Developing a Non-Bullying Culture

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: With school about to start, please write about what we all can do to prevent bullying in the school.

It would be nice if you could bring everyone together and everyone would agree to do his or her part to stop bullying. However, people often want bullying stopped when it is against their child, with less concern when his or her child bullies another child.

I did a little research, and I did find some information that may be helpful. It will require involvement at every level from the administration in your school to the children in your community.

If your community is in denial concerning the problem, and bullying has become a cultural norm, then it will be important to change that aspect of the culture. It might seem reasonable to begin with a grassroots effort, but that might be difficult unless the bullying is affecting many children at the same time. I would suggest the administration take the lead. School staff, parents, and students should be included when developing rules and policies. Involving students can help set a climate of respect and responsibility. Parental involvement can reinforce the school’s expectations at home.

School Administration

School administration can help prevent bullying by establishing and enforcing school rules and policies that clearly describe how students are expected to treat each other. A code of conduct should describe the positive behaviors expected of students and staff within the school community. The code of conduct must apply to all; set and describes standards of behavior; and include a focused set of expected positive behaviors. Consequences for violations of the rules should be clearly defined as well.

This is reminiscent of Lee and Marlene Canter’s Assertive Discipline. They teach that for discipline to be effective, you must clearly define expectation for behavior and consequences for violating those behavioral expectations. Another one of their principles is “ALWAYS FOLLOW THROUGH.”

In the case of bullying, that means the administration must follow through with predetermined consequences whether the child is the son of the school board president or the daughter of one of the tribal council members. There must be no exceptions!

School Staff

Classified and certified staff should be well versed in the established policy and procedure for handling incidents of bullying. Staff should be trained in what constitutes bullying, so they will know when to act. Also, since teachers and teacher’s aides are in direct contact with students, they should be prepared to take steps before actual bullying occurs. Often times there are behaviors that precede actual bullying. Teaching can be exhausting work and it is easy for a teacher to selectively overlook something might lead to a future bullying incident, or is a precursor to a physical altercation. Just as a parent must correct bad behavior no matter how tired he or she is, so must the teacher intervene.

Parents

Much behavior is learned vicariously by observing parents’ behaviors. If parents bully one another, or bully their children at home, it is likely the child will learn these behaviors and practice them on another child.

When bullying occurs, it is imperative that the parent takes action by supporting the school’s efforts to eliminate bullying. This can be demonstrated by reinforcing proper behaviors at school and at home. Administration and teachers should be supported by parents for their effort to eliminate bullying (and any other unacceptable behavior). Parents who take their children’s side against teachers and administration are reinforcing bad behavior and become responsible for their children’s future bad behavior.

Students

Work toward developing a culture that doesn’t tolerate bullying. Teachers and students should discuss the behavioral expectations and consequences for violation of expectations in class. Students can hold each other accountable by reminding one another of school cultural expectations. Teachers and administration should intermittently reward students for their good behavior; once again reinforcing the culture of no bullying.

Establish a Reporting System

Along with establishing clearly defined expectations for behavior and clearly defined consequences for violations of those expectations, schools should establish clearly defined procedures for reporting rule violations.

Some tips for establishing a reporting system include: (1) Make it easy. People are more likely to report when it’s easy to do. (2) Keep reports confidential and private. School staff and students should be encouraged to report violations without fear of retaliation.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to realnews@deltadiscovery.com.