Bullying begins at home when respect, tolerance, inclusiveness, and kindness are not taught and modeled. The problem then unfairly falls onto teachers’ laps because school is the place children spend most of their daytime hours and where socialization skills are taught and practiced.
Educators are expected to control bullying. One way is through supervision but how can one teacher watch 20 – 30 students and how can children be carefully monitored in hallways, lunchrooms, and recess areas where huge numbers of kids are moving around large areas? When a parent voiced her concerns to a guidance counselor, the counselor said that it’s a difficult problem because bullying occurs when teachers are not looking.
Is there a solution? Yes! If educators proactively set up anti bullying classrooms before students enter bullying will never be given air to breath. Phyllis Kaufman Goodstein shows readers how to in “How to Stop Bullying in Classrooms and Schools: Using Social Architecture to Prevent, Lessen, and End Bullying”
The book is based on the premise that bullying is a relationship problem. When there are breakdowns in relationships disrespect, intolerance, exclusion, and bullying are seen. It takes Canadian researcher and Professor Debra J. Pepler’s model of social architecture and applies it to education by creating a toolbox of free or low cost, easily accessible, and practical empirically researched strategies, exercises, successfully used teacher techniques, recommendations, and resources.
Social architecture occurs when adults “embed victimized children within a positive peer context” and “promote a generally positive, respectful, accepting, and supportive climate within a social group” (PREVNet, 2007, p. 15).
Goodstein developed a 10 point program showing teachers, administrators, and other educational staff how to bring social architecture into their classrooms and schools.
- Teacher’s Role – Teachers are role models and leaders in their classrooms. Everything they say and do or don’t say or do can influence students. How they treat one particular student affects that child and the entire class because all students are watching. For example, educators should not refer to anyone as a “victim” or “bully.” These terms unfairly label and stigmatize recipients, can lead them to take on the characteristics of the title, and will be copied by classmates.
- Education – Education is the foundation for anti bullying classrooms. Knowledge brings awareness, skills, and strategies. For instance, teaching students responses to gossip can break the chain of pain. Speaking out (“That’s not true, I’m not going to pass lies”), being silent, refusing to repeat rumors, responding with positive comments (“I like Sophia. She is friendly and always plays with me.”), switching topics, or walking away are effective ways to send the message, “I am not going to spread rumors.”
- Classroom Management – Good management is the backbone of bully free classrooms. If teachers set a non bullying tone on the first day of school, for example by saying “Bullying is harmful and will not be allowed in this classroom” and make the statement a non negotiable expectation prosocial cultures will develop. If teachers discuss, reinforce, and stop for a teachable moment every time bullying occurs the expectation will become internalized.
- Bystanders/Upstanders – Student bystanders can single handedly put a dent in bullying because children are sensitive to their peers’ approval. Social risks can outweigh the benefits of bullying. One strategy is to have kids sit or stand next to the person who is being bullied. If peers are situated next to potential targets, those who bully cannot get close. It further deters bullying because those who bully are less likely to pick on people when they are with anyone who can offer defense or support.
- Friendships – Friendships can offer protection. Friends prevent, defuse, end, or defend against bullying. They can also comfort buddies and teach anti bullying and social skills. Teachers can set up activities that move loners off the sidelines and into friendship building environments. Instead of telling friendless children to “join in” or classmates to “let him play with you,” why not find out what the child enjoys, set that activity up, and solicit classmates who also share that interest?
- Peer Support – Peer support programs help bullied children and those who bully develop healthy and positive relationships. In the process, skills are learned while self-esteem and acceptance increase. Befriending is one type of peer support that can be as informal as becoming friends with someone or a structured program such as a friendship bench. Benches offer bullied or lonely children a quiet place where they can find friendly companions or a safe place to stay.
- Empathy – Those who bully lack empathy, the ability to feel what others feel. If they were able to feel the pain they would not bully. Experiential learning using simulation can put students into the shoes of those with disabilities, a disproportionally bullied population. Students can walk blindfolded, carry books while crutching, or look in a mirror while completing a maze to show students the challenges encountered by those who are blind, have physical difficulties, or dyslexia.
- Incompatible Activities – Activities that are incompatible with bullying cannot be performed at the same time. Teacher Margaret Singleton has her students perform a good deed each day and draw or write about their acts of kindness in a “caring journal.”
- Stopping Bullying Incidents – The way educators respond to bullying incidents can impact future events. Relationships can be repaired or further damaged, depending on how the bullying is handled. The first response should always stop the bullying and insure safety. Investigations, consequences, and ways to prevent future bullying follow.
- Adult Support – Having just one adult who cares can be the difference between a successful or problem plagued life. One way to help is by participating in the National Education Association’s “Bully Free: It Starts With Me” campaign that asks teachers to be that one adult.
The program described in “How to Stop Bullying in Classrooms and Schools: Using Social Architecture to Prevent, Lessen, and End Bullying” helps alter classroom and school relationships, cultures, and norms which allows educators to focus on what they do best: teach.
Phyllis Kaufman Goodstein is a licensed social worker (LMSW), author (“How to Stop Bullying in Classrooms and Schools,” “Bystander Power,” and “200+ Ready-To-Use Reproducible Activity Sheets That Help Educators Take A Bite Out Of Bullying”), educator, speaker, magician, and anti bullying advocate.
She can be reached at PhyllisKaufmanGoodstein@gmail.com.