Classroom teachers are at the core of any bullying prevention program. You know your students better than any other staff member because you spend more time with them than anyone else in school. You know their strengths, their weaknesses and their vulnerabilities because you have the opportunity to observe how they perform in a range of situations. You are thus well positioned to observe bullying incidents with your students, to detect behavioral changes that might signal that a child has been bullied, to intervene when incidents occur, and to monitor students to ensure that bullying does not recur.
You also play a crucial role in preventing bullying. Prevention is, at its essence, a process of education, and many of the lessons students need to learn to dissuade them from bullying must come from you -- either through guidance to individual students or through whole-class instruction by integrating anti-bullying lessons into your curriculum. The following are specific teaching strategies you can use to bully-proof your classroom.
Foster a climate of cooperation and caring. You can help prevent bullying by the tone you set in your classroom. More specifically, you can send an anti-bullying message by reinforcing acts of kindness and communicating values of tolerance, respect, and responsibility. The most effective way to foster a caring attitude in your classroom is to model that behavior yourself by relating to your students in a warm, sympathetic way without talking down to them.
Catch a bully being kind. Make a special effort to find something positive to say about students who are prone to unkind behavior, even if it is a small gesture. As an example, you might praise a student if you see him acting in a caring or helpful manner.
Early in the school year, hold a classroom meeting to discuss bullying. Just discussing the problem of bullying with students will raise their awareness of the issue and help decrease bullying incidents. You might want to revisit the issue of bullying at periodic class meetings throughout the year.
Role-play social situations with students. You might do that at class meetings. Consider having students assume the roles of bully, victim, and bystander and then give them common social situations where bullying might occur and ask them to act out those situations. After the role-play, have students talk about how they felt and what they might have said or done differently. In that way, students have a chance to try out their own responses and hear what their classmates might say and do.
Closely monitor students who are at high risk for being bullied. Children are more prone to be bullied if they are withdrawn from their classmates, stand out in some way (for example, are short, overweight, or have an accent), attend special education programs, speak English as a second language, or are new to the school.
Inform other school staff about potential bullying situations. If you become aware of a bullying incident in your classroom, make sure to alert other personnel who come into contact with your students-- including special subject teachers and paraprofessionals -- to monitor the behavior of the students involved.
Present classroom lessons that have a bullying theme. You have numerous opportunities to integrate bullying into your academic lessons. As one example, you might have students read a book about bullying and follow up with classroom discussion.
Closely supervise areas where bullying is likely to occur. Bullying often takes place in areas of the school that have minimal supervision, such as the playground, lunchroom, bathrooms, and even the back of the classroom. Although some of those areas are outside your control, you can help prevent bullying by being especially vigilant and visible during less structured activities.
Encourage witnesses to bullying to take action. Witnesses can play a valuable role in reducing bullying behavior. They can do that by telling the bully to stop what she is doing, by distracting the bully, by getting her to focus on something else, by reaching out to the victim in friendship or support, and most importantly, by informing a school staff member. Because students might be reluctant to inform an adult for fear they will be seen as tattletales, it's important to stress that telling an adult about bullying is vastly different from "tattling."