Safe, Inclusive Schools Prevent Bullying Before it Starts
By: Kimberly Monachino
As I walk down the halls of schools, I am always intrigued with the creative and empowering messages that appear on bulletin boards. Especially those messages that focus on inclusive school culture and creating positive learning environments. One tagline read, “Do the right thing even when no one is looking.” Another illustrated a colorful box of crayons with each crayon representing an individual child’s face with the caption “We are a box of crayons, each of us unique, but when we get together, the picture is complete.” Another bulletin board emphasized “Put a stop to bullying! Making others feel bad is never okay!”
I mention these observations in light of October being National Bullying Prevention Awareness month. This year’s Bullying Prevention Awareness Month marks the 10th anniversary of its initiation by PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center. Since 2006, the event has grown to an entire month of education and awareness activities that are being recognized by schools and communities throughout the world.
I am going to provide a basic definition of bullying, along with specific tips for teachers to prevent bullying. The tips are intended for all students, but with an emphasis on students with disabilities. We know that children who bully others also often target children who seem “different.” Children with disabilities are sometimes more likely to be bullied than children without disabilities.
First, let’s start with the definition of bullying. The word “bullying” is applied to a lot of different situations that may or may not necessarily meet the definition of bullying. Stopbullying.gov defines bullying as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-age children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. The key in this definition are the words real or perceived power imbalance and the behavior is repeated over time.
Bullying is not when children have a conflict or argument. There are always going to be times when children do not get along with each other and situations of disagreement occur. This is part of healthy childhood development and teaches children the important skills of managing their emotions. It helps them develop coping skills.
Teachers play an important role in preventing true bullying and can create safe, bully-free zones in their classrooms. Teachers also are aware that students with disabilities are more likely to be bullied than students without disabilities and often are the first line of defense. Here are some tips on ways teachers can be proactive in preventing bullying of all students, with an emphasis on the unique needs of students with disabilities.
Be a champion of preventing bullying by making sure you know your school and district policies on bullying and work to make sure they are implemented. Resources are available to help district develop their local policies.
Teach students who have disabilities how to advocate for themselves. Help students who struggle with social skills to recognize when someone is being hurtful, and give them language to use to help them respond.
Teach students self-awareness and empathy through literature. Books like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka or The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt teach self-awareness and review multiple sides of a conflict in a story or scenario. Literature with protagonists who have disabilities, like Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos, Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine and Wonder by R.J. Palacio are wonderful for building students’ awareness of specific disabilities. These stories also build empathy that transfers into real-world scenarios.
Build positive classroom climate
Create a positive class climate that is predictable, consistent and equitable. Take time at the start of and throughout the year to model problem-solving and communication. Go out of your way to recognize each student for his or her unique strengths and talents.
Let your students know you care about and respect them. Show your students you are available to listen and you want to help them.
Activities to promote prevention
Develop activities that focus on identifying bullying in books, TV shows and movies. Use teachable moments from these to discuss with your students the impact of bullying and how characters resolved it.
During morning meetings, empower students to talk about bullying and peer relations. It is important to allow students to take leadership roles in planning and leading the meetings to help them gain critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.
Teach students to be “upstanders”
Students need to know that when they don’t stop someone from bullying, they’re contributing to it. Teach your students to be upstanders by showing them how to quickly recognize bullying and basic techniques to stop it — like not creating an audience or inviting the victim into their group.
Share experiences through multimedia
Challenge students to create multimedia projects that express their thoughts, opinions and personal experiences with bullying. The technology encourages creativity and individualism, and the ability to share their experiences builds students’ communication and advocacy.
Supervise hot spots
We know bullying is more likely to occur when teachers aren’t watching. Figure out your school’s “hot spots” for bullying — the places with less supervision and more students. It is important to ask others in the building, such as custodians, office assistants, cafeteria workers and bus drivers where they see problems.
These tips are meant to begin the conversation on how we can make each and every child feel welcome and accepted in our schools. The actions and behaviors you demonstrate contribute to the success of every child. Always remember the power you have as an educator to make a difference in a child’s life.
Kim Monachino is director of the Office for Exceptional Children for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Kim by clicking here.