Written by Brent Loomes
Bullying in Schools
Bullying refers to a behavior that is repetitive and characterized by aggression. It is based on an imbalance of power between the aggressor and the victim, and its intent is to cause harm. The victim is made to feel both isolated and threatened and often does not speak up to condemn the bully and disclose the behavior.
The problem is systemic throughout the school system. Bullying is often very destructive but not necessarily easy to identify. As teachers, it is your responsibility to recognize the more subtle signs of bullying.
While bullying does not only occur in a school setting, it is important that schools and school districts take the issue seriously and implement a host of measures that can alleviate, if not completely eliminate, the problem.
In this article, we are looking to make sure that teachers are able to detect the signs of bullying and are armed with resources to fight against this highly damaging behavior. So, what are the signs of bullying?
Any and all of the following signs can show that a student is being bullied:
- Being unusually quiet and unassuming in class
- Injuries like bruises and cuts that cannot be easily explained
- Complaints of stomach pain or bellyache
- Being tired all the time while in class
- No appetite at lunch
- Loss of interest in activities that were enjoyable
- Falling grades
- Becoming unsociable and losing friends
- Loss of personal belongings, especially when no explanation is given
However, you should also be on the lookout for signs that one of your students is a bully. They include:
- Frequently getting in trouble and picking physical and verbal fights with other students
- Being friends with known bullies
- Getting new items that look like another student's old items
- Blaming all their behavior on others, especially the victim
Moreover, the main types of bullying that occur in a school setting are:
- Direct bullying
- Indirect bullying
We'll be looking at these types of bullying in more depth in the following sections.
Other Types of Bullying
Bullying is not restricted to schools, however. It can occur wherever individuals interact with each other, such as workplaces, higher education institutions, and even among neighbors. Let's look at a brief list of other types of bullying that can happen:
- Physical bullying: Examples include hitting, throwing items, and engaging in physical altercations with another person.
- Emotional bullying: Examples include spreading rumors, writing hurtful things, and encouraging others to emotionally hurt another person.
- Sexual bullying: Examples include inappropriate comments or touching and sexual assault.
- Verbal bullying: Examples include teasing, using inappropriate language and slurs, and negative comments about another person's looks or behavior.
Anti-Bullying Resources for Teachers
As we have seen, teachers are faced with three types of bullying situations. Of these, one is more pernicious than the others and will receive its own section.
Direct bullying occurs in person and typically involves physical violence. Resources to combat this include coaching and providing consequences that will deter the bully from repeating the behavior.
Indirect bullying also occurs in person but it is more difficult to notice. This is because the bully does not attack their victim physically. Instead, they may be spreading rumors about them or lying about events to make their victim look bad. Resources for this behavior include educating students to recognize malicious rumors and fake news and act accordingly.
Finally, we have cyberbullying, which will be discussed below as a part of the best resources teachers can use to combat bullying.
Cyberbullying is a particularly destructive type of bullying because it is persistent and cannot be turned off. At this point in time, students have access to the internet 24 hours a day. If a student is a victim of cyberbullying, which occurs online, they have no way to stop their bully. Every time they turn on their computer or look at their phone, they are victimized again. This can lead to serious consequences, including self-harm and suicide.
- Using social media to spread false information meant to humiliate or hurt the victim.
- Sending threats over email or text messages.
- Sharing pictures or videos of the victim in humiliating or inappropriate settings on social media without the victim's consent.
So, what can you do to address cyberbullying? The answer is to educate your students about their digital footprint, online safety, and who they can trust when they go online. In other words, teach your students digital citizenship and encourage them to always treat others online in the same way they would like to be treated, and they would feel it is appropriate in real life.
Teaching Students about Bullying
As a teacher, you're responsible for your students' well-being as well as their education. As such, you need to be able to teach your students about bullying, how to become aware of it happening, and the actions they can take when they notice it happening.
The best ways to teach students about bullying in schools and at the same time address the issue of bullying itself include:
- Teach empathy and encourage students to be kind.
- Teach students to immediately report any inappropriate or violent behavior they witness.
- Identify the early signs of bullying, including name-calling, staring, back turning, and cruel remarks about other students, among others.
- Engage students in creating a classroom that feels like a community of their own.
- Use teaching arts as a way to combat bullying, such as having a poster-making contest with an anti-bullying message.
- Encourage peaceful resolutions; do not encourage violence in the victim or bully, or be the bully yourself.
