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Educating students to prevent bullying

Education is essential to preventing bullying/harassment. It will have a much longer and deeper effect than punishment alone. Research indicates that schools that adopt a school-wide approach to preventing bullying with clear policies and on-going educational efforts have reduced bullying incidents in half. The power of education is illustrated by an exemplary curricular project designed and implemented by a teacher and students in Michigan.

In 1998, Maria Kopicki, a teacher in Avondale Middle School in Rochester Hills, Michigan, assigned students in her criminal law class to identify an existing problem in their community, find out whether an existing policy addressed that problem and determine whether the policy was effective. A group of students in Maria's class investigated the district's sexual harassment policy after an incident had occurred at their school. The students had been troubled by the harassers' failure to understand their actions as harassment, even after the harassers had been punished. Maria's students decided to rewrite the district policy. Complaints of sexual harassment declined significantly after the students' revised policy was put into place, from 40 cases reported in 1998 to just a handful in the 2001-02 school year. The students' policy was adopted by the Michigan State Board of Education and became a national model.

The following are some ideas that your teachers can use in their classrooms to educate students about bullying/harassment and to empower them to take action. Remember, open communication between teachers and students is essential to identifying kids needing help--both targeted students and those who bully. Teachers who know their students well enough to recognize when they are experiencing trouble are in a strong position to start intervention to help troubled students. Ultimately, preventing bullying requires safe and supportive classroom environments marked by trust, care and respect between and among teachers and students.

  • Engage students in creating classroom rules that acknowledge the importance of respect for differences and the importance of no put downs or name-calling.
  • Schedule regular classroom meetings with students to discuss antisocial behavior and agreed-upon rules
  • Provide students opportunities to discuss bullying throughout the year, not just following an incident. Enlist their support in defining bullying as unacceptable behavior. Conduct a session on current events with bullying as a topic and have students share views and experiences. Role-playing and small/whole group analysis of scenarios are powerful ways to engage students in thinking about and developing the strategies to identify, intervene in and prevent bullying and harassment. The Bullying sources and references page provides references for sample lesson plans and curricular material.
  • Involve students in establishing classroom rules against bullying. These rules may include a commitment from the teacher to intervene when bullying incidents occur.
  • Develop a classroom action plan so that students know what to do when they witness a bullying incident.
  • Engage students in role playing, writing, small-group discussions, etc., that help them understand the harm caused by bullying.
  • Help students form cooperative buddy or friendship partnerships to inspire personal responsibility for students who are targets of bullying and to discourage bullying in general. Work with other teachers to have older students form mentor partnerships to provide one-on-one support for new students or students who find it particularly difficult to fit in with their peers.
  • Teach cooperation by assigning lessons and projects that require group work.
  • Monitor and teach students how to monitor group dynamics so that everyone feels safe to participate and to learn.
  • Meet with families to expand their involvement both in class and throughout school.
  • Promote friendship between students who differ from each other and between boys and girls.
  • Examine the meaning of courage and lead students beyond the “superhero” image of bravery.
  • Examine the meaning of justice and/or fairness. Have students discuss how these issues shape their own and others' everyday lives. Lead students to examine notions of both rights and responsibilities as they relate to justice and fairness.
  • Incorporate activities that foster mutual understanding and appreciation of students' cultures, ethnicities and race, and that identify the contributions that racial and ethnic minorities, women, gay and lesbian people and people with disabilities have made to their communities and nation. This can include research projects and/or invitations to guest speakers.
  • Incorporate texts that acknowledge, respect and value diversity. Acknowledge and respect the diversity of your students and engage students in developing ways to talk about social and cultural difference that are respectful.
  • Borrow or create your own bullying curriculum. Integrate it into civil rights, diversity, tolerance or other units.
  • Use case studies to help students better understand bullying and sexual harassment. Divide students into groups, each taking a particular aspect of the case to discuss and present to the rest of the class. Follow up with group discussions designed to consider the perspectives of all those involved--victims, perpetrators and bystanders.
  • Support and validate students' feelings about their sexuality. Make yourself approachable or refer students to someone who is. Educate yourself on sexuality and homophobia by reading or talking to peers who understand these issues and can communicate with young people about them.
  • Model appropriate behavior and language. Avoid using or engaging in language and jokes that are sexual, racist, homophobic or that put down people because of their religion, appearance or way of talking.

Use the Planning to prevent bullying chart to help you integrate anti-bullying teaching and learning into your classroom curriculum.