Principals should set a clear policy where bullying is concerned—a zero tolerance policy. They also need to set expectations for teachers and staff members. Many principals employ the “You see it, you own it” standard for dealing with bullying situations. Teachers are discouraged from passing the buck or turning a blind eye, with the assumption that another teacher is probably already aware of the problem and will address it. Bullies and victims need to know that all adults in the building follow the same zero tolerance policy and that if a bullying situation is observed, it will be addressed.
Reporting a bullying situation can be uncomfortable for both victims and bystanders. Some victims fear that if they report the bully, the situation may only get worse. Bystanders may fear that if they report the bully, the bully might turn his or her attention to them. Teachers can place a shoebox with a slot in the top in a corner of the room for students to anonymously report bullying situations. Teachers should make it clear to students that bullying is a serious offense and that the box is not to be used for pranks or as a way to get someone in trouble just because you don’t like him or her. It is only to be used for reporting real problems.
By no means should teachers wait until a situation occurs to approach the topic of bullying. There are countless ways to be proactive about addressing bullying in your school or classroom. Teachers can use role-playing to help students identify bullying behavior. While some bullying behaviors are obvious, others are more subtle and more difficult to spot. Providing clarity for students is a starting point. Sometimes purposefully assigning students to roles that are direct opposites to the roles they tend to play in reality is helpful in driving the point home. Turning the tables on bullies and those who tend to join in, even in a fake situation, can increase awareness by forcing them to see the situation from the other side.
A teacher in New York was teaching her class about bullying and gave them the following exercise to perform. She had the children take a piece of paper and told them to crumple it up, stomp on it, and really mess it up, but [not to] rip it. Then she had them unfold the paper, smooth it out, and look at how scarred and dirty it was. She then told them to tell it they were sorry. Now, even though they said they were sorry and tried to fix the paper, she pointed out all the scars they left behind. … That is what happens when a child bullies another child; [the bully may say she’s] sorry, but the scars are there forever. The looks on the faces of the children in the classroom told her the message had hit home. (Posted on MiddleTalk by Rebecca Lawson, November 28, 2011)
Often, telling your students a personal story about a time when you (or someone close to you) were (was) bullied in school can have a lasting impact. Talk about how it made you feel and how it affected how you felt about school in general. Maybe it made it hard to come to school. Maybe you dreaded recess every day. Maybe you felt alone and helpless. Maybe you had low self-esteem as a result. Encourage your students to stop and think about how their behavior is making others feel. Would they want someone to make them feel that way? If you don’t have a personal story to share, you can use characters from popular young adult literature or characters from popular movies as examples.
One way to get students to stop and think before they bully is to provide them with activities that help them get to know each other better as people. In many bullying situations, the bully doesn’t really know that much about the victim; the victim has been stereotyped or picked on for one particular quality or characteristic that stands out. Activities that build community in the classroom can help students get to know more about each other and help them see each other as real people, not just as flat characters who can be summed up by a stereotype.
Copyright © 2012 Association for Middle Level Education