How to prevent bullying in the classroom: 4 proactive tips for teachers

This article is provided to ACSA by Brandman University, an ACSA Partner4Purpose

4 Proactive tips for teachers

Bullying has become a widely recognized issue among our country’s young people. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than one in four students report having been bullied at school. And yet just 20–30 percent of bullied students notify adults.

Because of how the issue has ballooned, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Education released the first federal uniform definition of bullying in 2014. The three core elements that define bullying are: unwanted, aggressive behavior; observed or perceived imbalance of power that’s likely to be repeated; and the potential to inflict harm.

Join us as we dig a little deeper into the reality of bullying in the classroom today, discuss the impact these experiences can have on students and outline four actionable ways teachers can help prevent bullying.

The prevalent problem of bullying in schools

The power imbalance inherent in bullying scenarios can manifest in a number of different ways. Nicole Black, former elementary school teacher and tutor, offers some examples. “It could be physical strength, popularity or the knowledge of potentially embarrassing information,” she says.

Most bullying in the U.S. takes place in schools, outside on school grounds or on the school bus. Overall, 70.6 percent of students say they’ve witnessed bullying in their schools. Black highlights four types of bullying:

  • Social bullying includes purposeful social exclusion from a group, spreading rumors, telling others not to be friends with someone or other methods of intentionally isolating the victim.
  • Verbal bullying involves teasing, taunting, name-calling and threats to cause harm.
  • Physical bullying consists of actions like hitting, kicking, spitting at, tripping or pushing. It can also include exposure to a known food allergen, and even breaking or stealing possessions.
  • Cyberbullying includes spreading rumors online, sharing inappropriate information or pictures online, threats made over the internet, online impersonation or outing someone online.

While most realize bullying can damage a student’s school-age experiences, not everyone knows that these kinds of harassing behaviors can have a lasting impact. In fact, kids who are bullied are more likely to experience negative outcomes like periods of decreased academic achievement, anxiety, depression, loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed, and changes in sleep and eating patterns.

But bullying doesn’t just impact the students who are targeted. Kids who bully others are more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs in adolescence or as adults, get into fights, vandalize property and drop out of school. They’re also more likely to have criminal convictions or traffic citations — and be abusive toward their romantic partners or children later in life.

The Department of Health and Human Services data reveals that when bystanders intervene in instances of bullying, perpetrators quickly stop their harassment approximately 57 percent of the time. It’s undeniably important for teachers to take steps to prevent bullying in their classrooms.

4 Ways teachers can prioritize bullying prevention

If you need a clearer idea of how to prevent bullying among your students, you’ve come to the right place. These suggestions can help you maintain an effective learning environment.

1. Communicate your classroom expectations early

Dr. Cherilynne Hollowell, Brandman University adjunct faculty member and the host of Brandman’s upcoming webinar, “A teacher’s guide to preventing bullying in the classroom,” says teachers should be aware that differences in gender, gender identification, race, ethnicity, learning levels and socioeconomic levels often lead to bullying scenarios. This knowledge can help with setting expectations from the very beginning.

“Acknowledge differences and celebrate the diversity that exists in your classroom,” Dr. Hollowell says. “Plainly state that bullying is not going to be tolerated and that inclusion and respect are required in that space.”

Adam Cole spent eleven years teaching music in public schools and he currently serves as co-director of Grant Park Academy of the Arts. A former victim of childhood bullying, he paid careful attention to any signs of bullying among his students and took action when needed.

“Make sure there’s a climate of respect in the classroom, and that it’s regularly enforced,” he says.

Cole suggests establishing principles to combat bullying in your classroom — things like requirements for inclusion, respectful ways of speaking to one another and acceptable forms of conflict resolution — and making sure that all students agree to those principles at the beginning of each school year. He also emphasizes the importance of referring students back to these principles regularly.

2. Practice active listening with your students

Dr. Kristen Stein, director of Athena’s Advanced Academy, maintains that one of the most important things teachers can do to address and prevent bullying is to actively listen to their students. Above all else, people want to be heard and understood.

“Teachers who keep an open mind while actively listening to students begin to cultivate a classroom environment that fosters acceptance and kindness between students, minimizing the chances for bullying situations,” Dr. Stein explains.

Practicing active listening allows teachers to not only convey that their classroom is a safe place, but also model behavior that is accepting and kind. This provides students with a positive example of how to treat others or potentially handle difficult situations if they arise.

3. Learn to identify the typical signs of bullying

While pinpointing situations in which students are being bullied can be difficult, Ashley Hur, fifth grade teacher and education consultant for Money Done Right, recommends that you look for students who have any sudden change in behavior without obvious explanation. For example, a bullied student may stop spending time with friends they were once close to or might sit through the lunch period without eating their food.

“If you see examples of this in your own classroom, it may be a good idea to have a private discussion with the student who is acting differently to see if there is something going on in his or her life,” Hur offers.

4. Empower your students to break the cycle of bullying

Your students can be integral in helping to prevent bullying from becoming an issue in your classroom. Hur says one of the most effective ways to prevent bullying in schools is to empower students to break the cycle by teaching them ways to confront bullying behavior.

“I tell my students that if they’re faced with a bully, they can choose to empathize with them, as something must truly be going wrong in their own lives to be taking it out on you,” Hur says. She offers the following phrases to her students as options when confronting a bully:

  • “I’m so sorry for what it is that’s bothering you.”
  • “Do you want to talk about what’s going on in your life?”
  • “If you ever need someone to talk to, I’ll be here for you.”

But above all else, Hur stresses the importance of confronting bullies with a level head. It can be helpful for some students to confront bullies without any emotion or aggression, he says, because it shows they’re no longer a victim.

Prevent bullying in your classroom

As you explore various ways to prioritize bullying prevention in your own classroom, it can be helpful to consider the guidance of seasoned education professionals.

Be sure to tune in to Brandman University and Cherilynne Hollowell’s webinar, “A teacher’s guide to preventing bullying in the classroom,” on Wednesday, August 7, 2019. In it, you’ll learn how to identify different types of bullying and how to talk to parents about bullying as well as effective solutions to bullying and bullying prevention strategies. Plus visit Brandman University’s K-12 Professional Development playlist on YouTube to view full webinars for educators looking to enhance their teaching and learning strategies. 

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