There are many effective strategies for creating a school and classroom environment that promotes positive interactions and minimizes bullying. In essence, these are strategies to prevent bullying from moving from the Green Light Zone to a higher, more troubling level.
Be a positive role model
Teachers set the tone in the school, and adolescents are sensitive to the tone and behaviour of their teachers. It is important for teachers to remember to speak the way they want students to speak and to behave in a positive manner to set an example. If teachers are supportive and respectful of their students’ differences and difficulties, most students will adopt that style.
While teaching is a rewarding profession, it is also a challenging one where teachers are “on stage” every moment of the school day. It’s natural to become tired and frustrated with difficult students, but there is a danger in letting these feelings show or affect your behaviour. If teachers make demeaning comments to troubled students (e.g., “How many times do I have to tell you things again and again? Why can't you remember anything?"), they provide a vivid model of bullying behaviour, and inadvertently give the other students in the class permission to bully the troubled peers.
Work with students to develop clear guidelines for behaviour
Students need clear guidelines as to what is acceptable and what is not. At the beginning of the school year, encourage student participation in creating a few key rules for the classroom. These rules can be posted and serve as a reminder to all. The beginning of the school year is also the best (though not the only) time to put issues of bullying on the table. Topics to touch on include:
· understanding the full range of bullying behaviours, from teasing, to harassment, social exclusion, and so on
· what might be effective to say and do when being bullied or when one witnesses bullying
· the importance of trying positive strategies to escape or defuse a bullying situation rather than trying to use aggression to discourage those doing the bullying. (Note, research shows that if a young person who is being bullied responds aggressively, the bullying is likely to continue and may accelerate.)
Ensure that consequences are appropriate, timely, and consistent
Appropriate consequences for bullying must be educational and should match the severity of the bullying behaviours. Examples of educational consequences might include:
· reading and reporting on a story or novel about a person who is bullied or victimized,
· writing an essay or poem of what it feels like to be victimized,
· apologizing, in person or in writing
· trying to repair the relationship problem
Consequences must be applied immediately and consistently in order to have an impact.
Apply consequences to all students involved in bullying
It is important to recognize that a bullying episode rarely involves just one student. One student may be the instigator or primary actor, but others may be watching, joining in, or actively encouraging the bullying. Those present during bullying and are not part of the solution by intervening in some way, are part of the problem. They must be included in the discussion and consequences for bullying. Consequences or interventions must be monitored closely and documented to ensure aggression does not reoccur.
There are many creative and positive strategies for addressing bullying problems that focus on the group of students involved in a bullying episode. One of these, developed by Anatole Pikas, is the “Method of Shared Concern”. With this method, a trained teacher, administrator, or counsellor speaks to each involved student individually to help them gain an understanding and show empathy for the victimized person. When all students have shown some recognition that their bullying has caused distress to another and that this is a problem, the group is brought together for a common agreement that the bullying must stop, at the very least for peaceful co-existence. Follow up is essential.
A similar method is the “Support Group Approach” (formerly the “No Blame Approach”) developed by Barbara Maines and George Robinson. They advocate that trained staff work with students as a group from the start. When students reach consensus that their behaviour is inappropriate and causing distress, the adult establishes a verbal contract with the students to engage positively with the victimized person and avoid bullying. Follow up with both the victimized student and those who have been involved in bullying is essential.
Continue to monitor the situation and apply further consequences if needed
Follow up is essential with students engaged in bullying, because this pattern of interacting may be difficult to stop if peers continue to reinforce it with their attention. If one consequence for bullying is not sufficient, then the discipline needs to be progressive (i.e., escalating in severity), but at the same time still educational. For example, if a student is engaged in excluding another from the lunch table, and continues to exclude and isolate the victim even after intervention, a possible next step might be to have the student spend lunchtime alone for one or more days.
Help students understand their behaviour
We all learn by making mistakes and adolescents sometimes need help with understanding that. Almost all children explore their power through bullying. Most recognize that they are hurting others and stop. Those who continue to bully may need help understanding the seriousness of their behaviour, the impacts on others, and the peer dynamics that may be leading them to bully. Teachers can try teaching these concepts in the same way that any other curriculum content might be taught, including by assigning homework, projects or extra practice.
Proceed one step at a time
Effective discipline unfolds in many small steps with increasing consequences, each of which teaches something.