- Reward good behavior, rather than only calling out bad behavior.
- Emphasize communication and be open to listening to your students.
Anti-Bullying Rules and Enforcement
Schools usually have strict anti-bullying rules that are mandated by their state, as well as the federal government. All states passed anti-bullying laws, although they are not identical. Most states require schools to report, investigate, and document bullying. Moreover, schools are also required to stop bullying. In some states, victims are provided with counseling and there are specific consequences for the bully.
The federal government's involvement in anti-bullying rules and enforcement is not as strict. The federal government is mostly concerned with eliminating discrimination against students with disabilities. This is addressed in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which maintains that these students should have access to ''free, appropriate public education.'' Another piece of legislation prohibiting discrimination against students with disabilities is Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
As a teacher, you are responsible for following your state's guidelines and federal regulations. But you can do more! Get together with your peers and ensure that your school's climate is positive. Work on a code of conduct that nurtures empathy and positive behavior. This way, you can go a long way to prevent bullying from happening.
Lesson Plans to Combat Bullying
In this section, let's look at a few ideas for lesson plans that are designed to combat bullying. These can be adapted to various grade levels, according to your needs.
The best way you can teach students about positive values is by modeling them. Whenever you encounter an issue in your classroom that seems likely to degenerate into aggressive or frustrating behaviors for your students, keep your cool and show active listening, empathy, and genuine care. Modeling positive values can be built into any lesson plan and will reduce the students' likelihood of reacting in a negative manner to conflict.
Build a lesson that encourages conflict resolution. In this particular approach, make sure that you don't jump in as soon as the conflict starts. What you're trying to teach your students is to handle a conflictual situation in a manner that does not become bullying. A scenario you can try is to stage a conflict and let the students navigate their way through it while observing how they handle themselves. Once it becomes obvious that they cannot maintain civility, it is your cue to intervene and teach them what they should be doing.
Use role-playing to emphasize how important empathy is to your students. Have them take turns discussing how a particular event makes them feel and situations that make them feel sad, happy, or guilty. At the same time, encourage students who are listening to show kindness to their peers and try to put themselves in their shoes.
Learning by Example
Lastly, you can always include books and movies that promote anti-bullying and standing up for yourself. There are many options that you can choose from for all grade levels. Reading is always a great way to engage the classroom and having an anti-bullying message means that you're accomplishing two goals at the same time.
Social and Emotional Learning
Another important strategy in combatting bullying is social and emotional learning. This is a process that allows your students to get and apply attitudes, skills, and knowledge to become able to manage their goals and emotions, develop empathy, form healthy relationships and identities, and become able to be responsible for their decisions.
With social and emotional learning, bullying is discouraged through building empathy. It is also managed through partnerships between teachers, parents, and the larger community. In addition to combatting bullying, social and emotional learning also empowers students and can address other negative issues, such as inequity.
Communicating with Parents
An important resource for teachers at all times, and especially when it comes to anti-bullying efforts, is your students' parents and families.
For victims, parents may also be noticing worrying signs about their child's demeanor and mood changes. As such, they can alert you to the fact that your student has an issue in school. Try to stay in close contact with parents and listen to their concerns. This will make your life easier when working to eliminate bullying from your classroom.
For bullies themselves, being in contact with their parents may alert them to the fact that their child has behavioral problems or that they're victimizing others. This can enable them to get their child help to stop the destructive behavior. Moreover, bullies may act out because of how they are treated at home themselves, so you may be able to prevent violence against a student who is taking out their own pain and frustration on their peers.
Keep lines of communication with parents open at all times and pay attention to their suggestions, complaints, and special requirements for their children.
Inclusion in Schools
Inclusive classrooms are those classrooms that encourage the participation of all students, regardless of their particulars. They create a welcoming experience and teach empathy, kindness, and acceptance. These are all values that make bullying a lot less likely to occur.
To be inclusive, you should:
- Encourage students to participate in discussions, including discussions about bullying.
- Role-play scenarios in which potential conflicts related to different backgrounds or views are diffused through empathy and understanding of each side's views rather than brute force.
- Make all required accommodations to ensure all students have access to all parts of the classroom and the school.
- Teach the value of tolerance and how each point of view is relevant, even if a student has never considered it or disagrees with it.
The worst part about bullying is the serious toll it takes on the mental health of your students. Bullied students often experience anxiety and depression, and some of them feel so powerless and isolated from their peers that they consider self-harm and suicide.
