As we observe National Bullying Prevention Month in October, it is a great time for schools across the country to evaluate their bullying prevention strategies. The media attention around bullying has created a sense of resolve around the issue, and as a result there has been a call for action and demands for schools to do what they can to decrease bullying.
In an effort to deter students from participating in bullying behaviors, many schools have implemented bullying prevention programs to educate students about the negative impacts of bullying and promote positive behaviors. As with any change, it is not uncommon for the implementation of a bullying prevention program to be met with some staff resistance, and unfortunately, these programs are often short-lived. I recently completed a study among middle level principals in the state of Pennsylvania to determine why the same bullying prevention programs that are perceived to be successful and sustainable in some schools are neither successful nor sustainable in others.
According to the opinions of middle level principals across Pennsylvania, below are some suggestions for implementing a successful and sustainable bullying prevention program.
School Leaders Need to Be Invested and Actively Involved
As with any other new initiative, the success and sustainability of a bullying prevention program rely greatly on building leaders’ actions. School principals are often referred to as agents of change because they can facilitate or hinder the success of a new initiative through their actions. They have the ability to develop a shared vision and shared commitment to the success of a program, but they can also hinder its success by not promoting the program as a priority. If building leaders do not show that they are personally invested in the initiative, it will be extremely difficult to get staff invested in the program’s success.
ALL Staff Must Be Actively Involved
Evidence shows that a whole-school approach is the most effective method of confronting bullying in school. Implementing a successful whole-school bullying prevention program requires everyone in the school to be on board and actively involved. In addition to school principals and teachers, this includes cafeteria workers, custodians, secretaries, bus drivers, and parents. School leaders need to consciously make this happen by involving everyone in bullying prevention trainings and other activities.
Staff Buy-In Is Crucial
For a bullying prevention program to be successful, staff members have to believe in the need for the program and work together toward its success. The unwillingness of staff to get on board can affect whether or not an initiative is successful; therefore, when embarking on any reform effort, such as bullying prevention, school leaders should plan for and focus on the buy-in of staff before and during implementation.
Involving staff in the selection and implementation of the bullying prevention program, utilizing the strengths of staff members in its implementation, and showing staff that their efforts in bullying prevention are appreciated are all conditions that will help get staff invested and increase the possibility of program success and sustainability. Keep in mind that staff members who are invested in the success of the program can also assist in getting those who are more resistant on board.
Open communication prior to and during implementation of a bullying prevention program is key. It has been proven time and time again that employees thrive on positive feedback; therefore, it is extremely important for building leaders to show staff that their efforts are appreciated. Showing staff that they are valued and supported by taking time to meet with them, hear their questions, and address their concerns will increase buy-in and support the program’s success.
Allocate Time for Bullying Prevention
Allocating time in the schedule for bullying prevention activities is important to let staff and students know that bullying prevention is a priority. It is crucial that time is set aside for staff to be provided with adequate training on bullying prevention. There should also be regular bullying prevention activities for students such as an annual kick-off event and regular class meetings.
Promote Positive Behavior
Promoting positive behaviors and kindness as part of a bullying prevention program will be beneficial. Clearly outlining the behavioral expectations of students and rewarding them for good behavior and being kind to others rather than only focusing on the negative effects of bullying will help to create a school culture that values kindness and positive behaviors.
Encourage Student Voice
An effective bullying prevention program provides students with opportunities to have a voice. Unfortunately, bullying too often goes unreported because many students are not comfortable having to tell an adult about it. Students fear that if they report bullying, they will be bullied in retaliation. It is beneficial to offer other ways for students to report bullying such as an online reporting system. An annual survey is a great way to give students an opportunity to give much-needed feedback about bullying, such as how often it takes place, where it takes place, and if the efforts of the current bullying prevention program are working.
Evaluate the Program
It is extremely important for schools to continue to evaluate and upgrade their bullying prevention program. An annual survey like the one described above will help school leaders to monitor the effectiveness of the current program and determine if any changes are needed. It is important to value the feedback gained from the survey and follow up with any needed changes.
School leaders need to understand that they set the tone for the implementation of any new initiative, including bullying prevention programs. How invested staff will be in the success of that initiative will often be determined by how school leaders promote the program and whether or not they are viewed to see it as a priority. It is imperative for school leaders to appreciate that leading through change will require them to be invested and actively engaged, even if that role is focused on offering continued support.
Monica Ouly-Uhl has been an assistant principal at Orefield Middle School in Orefield, PA, for 16 years. In 2017, Orefield Middle School’s bullying prevention program was recognized by the International Bullying Prevention Association and the Ford Motor Company. She was recently named the 2020 Pennsylvania Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter (@MOulyUhl).