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Creating School-Wide
Anti-Bullying Strategies



Approaches to reducing bullying often focus on the conflicts among specific children. But what school counselor Stan Davis advocates and practices is a school-wide anti-bullying approach that encourages and outlines respectful behavior as well as consistent consequences. Included: Tips for creating a school where everyone belongs.

Stan Davis, a long-time school guidance counselor and former family therapist, admits he made mistakes early in his career in dealing with bullies and their victims. He thought, as many people did or still do, that bullying during childhood is inevitable. Davis encouraged bullied students to try to ignore their tormentors, to understand why some students bully others, and to stand up for themselves. But then he began rethinking his philosophy, particularly after a bullied boy he'd urged to assert himself came to his office with a black eye.

Now a school counselor in Maine, Davis decided a broader approach to bullying prevention was needed, and began working on a school-wide behavior rubric to encourage positive behavior, discourage bullying, and provide consistent consequences for student not following the policies. The system has met with great success, and Davis now visits schools across the U.S. to help them set up behavior rubrics and offers training sessions in his approach. He also offers advice and resources on his own Web site, Stop Bullying Now.

Davis outlines his approach and explains how it can be implemented in his book, Schools Where Everyone Belongs: Practical Strategies for Reducing Bullying. He recently talked with Education World about his approach, and the need to address bullying at the school rather than the individual level.

 "Schools have told me consistently that they see a dramatic decrease in peer-to-peer aggressive behavior within three to five weeks of implementing a school-wide behavior rubric, as young people get the message that discipline interventions for aggression will be inevitable, fair, and escalating for all students and in all areas of the school," says Stan Davis, author of Schools Where Everyone Belongs: Practical Strategies for Reducing Bullying.

Education World: How does your approach for reducing bullying differ from some others?

Stan Davis: The primary goal of my bullying reduction strategies is to have school staff and students work together to encourage, model, and enforce school-wide expectations for respectful behavior. As a guidance counselor working in a school that is preventing bullying, I have sought to develop techniques that are both research-based and effective. My book and trainings are about the specific actions, policies, and structures that make a difference in the real world. In addition, there is a split in the bullying prevention world. Those of us whose work is based on the Olweus research have focused our interventions on changing school climate, changing how staff and administrators react to incidents of bullying, and building supports for peer bystander interventions.

Some of the other bullying prevention approaches focus on changing the behavior of the young people who are bullied, or on helping bullies and targets work out their 'conflicts.' If we look at the parallels to other forms of power-based abuse (for example, sexual harassment, and spouse abuse), we see that society first tried to deny that there was a problem, then focused on changing the behavior of the target. Targets of spouse abuse would be told: "He doesn't mean to hurt you; he doesn't know his own strength." They would be told: "Learn to cook better. Don't disagree with him in public."

Targets of sexual harassment would be told to dress differently or not let the harassment get to them. In both spouse abuse and sexual harassment, we have learned that setting and enforcing clear behavioral standards and consequences are crucial for making change, as is modeling of acceptable behavior by people in authority. Once we have set and enforced standards we can begin changing behavior. Lectures and assemblies about 'being kind' will not work unless they are in the context of disciplinary enforcement and positive modeling by staff. Enforcement of rules is only likely to work if it is done within a positive emotional framework, so aggressive young people see that they are getting in trouble because of what they did rather than because we don't like them.

Mediation-based approaches are designed for situations where both people are at least partly to blame. In bullying it is the bully who has chosen to bully the target; mediation (especially mediation by peers) risks solidifying the bully's power over the target and increasing the target's feelings of self-blame.

In my view, effective bullying prevention efforts focus mainly on:

  • Setting and enforcing behavior standards that lead to feelings of safety for all
  • Building positive staff-student relationships
  • Supporting targets of bullying
  • Helping bullying youth find other ways to meet their needs
  • Empowering peer bystanders to act.

EW: What is the primary challenge in developing a school-wide anti-bullying program?

Davis: The primary challenge is the intense shortage of time most educators face. With new demands for accountability, testing, and record-keeping being added continuously, finding time to train staff, to keep a program going, to talk with students about bullying, and to deal with bullying incidents is difficult. The good news is that some of the most effective interventions take less time than the ineffective interventions many schools are now using.

