Eliminating bullying

Policies of zero tolerance for weapons have helped reduce the violence caused by guns and knives. However, little has been done in many schools to reduce the fear and helplessness many students and teachers feel as a result of intimidation and aggression. Physical and emotional bullying are serious problems, even in many elementary schools. Carla Garrity, Kathryn Jens, William Porter, Nancy Sager and Camilla Short-Camilli, five researchers working in Colorado, recently reported on ways schools, beginning at the elementary level, can equip students with skills that will create a school climate in which bullying and aggression are not accepted.

Key to the success of any program designed to create a positive school climate is staff training. These researchers believe that everyone on the staff, including the librarian, cook, principal and janitor, must be involved in training. Bullies need to be confronted and told clearly that their behavior will not be tolerated within the school. Garrity et al. report that schools identify strengths of individual staff members, finding those who work best with either bullies or victims. Children will report bullying if they know that the staff will intervene effectively. Younger children are eager to help if they feel protected.

A minority of children with behavior problems takes up too much time in classes and can be responsible for a poor climate in school. The silent majority is a powerful resource in altering school climate; changing them into a caring majority is the foundation of an anti-bullying program described by these researchers. Bullies lose their power in schools whose explicit rules of behavior don’t tolerate bullying in any form and ask all students to stand up for victims. Reinforcement by adults is necessary to empower the silent majority. Teachers in schools implementing an anti-bullying program, report that it eased their discipline load and produced a happier group of students in their classrooms. When this transition is made in elementary school, many former bullies become positive leaders in their peer group. Garrity et al. conclude that a “caring majority is the most powerful weapon in creating a safe and caring school environment.”

“Bully-Proofing Your School: Creating a Positive Climate”, Intervention in School and Clinic, Volume 32, Number 4, March 1997, pp. 235-243.

Published in ERN May/June 1997 Volume 10 Number 3.

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