Focus on positive behaviour, including yours
All children, including adolescents, thrive on positive reinforcement. It is the catalyst for positive social development. Researchers have estimated that for any kind of peak performance students should get 10 positive consequences to every negative. Hence it is vital that teachers recognize and encourage students when they are engaging in healthy relationship behaviours, rather than only paying attention when they see bullying or negative interactions. That is, catch them relating appropriately and give them positive feedback right then and there. Examples of comments might include:
· ”I’m impressed with the mature way you guys settled your disagreement.”
· “That was a respectful way to ask him to stop. I like that.”
· “Man, you guys are working together like a well-oiled machine! Well done!”
· “The whole class cheered him on to solve that tough math problem. That was very cool and it’s one reason why I love this class.”
Such a positive approach fosters a sense of optimism that the students can change their behaviour for the better. When adults invest positively in youth, it pays dividends at home, school, and in the community.
In responding to bullying, it is important that adults model positive problem-solving strategies and avoid the appearance of “bullying the bully”. If students are disciplined in a harsh way, they take away the message that it’s acceptable to bully, but only if you’re an authority figure. Youngsters who bully need positive relationships with adults in order to learn how to be positive with their peers. Teachers and parents can promote respect and positive relationships by noting and reinforcing even small behavioural steps in the right direction.
Remember that bullying often occurs when adults aren’t looking
Students are aware that teachers disapprove of bullying, so bullying in the classroom is most likely to occur when the teacher is otherwise occupied or out of the room. As well, students use verbal and social forms of bullying that are subtle and hard to catch. Similarly, studies show that outside the classroom students are more likely to bully in locations that are crowded and not closely monitored by teachers.
With an understanding of the nature and subtle forms of bullying, as well as the peer dynamics of bullying, teachers and other supervising adults may be more equipped to identify when it is occurring. Sometimes young people who are being victimized will not speak up because of fear or shame. These students may be more open to talk about what happened in a private conversation. If they explain that they are being bullied, thank them for their courage and openness and assure them that you will help to keep them safe.
Stay connected with the family
Note: In many jurisdictions adolescents have legal privacy rights that include the right to refuse consent for teachers to share information with parents. The following assumes that such consent, if required, has been obtained.
Regular and open communication with parents regarding their child's development is essential. Alerting parents as soon as possible when a student has been observed to have relationship problems facilitates collaboration to offer immediate support.
Parents are important partners for schools in managing adolescent students, and the students benefit when the messages and expectations for appropriate social behaviour are consistent across home and school. Emphasising the importance of healthy relationships, positive problem solving, and social responsibility is crucial both at home and school. Some parents may need support in understanding just how important this can be.
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Adolescents who are experiencing some problems with bullying behaviours require all of the strategies described in the green light area plus a bit more intensive, focused support.
Students who repeatedly bully others need support to develop a variety of skills, including:
empathy (identifying with how others' feel)
emotional and/or behavioural self-control
how to cope with their own feelings (e.g., sadness, worry, fear)
positive social interaction with peers
positive problem solving
recognition of, and resistance to negative peer pressure
There are many school-based programs available that help students develop these skills (e.g., Character Education), but teachers and other school-based professionals can also discourage bullying through informal coaching in “teachable moments” throughout the day. Guidance counsellors, physical education teachers, sports coaches and itinerant mental health professionals are obvious staff who can contribute here, but any teacher who has a warm, caring relationship with a student can provide support for the development of the mature social and emotional skills listed above. The key is to act early when bullying behaviours seem to be emerging or getting worse.
Adolescents who bully even at a mild “yellow light” level need adult support to boost their capacity and motivation for successful relationships. They may benefit from help in recognizing the impact of their behaviours on others and finding positive ways of building status and acceptance in their peer group. Studies have shown that students who bully tend to be overly susceptible to negative peer pressure. However, they can be helped to recognize the group dynamics, such as peer attention, that lead them to bully, and can learn to develop strategies to stand up to peer pressure. With focused support, these students’ bullying behaviours should decrease so that referral to a professional is not required.
1. Assess the Problem
Because adolescents who bully differ so widely, it is important to assess a student’s specific difficulties and motivations in order to tailor the interventions for that student. There are many approaches to assessment:
It is important to speak with the student to gain insight into his or her perception of the bullying problem. This can help determine what the motivation might be to engage in bullying. Try to identify any stresses in the student’s life that may be underlying the use of power and aggression with peers. For example, some young people who are victimized in one setting turn around and bully in another setting where they can assert power and control. On the other hand, some students may simply be enjoying the sense of power over more vulnerable students with little concern for their feelings.
Obviously discretion is extremely important here, but it can be instructive to speak with other youngsters about the kinds of bullying behaviour they have observed, participated in, or experienced. Even if they don’t want to “name names”, their knowledge of the situation will always be far more accurate and detailed than that of teachers or other adults in the school.
