the next steps in terms of their individual community.

References

Black, S., Washington, E., Trent, V., Harner, P., and Pollock, E. (2010). Translating the Olweus bullying prevention program into real-world practice. Health Promotion Practice, 11 (1), 733-741. Cook, P., Gotfredson, D., Chongmin, N. (2010). School crime control and prevention. Crime & Justice, 39, 313-440.

Elliot, M., Cornell, D., Gregory, A., and Fan, X. (2010). Supportive school climate and student willingness to seek help for bullying and threats of violence. Journal of School Psychology, 48 (1), 533-553.

Fekkes, M., Pijpers, F., and Vanhorick, P. (2004). Bullying behaviors and associations with psychosomatic complaints and depression in victims. Journal of Pediatrics, 144 (1), 17-22.

Griffin, C. (2012). Bullying: It's a very big deal. District Administration Magazine, April 2012 Issue, 26-28.

Ttofi, M., and Farrington, D. (2011). Effectiveness of school-based programs to reduce bullying: A systematic and meta analytic review. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 7 (1), 27-56.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012a). Best practices in bully prevention and intervention. Stop Bullying Now: Take a Stand. Lend a Hand. Retrieved April 19, 2012, from http://www.stopbullying.gov

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012b). Prevention at school. Prevent Bullying. Retrieved April 19, 2012 from http://www.stopbullying.gov