While deterring a student who has reached the conclusion that they can only escape their bullying by committing suicide is not a one-person job, as a teacher, you should ensure that you are aware of any students who may be at risk.
At-risk students are those who are struggling with mental health issues and those who are most likely to be bullied, such as students with disabilities, students whose first language is not English, and students who are different from the majority of their peers because of a feature that they cannot control, such as ethnicity.
To prevent suicide, the teacher should form a team that includes a student's medical practitioner or therapist, as well as school counselors, the student's parents, and any other health practitioners who are experienced with treating suicidal children and teenagers. Together, you should work with the student while also eliminating the source of the trauma and bullying. Some schools may also offer counseling for bullying victims.
Bullying: What to Avoid
While we've discussed a number of strategies that you can use as a teacher to prevent or eliminate bullying, we should also discuss some strategies that do not work on their own. The biggest peril when it comes to bullying is that it does not stop unless a holistic approach is taken to prevent or eliminate it.
This is mainly because bullying is as persistent as it is pervasive. Having one strategy in place and hoping for the best does not work to deter it. Instead, a blended approach should be used. While the following strategies are tried and true and can be tempting to use on their own, they do more harm than good if they're not integrated with the previously discussed resources. Let's see why.
Most schools successfully apply a zero-tolerance policy against bullying. It is a good consequence in terms of deterring the behavior because the bully knows that, once exposed, they will face a serious penalty, such as being expelled. While zero tolerance should be pursued, it can sometimes have the opposite effect of what it intends.
Because of the seriousness of the punishment for bullying, both bullies and victims may be tempted to collude to either not disclose the behavior or minimize it. This can lead to the extra victimization of the victim and a continuation of the behavior because the consequence has been avoided. Worse, this can foster a negative environment for other students and increase the likelihood that they too will be bullied.
If other strategies can be used to combat this risk, zero-tolerance policies are good deterrents. Strategies that can be used in addition to it include teaching empathy, digital citizenship, and the importance of reporting inappropriate behavior whenever a student witnesses it.
Mediation is great when adults encounter issues, including bullying. They give both parties the opportunity to express themselves and heal each other's differences in a manner that prevents further conflict.
It can also be useful as a strategy against bullying in schools. The bully and the victim may finally find common ground and the bully may even offer an apology for their appalling behavior. However, there is a big risk associated with this method. By having to deal with the abuser directly, the victim, who by this point may be experiencing some severe emotional, mental, and physical effects of bullying, is brought face to face with the student who inflicted the abuse on them. This can further hurt their mental and emotional health and even cause them to experience severe symptoms, like a panic attack or PTSD.
If mediation is considered beneficial, it should be attempted. However, victims who have been exposed to severe bullying should not be made to participate.
Some schools find that by putting all bullies in one group and teaching them about why their behaviors are wrong, they reach more students than if working with them individually. While this is true and bonding with a group usually works to spread the message, there is one risk associated with this practice.
Students who have bullied peers before have done so in various ways. Some may have engaged in direct bullying and started a physical fight, while others may have viciously cyberbullied a former friend. Having these students in the same group may function as a breeding ground for future ways to expand their ''bullying repertoire.'' Furthermore, the approach encourages feelings of friendship to develop between these students. While this, in itself, is not a bad thing, it may also encourage them to start bullying some of each other's former victims as a means of expressing their friendship.
This is not to say that group approaches should never be considered. However, as with the other strategies discussed here, they should be blended with other methods to be successful.
TExES Exams: What Teachers Need to Know
If you're interested in TExES teacher certification in the state of Texas to educate on and help prevent bullying, here's how you can become licensed:
- Get a bachelor's degree.
- Go through an educator preparation program.
- Take an educator certification exam.
- File an application.
- Submit to background checks.
Once you take your TExES exams and are able to teach in Texas, you are ready to tackle bullying head-on. These exams evaluate your knowledge of content and your teaching skills, allowing you to discover if you're ready to teach in public schools in Texas. They are Pearson computer exams and include three main categories:
- Core subject content
- Pedagogical and professional responsibilities
- Specific subject content
Hope you enjoyed finding out more about the TExES resources that you can use in the classroom to improve your school and eliminate bullying. Feel free to add your own ideas and what has worked for you as a teacher to make schools centers of both kindness and learning!