Bullying: Seven Ways to Protect Your Students
Vol. 13 No. 8
We’ve talked about digital harassment in the past, but recent events have reminded us that physical bullying is still alive and well. On April 21, a 16-year-old lost her life after a fight (allegedly over a boy) in the girls’ bathroom of a public school in Wilmington, Delaware. Rev. Sandra Ben of Pray Ground Community Church told the Delaware News Journal, “We know [violence] is happening in the streets. But now we are talking about violence happening in a place that normally should be a safe haven.”
Parents choose to send their children to your school, in part because they consider your community safer than the public alternatives. Still, bullying can occur anytime, anywhere—and occasionally, despite your best efforts to educate. (In a moment of cruel irony, this incident occurred in the middle of the school’s anti-bullying campaign season). So this month, let’s talk about the effective ways in which you can keep your school a predictive and supportive space for every student.
- Ensure your school’s policies address all forms of bullying, with clear procedures which include discovering the entire context of the situation before making judgements and assigning punishments to participants.
- “Kiss and make up” might end the immediate encounter, but won’t address the underlying issues at play during a bullying episode. Don’t be tempted to end the situation with an “easy out”—find out the reasons why this bullying occurred in the first place.
- Avoid canned activities. Students learn quickly what the “acceptable” answers are in such programs, but may have difficulty internalizing the lessons taught as applicable to their own lives.
- Bystanders—whether students, teachers, or administrators—have it within their power to stop a bully within 10 seconds of intervening in a negative episode. The community should feel empowered to discourage negative interactions while promoting uplifting relationships. It is the community’s responsibility—not solely the administrators’ duty—to maintain an anti-bullying, positive environment, and students and teachers alike should understand that responsibility.
- Make students’ relationship and social questions or problems an advisory emphasis, which includes making the advisor-advisee relationship one in which students feel they have an adult “ally” who has their backs in difficult situations. Advisors can keep an eye on his/her students for signs of stress and distress, and can ask a seemingly troubled advisee about what is observed ("You seem a bit distracted lately...") to start a conversation.
- Do not dismiss concerns as “just kids” or an issue being blown out of proportion. Ignoring a student’s raised problem or worry is a fast way to erode the student’s trust in authority figures, as well as possibly ruin an opportunity to prevent a more serious situation from developing.
- Know when you’re out of your element and need to bring in more experienced professionals, whether that’s a psychologist or social worker. Nurture those partnerships, so that when you need allies in your corner, they understand your school’s culture and student body. In fact, seek out additional training yourself in how to handle bullying situations!
Bullying can be insidious, rotting a student body from the inside out. Through proactive management in policy and the nurturing of trust and respect between adults and children, though, these toxic relationships can be effectively prevented to maintain a safe and secure learning environment for everyone.
Advisory programs are where student-adult relationships at your school start, and can help propel your students toward happiness and success—but only if they’re run effectively. Head to ISM’s Summer Institute for our highly interactive workshop, Hands-on Advisory: Curriculum, Themes, and Activities. There, you’ll learn core concepts for focusing and (re-)building your advisory program, based on decades of private-independent school research and taught by dedicated experts who understand first-hand the struggles and joys of a student advisor. Space is limited to ensure maximum attention to participants, so call 302-656-4944 to register.
Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Private School News Vol. 13 No. 2 Bullying: Address the Problem, Attack the Cause
The Source for Business Managers Vol. 8 No. 7 Are Administrators Guilty When Bullying Leads to Suicide?
The Source for Private School News Vol. 9 No. 4 Tips for Parents on How to Keep Their Children Safe Online
Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 36 No. 3 Addressing Bullying and Sexual Misconduct
I&P Vol. 34 No. 2 The ISM 37-School Parent Survey: Convenience Factors at Private-Independent Schools