Observations of students in class, during transitions, and at lunch may also give clues as to the nature of their bullying problems. Is there a pattern as to when they bully, such as when they are with younger students, with certain friends, or when they are not engaged in structured activities? Are other students encouraging the bullying by paying attention to it or even joining in? Does it occur in only certain locations?
2. Identify skills needed
Using the information gathered above, and perhaps in collaboration with colleagues, try to determine which social/emotional skills the student needs to develop, such as:
· emotional and/or behavioural self control
· managing feelings, e.g., sadness, worry, fearfulness
· positive social interaction
· positive problem solving
· resisting negative peer pressure
3. Consult With Parents
Parents are partners, and it is important to keep them informed (assuming the adolescent student has consented). As well, it is important to consult with them in creating a plan for school and home to encourage positive social behaviour and reduce bullying. Parents are also helpful in providing further information, for example, if and how bullying occurs at home, and the age at which it began. Note that parents are not always concerned about bullying, particularly in their sons, and may not be cooperative in reducing the problem. In such cases it is best to indicate that the school does take the problem seriously and will work to reduce it even without parental assistance. In such cases it is still important, perhaps even more so, that parents be kept informed.
4. Educate the Student
Even with adolescent students who might have a long history of difficulties with bullying, it’s imperative to discuss again what bullying is, why it is not acceptable, and the specific consequences that will ensue for bullying. This discussion must occur consistently and immediately after a bullying problem has been identified.
5. Provide Consequences That Are Educational
Consider that as well as negative or punishing consequences, students also need positive lessons to learn when they make the mistake of bullying others. Even if the consequence is simply “a lecture”, include a discussion of what happened, why it happened that way, and what they could have done differently to avoid bullying. Consequences should also help students to develop the social/emotional skills they are lacking. A simple example would be requiring the student to read a short story with an anti-bullying theme. Examples of other educational consequences include:
· replacing a privilege such as free time in a spare period or a sports team practice, with something that develops social/emotional skills such as tutoring younger students (under supervision), or reading and reporting on a novel or story with a particular emphasis on understanding the impact of bullying
· asking the student to make amends, for example with a letter of apology
· having the student help out around the school with younger students in the library etc.
· any other consequence that provides a certain amount of punishment for bullying, but allows the student to be recognized for positive behaviours and for leadership potential.
When delivering consequences, focus on the bullying behaviour and avoid labelling the student as the problem or as a "bully". Remember that relationships are key. Adolescents are willing to work at change to please adults they value, trust and/or feel close to. It is important, therefore, to maintain a positive relationship and avoid being hostile in punishing inappropriate behaviour.
6. Provide Ongoing Positive Support
Youngsters are most likely to improve their behaviour when they receive positive support from the adults in their lives. There are many ways to approach supporting students who tend to bully, including:
· providing discrete praise and attention when they use appropriate behaviour to gain peer approval (e.g., contributing to class discussions, providing ideas for activities, volunteering in the community)
· rewarding attempts at leadership such as leading off a class discussion, volunteering answers in class, offering to lead a group, getting involved in school politics such as student council
· meeting in private with the student occasionally to discuss progress and expressing pride in their efforts.
Consulting with other teachers who are familiar with the student may generate other ways to provide positive feedback when “catching them behaving well”.
7. Keep Records and Monitor
A one-time effort to support students who show yellow light levels of bullying behaviour will likely not be enough. Support strategies will probably be required for some time to combat the effects of negative peer pressure or whatever else underlies this mild yet worrisome behaviour. It will be important then for the interventions to be systematic and progressive, and equally important to document the bullying problems and the consequences implemented. This record will provide a basis for future interventions and for reporting to administrators and parents.
8. Build on the positives with positives
Development of relationship skills is enhanced when adults can pick up problems and provide coaching on the spot. Adults need to anticipate situations when problems may arise and provide momentary reminders and encouragement to:
· think of the needs of others
· tune into the moral compass (i.e., the inner sense of right and wrong that we all have)
· remember expectations
This may help students to refrain from using power and aggression to control or distress others and to find positive ways to achieve power and status.
Several commercially available programs designed to help develop these social skills have been shown in studies to be relatively effective. One example (though there are many others) is the S.N.A.P. program (Stop Now and Plan) which provides teachers with strategies that they can use to support students who are experiencing problems with bullying. There are simple things teachers can do in the classroom and around the school to foster these skills as well. Below are examples of strategies to use in developing skills in specific areas.
