School-Based Bullying Prevention: Identifying Specific Jurisdictional Issues
What Sets You Apart?
As you begin to research school-based bullying prevention programs, keep in mind that no cookie-cutter approach to the issue exists. You’ll need to understand what makes your situation unique and how these factors will affect the success of a bullying prevention program in your school. For example, you need to be familiar with state laws, student demographics, school location, and the way your school currently deals with bullying. Identifying your school’s unique characteristics can help you choose a bullying program that fits within your community, matches your culture, and suits your students’ needs.
Steps to Take: Lessons Learned from the Research
Steps to Take: Lessons Learned from the Research
- Make sure the program you want to implement defines bullying in the same way as your state laws.
- Consider your school’s location.
- Understand your school’s current approach to bullying.
- Consider the importance of student engagement.
- Choose a program that recognizes and bridges student differences.
Which Laws Govern Bullying?
Currently, no federal law addresses bullying, but each state has laws dealing with bullying. Although the details of these laws vary, they typically list specific behaviors that constitute bullying.
- Make sure the program you want to implement defines bullying in the same way as your state laws regarding bullying. The laws regarding school requirements for bullying prevention vary from state to state. For example, 11 states simply encourage schools to implement bullying prevention, education, or awareness programs, whereas 20 states mandate that schools do so. Some states go even further and require comprehensive anti-bullying efforts. For example, in the wake of the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, a Colorado state mandate required public schools to address bullying at all levels. Schools were offered a range of services and programs to fulfill this requirement through the Safe Communities Safe Schools Program, one of which was Bully-Proofing Your School.
Since there is such a wide array of state laws, guidelines, and bullying definitions, make sure your program and definitions align with state laws. Visit StopBullying.gov: Policies and Laws for information on state-specific laws.
What Makes Your School Unique?
Choosing the right bullying prevention program for your school will depend on many factors. For example, your school may differ from others in the size of the student body, faculty demographics, financial resources, extracurricular offerings, and location. These differences can influence the success of anti-bullying efforts. Additionally, the values of one school may be different from the values of another school, which is why it is important to find a bullying prevention program with the right fit for your school.
- Consider your school’s location. What works in one setting may not work in another setting. For example, the impact of school location can be seen in evaluations of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. The program was originally created and implemented in Norway, yet was found to be less effective when implemented in U.S. schools. One reason for the difference in outcomes may have been the overall differences between Norwegian and U.S. schools, such as classroom size and student demographics. Alternatively, some programs work across different settings. For example, an evaluation of the Positive Action program found that the program was effective at reducing bullying in different settings (in this instance, Hawaii and Chicago).
- Understand your school’s current approach to bullying. When implementing a bullying prevention program, consider how the school typically handles bullying. To target bullying, schools must establish standards to address bullying, which often fall into two categories: a problem-solving approach or a rules and sanctions approach.
- A problem-solving approach uses peer mediation and counseling to focus more on positive interactions and environmental factors, and less on blame. If your school already uses a problem-solving approach, a program such as Steps to Respect might be better for you. This program includes individual coaching sessions with the participants in bullying episodes. These sessions focus on empathy, problem solving, and practicing assertiveness.
- In a rules and sanctions approach, schools create policies and procedures, such as zero-tolerance policies, or provide a clear outline of punishments for bullies. If your school has rules and sanctions approach in place, a program such as Bully-Proofing Your School may be more appropriate for you. This program creates classroom expectations and rules regarding no tolerance for bullying.
Think About Your Students
Just as school setting can impact the program, the demographics of the students themselves should also play a role. Consider issues such as race, gender, socioeconomic status, and level of engagement in school.
- Consider the importance of student engagement. Research has found that school-based bullying prevention programs are more likely to be successful when students are engaged in the classroom lessons (i.e., asking questions, paying attention, and demonstrating ideas from the lesson). Therefore, selecting a program that increases student engagement can have a positive impact on implementation. For example, an evaluation of the Steps to Respect programs found that higher levels of student engagement led to lower levels of bullying victimization. The study highlighted steps that can be taken to increase student engagement, such as involving students in the lesson.
- Choose a program that recognizes and bridges student differences. Given that a distinguishing feature of bullying is a power imbalance, it is important to understand the ways in which race, sexual orientation, religion, and other factors can position some students as more powerful and privileged than others. Some programs emphasize developing students’ and teachers’ understanding of differences among themselves - the School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) program is an example of one such program. SWPBIS considers the school’s perceived sensitivity to cultural differences and focuses on the local cultural context.