At Alliance, we often get asked what we do to address bullying and make school a better place for all students. In honor of National Bullying Awareness Month, here is a list that I often share with people who ask about the practices that make a difference for us. These may or may not be things that you can implement at your school right away, but even if you can’t do every one of these things, perhaps the list can start a schoolwide conversation at your school about what practices could make a difference for your students.
10 Things that We Do at Alliance and That You Can do Now to Reduce Bullying in Your School
1. Have your teachers trained in peacemaking circles and restorative justice practices. Alliance teachers use circles in the classroom regularly, so that the students are comfortable with them. When minor conflicts arise, these circles are an incredibly effective way of ending the conflict before it turns into violence or bullying.
2. Address name-calling immediately. Never let hurtful comments go unchecked. If you hear a student call another student a name or say something hurtful, express your disapproval. If this type of behavior is repeated, report the behavior to the parent and the administrator. If the behavior continues, report it again.
3. Have advisory classes where students focus on team-building and relationship strengthening, and have these advisory classes loop through the different grade levels, so that students form strong bonds with their peers. These classes are the cornerstones for relationships in the school, so be very deliberate in your planning and in assigning teachers to the advisories.
4. Involve students in decision-making for the school. When there are major changes being considered, have the students discuss the changes and vote on whether or not the changes should be made. Students need to feel that the culture of the school belongs to them and that they have the power to make the school experience positive for everyone involved.
5. Create a “Bullying/ Harassment Form” that students can fill out when they feel that they are being bullied. Be sure to make the forms readily available, and make the process for turning them in simple. The staff members who receive the forms should be comfortable addressing the complaint and following through with investigating and assigning consequences.
6. Have a “Student Discipline Council” that handles repeated incidents of bullying or disruptive behaviors. This council is made up of students who meet with students, discuss behaviors, determine consequences and mentor the student to improve behaviors.
7. Encourage students to start diversity clubs and gay-straight alliances, and then support the efforts of the clubs. The presence of these clubs sends a strong message about the school’s acceptance of all people.
8. Encourage students to bring bullying to your attention. Cyberbullying counts too. Either have them send you the messages that they see online (if you are a social media user), or have them print out what they see and bring it to you. Provide safe and anonymous ways for students to do so. Some kids will not report bullying if they believe that they will be named in the process, so be careful to listen and address the bullying without making the witness the new target.
9. Teach students about different cultures, beliefs, and practices, and teach them how to work with people who are different from themselves. This is not something that students automatically know how to do, and it is one of the most important qualities for the workplace.
10. Be sure to say “If it happens again, please come tell me again, so that I can know that my intervention didn’t work and I need to take more drastic measures.” Sometimes, when students report bullying and then it happens again, they think that the administrator did nothing, and the administrator thinks that it stopped, because nothing else was reported. Be sure to encourage students to come back if the behavior continues.
I hope this list gives you some starting points. I am sure that our students could tell you a dozen more things that make it work here. Perhaps my next blog will be messages from the students about how to address bullying in schools!
In the meantime, if you have questions or ideas that you would like to talk about, feel free to respond on my blog or to send me a message. And if you have seen other things that work, feel free to share those ideas here, as well. The goal is not to have any one person be an expert, but rather to always be sharing ideas and strategies so that all schools can be safe and accepting places for all students.