Strategies for promoting empathy
Goal: Help students recognize and label their own and others' feelings.
This is an extremely important goal since a well-developed sense of empathy makes it almost impossible to bully another person. Empathy is similar to sympathy, but more at a “gut level”. That is, one doesn’t just understand how others feel, but can identify with and share those feelings. Development of empathy begins by learning to identify our own feelings, a skill referred to as “Emotional Self Awareness” in the Emotional Intelligence literature.
Support for identifying feelings can be provided through systematic social skills programs, but also in the moment (e.g., "You look upset, what are you feeling?"). As well, there are many points within the high school curriculum where feelings can be discussed and related back to students’ own experiences.
Being able to recognize one’s own feelings facilitates learning to read others' feelings. This can be supported again in "teachable moments", for example, when a student has bullied someone and is immediately led through a discussion of the effect this has on the victim or target (e.g., "How do you think John feels right now, after you called him that name?").
To explore some additional strategies designed to promote empathy teachers can research approaches such as:
· role playing
· classroom discussions
· novels, short stories, movies or TV programs about victimization
· the Method of Common Concern (an intervention for bullying, first devised by the Swedish psychologist, Anatol Pikas)
Strategies to help students control their emotions and behaviour
Goal: Help students stop and think about the consequences of bullying by learning to control or “regulate” emotions and by planning an effective problem-solving strategy.
Teach strategies for controlling emotions and behaviour
Although bullying often happens in a planned or purposeful way, it can also erupt as a result of anger, resentment or some other emotion. In fact, some young people with bullying problems have missed important early childhood lessons on how to control their emotions and behaviours. These students need support in learning to recognize the signs that they are becoming angry, agitated and/or frustrated, and then in learning strategies to control those emotions and the resulting behaviour.
These lessons can be delivered through systematic anger management programs, but might be more effective in this yellow light zone if they are offered and rehearsed in the heat of the moment when difficulties arise. It is important, of course to bear in mind that teens react differently in front of the peer group than they do in private or in small group situations.
Teachers and parents can be effective if they are tuned into the youngster’s experiences and are able to recognize when he or she is becoming agitated. This provides an opportunity to discretely suggest the young person take note of how he or she is feeling right now (e.g., heart pounding, tense), and then arrange for a private discussion soon after to focus on strategies for calming down (e.g., counting to 10, breathing in and out for 8 seconds each, relaxation techniques, etc.)
Talk about the role of emotions in bullying behaviour
Related to the above, when emotions, especially anger or frustration, are running high students might act before thinking. It is important to help them recognize what situations trigger a flood of emotions that tempt them to lash out by bullying others. Understanding what the triggers are will help students resist giving in to the temptation to act out their emotions through bullying vulnerable individuals.
Pick up on "teachable moments"
While difficult in the secondary school environment, picking up on moment-to-moment opportunities for coaching will help students learn what is acceptable and what is not. It can also provide immediate feedback on the impact of bullying on others. When teachers observe even minor bullying in the classroom, in the hallways, or on the school grounds, it provides one of these "teachable moments". In these moments, students can identify their own and others' feelings and can learn by "rewinding" the action and replaying the interaction in a way that is not hurtful to others. Although it requires time and sensitivity to peer influences, intervening in the teachable moment can provide great potential not only for learning, but also for setting a positive tone for interactions in the school. Of course, this kind of intervention is far more effective when the teacher has previously established a supportive, positive relationship with the student.
Deliver constructive, educational consequences
As mentioned earlier, it is important to provide consequences that teach something about the attitudes, skills and emotional control that we all need for healthy relationships. When constructive consequences are used, they not only provide important education, but also reduce the likelihood that the student will become angrier and retaliate against the victim to discourage reporting bullying issues.
Strategies for supporting students with “internalizing problems” (e.g. sad, worried, fearful)
Goal: Help the student develop skills for coping with sadness, worries or fears.
Be aware of the link between bullying and sadness, worries or fears
Some adolescents who bully are also sad and experience excessive worries or fearfulness. These are the youngsters who are most likely to be involved both in bullying others and being victimized themselves. With their emotional problems, these children have difficulties establishing friendships. They rely on negative strategies, such as bullying, to get attention and to gain acceptance.
Seek out established programs to help students deal with these feelings
As with other problem areas, some adolescent students who are sad, worried or fearful will benefit from established programs. One such program for anxiety, developed by Phillip Kendall, is the Coping Cat program (see Coping Cat). Children and adolescents who experience excessive worrying, fearfulness and/or sadness need help recognizing their feelings and being able to reframe situations and cope with their emotions.
