How Teachers Play a Key Role in Promoting Anti-Bullying
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. According to the most recent available data, between 66% and 75% students in the U.S say they have been bullied at school. These numbers are significantly higher for students with disabilities, with studies showing that children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers.
As special educators it is our legal and ethical responsibility to do everything we can to prevent the bullying of our students. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) all promise students with disabilities access to a free appropriate public education. Bullying or harassment can get in the way.
For those who may feel that they can’t make a dent in these societal issues, teachers are lucky in that they are uniquely positioned to make a real difference in the lives of students that are bullied as well as help students who bully other students engage in more positive behaviors. Change can be made and it can start in the classroom.
There are many strategies that you can use to promote anti-bullying in your classroom. Here are a few I have found most impactful:
1.) Outline behaviors that are appropriate and important for that school/classroom culture. Schools choose to write out the behaviors that the classroom as a whole should engage in, steering away from highlighting just negative behaviors that are not to be tolerated. Schools may have posters around the room that say “be respectful,” “be responsible,” “be safe,” etc.Language in the room and on posters should highlight what behaviors the student and teachers are encouraged to demonstrate on a daily basis. This builds behavioral momentum and reminds students of choices that are appropriate and promote the building up of others.
2.) Highlight positive behavior. Those who engage in positive/prosocial behaviors and those that support others and build one another other up. This can include providing praise and compliments for students that are helping, respecting, and being kind to others.Some classrooms might use a point system for this, hand out praise tickets, or use token boards to reinforce these positive behaviors. Staff should shift the attention away from just those that are engaging in the inappropriate behaviors, and instead highlight those students that are taking daily steps to support each member of their classroom.
3.) Talk with your students about how to respond to gossiping, teasing, and physical bullying when they see it. The more we discussions we can have around these issues, with our students role playing the appropriate behaviors in each of these scenarios, the better prepared our students are going to be when it comes to when they actually find themselves in real life situations where bullying occurs.
4.) Model positive behavior. One cannot emphasize enough how important it is for staff to be a positive role model for students in how to engage in positive, tolerant, respectful behavior. Staff can get into negative habits of disciplining and/or correcting other students and using language like “no,” “don’t do that,” “stop it,” and “what were you thinking?”Remember that our students have a keen eye for observing everything we do and look to us to model appropriate social behavior. Patience and a kind word goes much further than a warning about how one should or should not behave. Don’t miss a moment to praise behavior that builds up and encourages students.
Let us all think about ways that we can change the culture of our classrooms and promote kindness, tolerance, and respect everyday. And remember: it begins with each and every one of us.