Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the school where I work could become a safer place through the reduction of instances of bullying. It goes without saying that bullying is a blight on school communities. Its effects can be far reaching and long-lasting. It happens in every school. From elite private institutions to comprehensive government schools serving a broad range of students. Nowhere is immune. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an effective whole school approach to anti-bullying. I’ve certainly never spearheaded one myself. This is partly the reason for my recent exploration of the academic literature around anti-bullying programs and rates of efficiency of such interventions. One interesting piece of literature that I came across by authors Joseph R. James and Sharon Murphy Augustine¹, posits several ideas about how schools can create effective Anti-bullying programs. Many of the ideas are rooted in common sense and I was surprised by the simplicity of the suggestions. This post seeks to provide a short summary of the article’s main recommendations so school leaders can make a strong start with their anti-bullying programs. Here they are:
  1. Create a shared definition/understanding of bullying. Having a common language/consensus of bullying puts all members of the community in a stronger position to accurately identify and then challenge instances of bullying.
  2. Engage all key stakeholders in the program: students, all staff, parents and the community. The piece does not detail when and how schools can involve these various parties, but school leaders should consider this as a part of the creative planning process.
  3. Teach empathy. Don’t assume students come to school with the characteristics that support healthy and harmonious relationships. Students should be trained in how to empathise with others.
  4. Assess the ‘climate’ of your school. This is a case of not allowing the cart to bolt before the horse! Fully understand the nature of bullying in your school context. Where is it taking place? Who is predominantly being affected? At what times of day is it most prevalent? These are just a few starting questions that could be answered via pupil surveys, focus groups etc.
  5. Prepare faculty and staff. Teachers and other staff will require training. According to the research on this topic, most staff do not intervene when students are being bullied. It’d be a lazy argument to attribute this to negligence. Assuming best intentions, let’s conclude that staff often lack the knowledge to effectively intervene when it comes to bullying. Ensure they get the training.
  6. Evaluate and assess programs. This is perhaps the most salient point of all. The awful Impact bullying can have on students’ lives requires us to ensure that our anti-bullying programs are effective. The role of data, both quantitative and qualitative, can play a critical role here. The authors suggest pre and post-program surveys to ascertain the level of impact.
Overall, the article was very illuminating by focusing on a manageable number of key ingredients required to form an effective anti-bullying program. They provide a useful framework for educators to construct interventions in this area. I hope that those reading this will be compelled to address this serious issue which can happen in any school. ¹Creating An Anti-Bullying Culture In Secondary School: Characteristics to Consider When Constructing Appropriate Anti-Bullying Programs