A Whole School Community Approach to Bullying Prevention and Intervention
Given the wide spread nature of ‘traditional’ bullying, the rapid growth of cyber-bullying and the very damaging and long-lasting psycho-somatic problems and suicide associated with both forms, there can be no room for complacency. The strong connection of ‘traditional’ and cyber-bullying, with the majority of young people engaged in both forms of bullying, means that schools cannot afford to concentrate on one form of bullying to the exclusion of another.
The Whole School Approach to Bullying Prevention is in keeping with international best practice. It includes many different elements to it and extends to all members of a school community, i.e., school management, staff (teaching and non-teaching), students, parents and others associated with the school (bus drivers, traffic wardens, local shop keepers). Critically it assists schools in moving beyond a crisis management approach to applying well thought out strategies of prevention and intervention at primary, secondary and tertiary level.
Much bullying occurs outside of school hours on the way to and from school and taking cyberbullying into account, even the home provides no safety. Thus it is crucial to capture the goodwill of those members of the school community with whom the students come in contact. To achieve the aims of a Whole School Community Approach four pillars of action are required: These are as follows:
- Develop and implement policy and practice to consistently and effectively address bullying
- Enhance understanding and competences among staff, students and parents and wider community so that they can better identify, prevent and deal with bullying
- Form collaborative partnerships between school, family and wider community and external agencies and professional bodies.
- Build a positive and supportive school culture
- Developing / Revising / Reviewing the Anti-Bullying Policy and Practices.
The first major step to be taken in promoting a Whole School Community Approach is to develop an anti-bullying policy. The policy will provide the school community with clear expectations, direction, commitment and consistency in addressing all forms of bullying. The policy needs to be explicit in its message that bullying is unacceptable and will not be tolerated and that all members are expected to portray respectful behaviour. Importantly it is only by reviewing the policy regularly that a school can expect ongoing improvements in the reduction of bullying. In developing, reviewing, revising or renewing a school’s anti-bullying policy and practices it is important that the school community is invited to contribute to the process. In allowing the staff (teaching and non-teaching) students, parents and representatives from the wider community to contribute to the process they will be more motivated to support it.
- Building Key Understandings, Skills and Competences
All members of the school community need awareness raising programmes to help them understand how to prevent, identify and deal with bullying. Young people, in particular need to understand:
- What bullying is and the different forms it can take. One form of bullying should not be ignored for the sake of another;
- Participant roles in bullying and associated risks;
- The damaging effects of bullying and the taboo of telling;
- Online safety;
- The legal consequences and risks of prosecution;
- Coping strategies.
- Collaborative School-Family Relations
One of the most important elements in reducing both bullying and victimisation as part of a whole school approach to bullying is that of parent information and training.
School staff can play a significant role by:
- Ensuring parents are aware of the school’s prevention and intervention strategies to tackle bullying;
- Encourage parents to contact the school when they have concerns about bullying;
- Contacting parents when there are issues in relation to bullying and helping them deal with overcoming the difficulties;
- Providing training and communicating helpful resources to assist parents in preventing and dealing with bullying. For example, the digital divide which commonly exists between young people, parents and teachers can be closed with appropriate information and training.
- A Positive and Supportive environment
When young people feel they belong to and are cared for by their schools they are more likely to achieve academically, hold positive attitudes towards self and others, to refrain from bullying, not to skip or drop out of school, and to have fewer health problems.
Every effort must therefore be taken to create a social environment which at all times is respectful of individual differences, positive and rewarding. Restorative approaches need also to be promoted in dealing with young people who have been involved in bullying. Punishment is not the answer as it fuels resentment and revenge and as a result contributes to the reluctance of young people to report bullying. It may also cause the bullying to become more covert so as to be less easily detected by adults. A restorative approach, on the other hand, trains young people to become more empathic while also teaching them to take responsibility for their behaviour and to make good. It must always be remembered that to promote and reinforce respectful behaviour among students, they need to observe staff, at all times, both in and out of class, practice what they preach.
The Whole School Community Approach most importantly breaks down the taboo associated with bullying in all its forms by taking a mature approach and by stating things in a way that everyone can understand. Essentially it does what most parents and students wish for and that is taking the issue of bullying seriously and formalising a zero acceptance to it. Importantly, all members of the school community gain the necessary knowledge to cope with bullying and to whom they can turn if in need of support. Also all members of the school community become more willing and confident to take on the role of defender.
The increased understanding, competence and willingness to intervene among staff, parents and young people and the wider community which a whole school community approach has the power to give, will have schools see a significant reduction in the level of victimisation and bullying.
Mona O'Moore (Guest Blogger)
Professor Mona O’Moore is a special advisor to CyberSafeIreland and founder of ABC, National Anti-Bullying Resource and Research Centre, Dublin City University. Her book Understanding Cyberbullying: A Guide for Parents and Teachers outlines further details on the steps to take in developing a whole school community approach to bullying.