Other similar programs are available and might be effective with yellow light levels of these negative emotions, but teachers should consult with Guidance staff or mental health staff about their usefulness for this age of young person.
· Engage parents
As already mentioned, it is important to ensure that the adolescent student’s rights to privacy are not breached.
The emotional problems that adolescents experience often emerge from troubled family relationships. It is important, therefore, to engage parents in supporting children with emotional problems.
To engage parents in a sensitive manner, teachers are encouraged to have a supportive discussion, preferably face-to-face. In this discussion, teachers can describe their observations and concerns regarding the student, and inquire as to how the parents see their child with regard to these specific problems. Teachers can build supportive strategies collaboratively with parents so that, as much as possible, the youngster will get the same messages, encouragement and expectations at home and at school.
It is important to keep in touch regarding any improvements and challenges. If these so called “internalizing emotions” escalate beyond the yellow light zone, teachers should recommend a referral to mental health services either within the school system or within the community.
· Be a positive role model
As with other forms of effective relationship skills, adults are constantly on stage as models that adolescents might emulate. It is essential, therefore, that teachers and parents:
o model positive coping strategies
o discuss their own frustrations, fears or worries
o talk about how they manage to solve problems and remain positive, even under stress.
Strategies to help students with social skills problems
Goal: Help students develop the social skills, attitudes, and motivation to interact positively with others.
· There is a wide range of social abilities among adolescents who bully. Some are highly skilled and perceptive, while others are unskilled in social situations and are not able to recognize the impact of their behaviour on others. Observations of and discussions with children and their parents will reveal their level of social skills and provide direction for support.
· Social skills that may need developing include:
o joining a group of peers
o responding to provocation
o turn taking, particularly in conversation
o recognizing another's feelings
o controlling anger
o thinking about right and wrong
o getting positive attention
There are several tested and proven social skills programs, such as the S.N.A.P. program (Stop Now and Plan), at Stop Now and Plan
. Programs such as SNAP provide teachers with ideas and strategies to support students who are experiencing problems with bullying. Each student will need support in developing particular skills, depending on individual strengths and weaknesses. But beyond these programs, which may or may not be practical for any given teacher, there are strategies that should be helpful in the Yellow Light Zone, including:
seize on "teachable moments" for coaching
With social skills, as well as other skills that student’s may lack, moment-to- moment coaching can help them learn how to engage in a positive way with peers and adults. Using teachable moments (again being sensitive to peer group pressures), encourage the student to "rewind" and try again in a positive way. Some adolescents need exactly this type of repeated lesson to develop the skills that they should have started to learn early in elementary school.
involve parents in planning strategies and supporting the student
Consistency from school to home is important, but teachers often report that the parents of students with social skills problems are difficult to engage. These parents may not have had the necessary support to develop their own social and problem-solving skills and may therefore be struggling with the challenges of parenting an adolescent.
· Students who experience social skill problems at school most likely also experience these problems at home and in community settings. Again, being sensitive to an adolescent’s legal right to privacy (even with regard to his or her parents), teachers can try to raise concerns in a positive and supportive manner. Inquire about how the parents perceive their child and whether they have seen any of these social skill problems at home. To engage parents in a sensitive manner, teachers are encouraged to have a supportive discussion, preferably face-to-face. It is important to approach these discussions in a positive, solution-focused manner. Other tips for engaging parents include:
Focus on the student’s strengths. Every student has strengths, and parents will be more receptive if teachers focus first on strengths and then on the challenges that a youngster is experiencing.
Be concrete. It is important to be concrete in describing observations of difficulties that a student has been experiencing socially, and any strategies that have already been used to promote social skill development.
Collaborate on solutions. Once a common goal of helping the young person to develop the skills for safe and healthy relationships is established, teachers can build supportive strategies collaboratively with parents, so that the student experiences similar or compatible approaches at home and at school.
Stay in touch. It is important to keep in touch with parents regarding the child's improvements and challenges.
Work together to keep track of progress
· One strategy here is to keep a communication book that highlights the successes the student has had during the day at home and at school, as well as any difficulties encountered. Although the purpose is to facilitate home-school communication, this book would be the property and responsibility of the student. Positive comments should significantly outnumber negative comments since studies have shown that:
o to change behaviour young people need about 10 positives to every negative, and
o only positive reinforcement reliably improves social interaction abilities.