The second biggest challenge is helping people abandon the mythologies that so many of us carry around about bullying. When I began working in bullying prevention, I realized how many of these mistaken beliefs I held myself. Television, children's books, movies, and our own upbringing teach us many myths, including:

  • that targets of bullying should learn to solve their own problems without adult help
  • That if targets just 'stand up to' the bully or 'talk things out' there will be no more bullying
  • That targets cause bullying by being passive, or by reacting to the bullying.
  • That bullies have low self-esteem or are jealous of their targets, and just need love and understanding

As Mark Twain wrote: "The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that ain't so."

EW: What have been the biggest obstacles to changing schools' approach to bullying?

Davis: In addition to finding time to train staff and implement new practices, creating consensus among staff about the importance of using new strategies and about consistent behavior expectations is sometimes difficult. I have consistently been impressed, though, by how much educators want to stop bullying and how much effort they put into intervention.

In some schools in which I have worked, there are teachers, other staff, or administrators who bully students or staff members. Identifying that pattern and working to change it is important and challenging.

EW: What are some of the benefits of using a school-wide behavior rubric?

Davis: Using a school-wide behavior rubric for peer-to-peer aggression uses less time than creating customized consequences for each event and each student. As with rubric-based grading, rubric-based behavior interventions help aggressive youth see that the consequences they earn come directly from their own behavior, rather than being given by adults. Students are helped to understand the cause-effect link between what they do and what happens to them. Schools have told me consistently that they see a dramatic decrease in peer-to-peer aggressive behavior within three to five weeks of implementing a school-wide behavior rubric, as young people get the message that discipline interventions for aggression will be inevitable, fair, and escalating for all students and in all areas of the school.

After the rubric has been in place for a while, schools start getting more consistent support from parents, who see that their child is being treated like every other child. Using small, escalating, and predictable consequences helps most parents hold their children accountable for behavior rather than fighting with the school about consequences.

EW: There is a perception that children are exhibiting more anti-social behavior than in the past and at younger ages -- one example of this being the large numbers of U.S. children expelled from preschools. What do you think is causing this increase in anti-social behavior?

Davis:During my 35 years as a child therapist and school counselor, I have seen a steady increase in the number of children who are raised with few consistent limits at home. I see more parents every year whose main strategy for discipline is talk, and who give in when their children persist. When we pair that trend with the increasing time that young people spend watching violent TV and participating in violent video games, we should expect to have an increasing number of students start school unprepared to control themselves, take others' feelings into account, or listen to adults in authority. I find that I -- and their teachers -- have to teach our kindergarten students that they should listen when someone says "no." Schools are increasingly in the business of teaching appropriate and respectful behavior, which is one reason that having clear, school-wide, consistently-applied standards for peer-to-peer behavior is so important.

EW: One of the quotes in your book is "The most difficult part of all discipline is welcoming the student we wish wasn't there." What are some things teachers can do to help them work with the more difficult students?

Davis:This quote seemed to me to capture a reality and a challenge: It is difficult to like students we don't feel successful with. As educators, we hear from many directions that we are at fault if every child does not succeed in our schools. Yet we are just one force contributing to change, and changing behavior sometimes takes a long time. If we can show difficult students we like them, we are more likely to be effective with them. To help ourselves like difficult students, we can

  • look for small signs of progress and celebrate them both internally and through specific, descriptive praise
  • remind ourselves that the problem behavior is not about us;
  • remember the serenity prayer and work to see the difference between what we can change with the time and resources at our command and what we can't;
  • monitor our own level of anger and frustration, and work to keep that anger out of our interaction with young people;
  • avoid using our own emotions as a control device. When we tell students: "I am so proud that you." "I am so disappointed that you." "I am so sad that you" we tell them that they have control over how we feel -- and oppositional students will take that control and run with it. It works better to tell students: "I noticed that you have been staying out of trouble;" "I can tell that you studied for this test;" or "I notice that you have been staying out of fights lately." This kind of statement encourages internal motivation, rather than making change something that we ask students to do for us.
  • ask colleagues to observe the student in case you have missed signs of progress, and to suggest other ways you could be working with the student.
  • make time to relax, to practice a hobby, to exercise, and find other ways to have a life outside teaching.

    EW: What have been the biggest obstacles to changing schools' approach to bullying?

    Davis: In addition to finding time to train staff and implement new practices, creating consensus among staff about the importance of using new strategies and about consistent behavior expectations is sometimes difficult. I have consistently been impressed, though, by how much educators want to stop bullying and how much effort they put into intervention.

    In some schools in which I have worked, there are teachers, other staff, or administrators who bully students or staff members. Identifying that pattern and working to change it is important and challenging.

    This e-interview with Stan Davis is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

    ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

    Ellen R. Delisio
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2005 Education World

     

    08/11/2005

     
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