Approximately 32 percent of students report being bullied at school. Bullied students are more likely to take a weapon to school, get involved in physical fights, and suffer from anxiety and depression, health problems, and mental health problems. They suffer academically (especially high-achieving black and Latino students). And research suggests that schools where students report a more severe bullying climate score worse on standardized assessments than schools with a better climate.
This is all common sense to educators. They have known for decades that students need to be in safe, supportive learning environments to thrive. And the vast majority care deeply about keeping children safe.
But especially given that commitment to student safety, why do so many children experience bullying?
In Principal magazine, elementary principal, now retired, James Dillon writes that in bullying prevention trainings, he asks participants to choose the one group they believe is most responsible for addressing school violence and bullying: parents, students, school, or community. Inevitably, he gets a wide variety of responses. He suggests perhaps bullying problems are not addressed because “people think bullying prevention is someone else’s responsibility.”
A large-scale study by the NEA and Johns Hopkins University that examined school staff’s perspectives on bullying and bullying prevention somewhat refutes that hypothesis, finding 98 percent of participants (all teachers and education support professionals) thought it was “their job” to intervene when they witnessed bullying. But just 54 percent received training on their district’s bullying prevention policy.
Without such training, some of Dillon’s other suggestions as to why bullying is so prevalent — that adults don’t recognize some behaviors as bullying and that bullying is often ineffectually addressed using the traditional discipline system of applying punishment to a perpetrator — make sense. So whom should we blame for the state of bullying?
As Dillon puts it, “The reality is that no one is to blame, yet everyone is responsible.” We all can work to prevent bullying, be it on a school- or classroom-wide basis, or even at home.
Five Tips to Help Principals Prevent Bullying
According to Dillon, effectively addressing a bullying problem requires a culture change. A true culture change takes time, but a few key steps to help principals get started:
(These tips were adapted from articles by James Dillon from
Five Tips to Help Teachers Prevent Bullying
Even when a school leader doesn’t have a formal bullying prevention agenda, teachers can create safe, bully-free zones in their classrooms:
Five Tips to Help Parents Prevent Bullying
Parents and guardians are among a school’s best allies in bullying prevention:
The Bottom Line
Bullying is an enormous problem, and we must all do our part to impact it. If nothing else, remember one of Dillon’s suggestions (intended for school leaders but I think applicable to all):
“Little things can make a big difference. Simple and genuine gestures, such as regularly greeting students, talking to students, and addressing students by name, help to make students feel connected.”
Anyone can start doing those types of things today. If you are interested in further resources on bullying and its prevention, check out Learning First Alliance member resources and the StopBullying website.