· If the home-school communication and coordination are not adequate to support the student’s development of social skills, then teachers should consider recommending a referral to mental health services either within the school system or within the community. Bear in mind that adolescent students will need to be a part of the conversation here, since they can, and often will, be reluctant to seek community-based counselling.
Strategies for positive leadership skills
Goal: To help the student find positive ways to achieve power and status.
Bullying is about power. Adolescents who bully want to be recognized as powerful within their peer groups and want to feel a sense of control. This is not necessarily a bad thing since we as adults have this kind of power and value it. The important distinction for young people, however, is to obtain and use their power positively rather than negatively. Bullying is a negative way to obtain and use of power, but students who bully may well have leadership potential. The following are a few suggestions for engaging students who bully in positive leadership activities:
Students who bully can be taught the steps for effective conflict mediation and positive leadership by volunteering for peer mediator training if available at the school.
Students who bully may find it rewarding to be a buddy for a younger child who is isolated or experiencing some social difficulties.
Students who bully might prepare and deliver a presentation for their classmates and other grades on bullying and why it is damaging to relationships.
There may be tasks within the school that would enhance a bullying student's reputation in a positive way.
Students who bully may have skills in a particular area, such as music, art, or computers which would allow them to help others who are having difficulties in these areas.
For some students who bully, running for student counsel or some other position of leadership might be an experience whereby they learn the power of positive relationships in attaining a goal.
In all of these positive leadership activities, it is important to monitor the interactions to ensure that students are in fact using their power positively rather than negatively.
Strategies for encouraging alternative problem solving
Goal: To help the student:
recognize and analyse problems that need to be solved
think about strategies other than bullying to solve problems
consider the potential outcomes of the various solutions.
Adolescent social problems can be quite challenging. Those students who often resort to bullying tend to be unskilled in social problem-solving. What’s worse, the youngsters they tend to pick on are often similarly unskilled. The following strategies might help:
Directly train students in positive approaches
Students who lack emotional and behavioural control, may rely on bullying as their first problem-solving strategy. However, bullying does not solve problems in the long term; in fact, it often will create more problems. Training these students to stop and think about what else they could say or do in difficult or frustrating social situations is one way to promote effective problem solving.
· Seize "teachable moments" for coaching
Moment-to-moment coaching is a good method for supporting alternative problem solving. When students are facing social problems, observant teachers can subtly intervene and coach them to consider a variety of strategies to approach the problem. Here are a couple of example conversation starters:
o "I noticed yesterday that you seemed a little aggressive when you joined a group for lunch and they looked a bit uncomfortable. Did you notice that? Do you want to discuss some ideas for joining in more smoothly and keeping things friendlier?"
o "In first period I was a bit disappointed at how angry you were getting in the discussion about women’s rights. The other kids didn’t buy some of your arguments and that seemed to frustrate you. Want to talk about ways you could have calmed things down and come across as more reasonable and persuasive?”
· Be a positive role model
As with other forms of effective relationship skills, adults are constantly on stage as models for adolescent's learning. It is essential, therefore, that teachers model the many positive ways to approach and try to solve social problems.
Strategies for teaching resistance to negative peer pressure
Goal: Help students to tune in to their own sense of right and wrong and to cope with pressure from peers to engage in antisocial behaviours.
Studies suggest that kids who bully are more apt to respond to negative peer pressure than those who do not bully. Deviant and risk-taking behaviours such as bullying often result in a great deal of peer attention, and this can enhance a youngster’s power and status in the group. An adolescent who feels that bullying is the only behaviour that gains him or her that peer group acceptance, will always feel pressure to behave in that way. To combat this problem consider the following strategies:
· Raise awareness about peer pressure. The first step in responding to peer pressure is becoming aware of it and self-aware of how it affects us. The teacher can lead class discussions on this important topic, or have one-to-one, private discussions with individual students. Young people may readily admit that they went along with others in a group that was bullying because they did not want to look “uncool” or to become the next victim. If students can learn to stop and think about peer group pressure to behave in ways that don't feel quite right, they may be able to tune into their deeper sense of right and wrong and decide not to follow along.
· Explore possible responses to peers. Youngsters not only need to be able to decide that something is wrong, but they need a ready response to peers who are pressuring them. Talking through what they might say or do when pressured to bully or otherwise behave inappropriately, can arm them with a variety of responses to save face and defuse the situation. For example, students can feel empowered simply by rehearsing responses such as:
o "That doesn't feel right to me."
o "That doesn't sound fair."
o “I think that will get me in trouble”
o “I’m simply not comfortable with that.”
