Look for the three P’s
“Prepare and prevent, don’t repair and repent.” – author unknown
There are several pieces of information that I share immediately with almost any parent who contacts BRRC. One of my recommendations is that parents read the student handbook cover to cover and pay special attention to information regarding harassment and bullying. A treasure trove of information is contained in those pages as well as what is missing from the handbook. A school that takes bullying seriously will lean on a community-based approach in regard to bullying and will include policies, procedures and programs embedded in the school culture and curriculum.
Three important pieces need to be present at your child’s school in relation to bullying. The three P’s are: Anti-Bullying Policy, Procedures and Programs. The following information is adapted from Barbara Coloroso’s book, “The Bully, The Bullied and the Not so Innocent Bystander.” The descriptions of the three Ps follow, and why they are so darn important to you, your child, and your child’s school.
Having a bullying policy is absolutely necessary. It must have depth and not simply an inspirational saying or a “we don’t tolerate bullying” statement. The policy must be clearly articulated, consistently enforced and broadly communicated. The entire staff, (custodians, teachers, receptionists, administrations, etc.), should have a clear understanding of the anti-bullying policy. It must include a clear definition of bullying, the ways bullying occurs and an understanding of the impact of bullying on the school environment. The policy should include a statement of responsibility of those who are witnesses to bullying incidents and try to stop it by intervening, helping the targeted student escape and a way to make it safe to tell a caring adult.
In my opinion, this is where the rubber meets the road. Having a written policy has absolutely no teeth unless there are specific procedures in place to deal with bullying. As with so much in life, the procedures to deal with school bullying should have some latitude and common sense in play. A one size fits all approach is not optimal and lacks common sense.
Consequences for the bully and any active bystanders who played a role in the bullying event should be clearly outlined. Procedures should include measures that hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions. Ideally, some form of restorative justice is ideal that involves restitution, resolution, and if possible, an attempt at reconciliation (only if the targeted student is agreeable to that). Lastly, the parents or guardians of the bully need to be notified of the bullying and asked to take measures at home to aid in the restorative justice process.
Procedures also need to include what measures will be taken to keep targeted students safe at school. These procedures should include tools to aid them in standing up to the perpetrators, offering support, and tools to effectively deal with any new bullying situations they may face. Safe, caring and trustworthy adults at school should be identified to whom they can safely report any further bullying to. You, as a parent or guardian should be told of this plan and offered the appropriate protocol to follow up and also to report any further targeting of your child. A school that takes action, comes up with an appropriate plan to end the bullying, and follows up with you and your child is a school that takes bullying seriously.
An appropriate program for a school that takes bullying seriously is one that back’s up and reinforces the anti-bullying policy and works to create a safe, caring, and welcoming environment for all students.
A program that will have the greatest success is one that is embedded in the curriculum and culture of the school. The once a year anti-bullying rally, or posters that claim this is a “no-bully zone” that does not reinforce those ideals the entire school year will not succeed. Bullying and becoming an upstander can be taught through literature and character education lessons. Empathy and feelings can be part of writing assignments. Some schools offer mentorship programs to aid students new to a school or new to a grade, so they have a companion to turn to. A “no one sits alone” lunch policy will curb bullying behavior and create a caring environment. There are many creative ideas that the staff and students can come up with to create a culture of inclusivity and caring.
Every member of the school staff needs to be properly trained in bullying. They need to know what bullying is and what it isn’t. They need to know the definition of bullying and what measures they should take when they witness it or when it is reported to them. Conflict-resolution tactics will not work with bullying and can cause even greater harm. It is the adult’s job to STOP bullying. Finally, there should be a standard way communicated to all the school’s stakeholders of how to report bullying, and what the target and their caregivers can expect with the school following up with them.
Vigilance and knowledge are key. Here are some questions you may want to ask your child’s school:
- What is your school’s definition of bullying?
- How does bullying get reported at your school?
- What is the best way to report bullying?
- How quickly does the school respond after bullying has been reported?
- If a child has been found to be a perpetrator of bullying, what kinds of consequences can he or she be subject to?
- What types of programs does the school offer to teach the students about bullying?
- How is bullying taught/discussed in the classroom? How often?
- How long are your school employees trained about bullying? Is there a special program they participate in?
And, my personal favorite question:
- Does bullying happen at this school?
If the answer is “no”, you may need to pull up a chair and prepare for a long conversation with the school employee. Unfortunately, bullying happens at every school and the real key is how effectively and quickly it is dealt with. If a school has proper policies, procedures and programs in place, and adheres to those, the bullying can be stopped, and the target can be properly cared for.
Bullying Recovery Resource Center can also help you navigate the bullying your child is enduring. We provide education, materials and advocacy services to help stop bullying. If you have any questions, or if your child’s school fails to stop the bullying of your child, we are here to help.