· Build self-esteem. Studies have shown that adolescents with strong self-esteem are more able to resist negative peer pressure. Although some of the determinants of self-esteem are genetic, there are still some things teachers can do to help build this important trait in their adolescent students. Examples include:
o Help to build a sense of accomplishment. Focussing on each student’s strengths is the beginning point here, but it is equally important to teach students to set goals, both long and short term, and to celebrate as each is achieved. Students who struggle academically, for example, are often surprised when taking a look back at where they were one year ago, and seeing how far they have actually progressed. Similarly, students who bully need to celebrate any improvements in that behaviour, as well as being reminded that teachers are aware of those areas where they excel.
o Be a warm, caring teacher, even with regard to those students who are struggling with bullying issues. Current research on resiliency clearly shows that adolescents who enjoy a warm, caring relationship with even one adult have higher self-esteem, are better able to rebound from setbacks, and are more responsive to the needs of others.
o Accept each student for who they are. How we see students and the way we feel about them are difficult to hide. Teachers who dislike a student or have low expectations of him or her will communicate those feelings without even being aware of it. As professionals, teachers need to accept that each student, especially in adolescence, is a work in progress and can still be shaped and nurtured to become a better human being.
Beyond the Student’s Skills
Besides the student’s skills and capacities as they relate to the development of bullying problems, we also need to consider the social context. The family environment, classroom environment, and peer group have strong influences on the development of positive and negative relationship skills. Therefore, when considering interventions, the focus needs to extend beyond skill development in the students who engage in bullying and encompass the social contexts in which they are living. Once again, the peer group is crucial:
Negative influences of peers. Teachers have the opportunity to shape both the classroom and the peer environments to ensure that they are promoting positive interactions and minimizing opportunities for negative interactions. Negative interactions within the peer group have been called "deviancy training". Research has shown that antisocial youth reinforce each other for deviant behaviours, thereby increasing the likelihood that such behaviours will occur. We see this happening when observing student behaviour; the bystanders to bullying spend most of their time giving positive attention and reinforcement to the youngster who initiated the bullying. Furthermore, when others join in bullying, the youngster who started it is more likely to become excited and aroused and more aggressive. Peers who are bystanders and reinforce bullying are a critical part of the problem.
Positive influences of peers. Peers can be involved in positive ways to be a critical part of the solution to bullying. It has been shown that peers intervene in more bullying episodes than their teachers, perhaps because they are more likely than teachers to be there to see the episode. When students intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds about 60% of the time. This is a remarkable response rate. Students may be particularly responsive to peer interventions because of issues of power and status. If other students are challenging bullying behaviours, it can signal a potential loss of power and status for those doing the bullying. For those who try to stop the bullying there is not only a potential increase in power and status, but also an enhanced sense of social responsibility. One goal is to ensure that students associate intervention to stop bullying with positive characteristics such as bravery, integrity and leadership, so that they will be inclined to intervene when they see someone being bullied. If they do not feel safe intervening directly, they can tell a trusted adult about the problem. Teachers can facilitate this by differentiating “reporting” from “squealing” or “tattling”: “reporting” is done to get someone out of trouble, while “tattling” is done to get someone into trouble.
Strategies for promoting peer intervention and reporting. Research indicates that students are less likely to continue to be victimized if they tell an adult. But there is a challenge in creating a climate that encourages reporting. In some student groups there is a strong cultural taboo against “ratting” on peers, regardless of how wrong their behaviour might seem. This culture of silence only serves to reinforce the status and power of those who are bullying; therefore, it is important to have open discussions about bullying and build consensus regarding the importance of safe and healthy relationships. Students need help developing social responsibility and positive strategies for intervening and reporting if they cannot or do not feel safe intervening to stop bullying themselves.
In a Norwegian program, Dr. Dan Olweus recommends that teachers help the students to develop a set of rules to encourage positive relationships and discourage bullying. If students agree it is important to ensure that everyone is safe and included, and that no one is being victimized, then it creates an expectation for intervening to stop bullying and reporting when someone is not safe.
Since students are more likely to buy in when they generate the strategies and responses themselves, it is important to involve them in frequent guided discussions about what they can say or do when they observe bullying. Teachers play a critical role in guiding these discussions to ensure that students are suggesting and endorsing positive, rather than aggressive, problem solving strategies. As student groups develop a list of possible intervention responses, teachers can push them to think about what they can do if their first, second, and perhaps third attempts to stop bullying are not effective. The final response should be to tell a teacher or other trusted adult.
Students should also be encouraged to intervene collectively. Intervention strategies can be both verbal (e.g., labelling bullying and stating that it is not fair) and involve action (e.g., taking the victimized student out of the group by suggesting another activity).
Students may benefit from role-playing these strategies so that they feel comfortable doing them. Role plays, presentations, and workshops can promote both self confidence in carrying out the intervention strategies and a general understanding within the class and school that stopping bullying and promoting healthy relationships are everyone's responsibility.
Perhaps the most important factor in engaging students in this form of social responsibility is ensuring that teachers and administrators are supportive and responsive when children come forward to report their concerns. Since bullying is a relationship problem, it requires relationship solutions: schools' responses to bullying must be supportive in providing students with the relationship skills they are lacking.
Social Architecture in the Classroom
To understand the kinds of interventions required in classrooms and peer groups to reduce bullying behaviours, consider the metaphor of "social architecture” where teachers design or structure the environment to affect their students’ social experiences. By optimizing the opportunities for positive peer interactions and discouraging negative peer interactions, carefully designed classrooms can limit the chances for troubled students to reinforce one another’s deviant behaviour.
Teachers can be social architects at many levels to reduce the opportunities for aggressive and other forms of antisocial behaviour. Examples include:
Seating arrangements. Something as basic as where students sit makes a difference for those who have a tendency to bully.
o Some students who bully are disruptive and there is a tendency to move them to the margins of the classroom where they find themselves removed from normal peer groupings. However, when they are at the margins, these difficult students tend to find others just like themselves, and that is when the deviancy training begins and trouble starts to erupt for the teacher.
Research shows that a significant risk for frequent and serious bullying is having friends who also bully.
If, rather than disruptive, the students who bully are highly socially skilled and manipulative, it is also important to think about their placement so they cannot create group dynamics that shun and exclude a peer right within the class.
In planning seating arrangement then:
be sure to separate groups of students who bully together to reduce the opportunity for group dynamics that lead to bullying and promote deviancy training
try to ensure that a frequently victimized student is surrounded mostly by peers who are accepting, friendly and sociable.
Grouping students. When placing students in groups, it is important to be aware of the natural processes that unfold in peer interactions. For example, young people tend to associate with others who are similar to themselves. Therefore, when a teacher asks students to get into groups for an activity the students who are very strong in the subject will come together, the students who are athletic or artistic might come together and, unfortunately, the students who bully or are in an exclusionary clique will likely come together. Others will naturally be left out and the teacher will have to force one or more groups to include them.
However, many aspects of learning can be enhanced if the groups are diverse or at least random, rather than letting the natural groupings occur. Therefore, consider the two following example strategies for grouping students:
o Depending on the nature of the assignment the teacher might group together one student who excels in the subject, one who is, say, artistic, one who is a strong leader, and one who might have learning or behavioural difficulties. (Remember that exceptional students also have strengths, and these diverse groupings might help other students see those strengths, especially if teachers subtly highlight them.)
o Randomly assign students to groups and vary the groupings for different activities and projects. In this way, the teacher provides an opportunity for students to work with many others including some they might not otherwise have gotten to know. This situation is not unlike the adult world, where we seldom have the opportunity to choose the colleagues we work with.
Forming teams. There are often times when students need to be assigned to teams. One traditional approach is to pick students who excel at the task and ask them to pick their respective teams. For the students who are competent and socially accepted, this works well because they are among the first to be picked. For the students who are exceptional, either because of social-emotional problems or for any other reason, this process can be devastating as they are seldom picked as desired team members. In the worst-case scenario it becomes a publicly humiliating process as the two captains debate as to which one has to take the remaining student. Here the teacher has unintentionally created a difficult social situation that provides a context for bullying. When teachers do not consider peer dynamics and reputations, the situation can be agonizing, painful, and alienating for vulnerable students. To avoid these issues, consider strategies such as:
forming teams randomly, by perhaps drawing names from a hat, or using the colour of the student’s shirts or sweaters, birthday months, etc.
forming teams with a rational process whereby there are standard, teacher designated groupings for a given week for all activities, and then the groups change the following week.
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Free time. Social architecture is also an important consideration for students’ free time, such as at lunch or spare period. Students who bully should be kept apart as much as possible as they tend to encourage one another to victimize others. Research shows that when engaged in bullying, students often try to manipulate or coerce others to join in. If a group of students that have been bullying together have not responded to the strategies listed above, it is important to keep them apart as much as possible to reduce the likelihood of bullying and to protect those who are being victimized. Free time and free movement around the school are privileges, not rights. These privileges can be taken away and earned back through the educational consequences discussed earlier.