I remember sitting in my classroom during lunch time and a grade 8 female learner came in crying uncontrollably. She was hurt, sad and angry. She was battling to speak. So I calmed her down, gave her a glass of water and told her to take a seat and relax. I never asked her what happened immediately. After letting her relax for some time I asked whether she already had lunch and she replied saying, “yes I did”. I refrained from asking her why she was crying and proceeded to make a casual conversation. I asked her which class she goes to, has she received homework so far, where she stays, which primary school she was attending and so on.
When I realized that she’s now good to talk I then asked her what happened and apparently she’s one of the learners who gets bullied at school. I also realized that chances are, one of your learners is being bullied every day and that’s the reason why I’m writing this post. My aim is to help teachers get control of bullies and stop this kind of behaviour entirely. By reading further you will learn how to do exactly that.
Let’s get started!
If you are like most teachers, it’s either you are unaware of the existence of bullying behaviour at your school or you just don’t know how to stop it. This is why bullying has become so widespread. The teacher is the only person that is in a position to put a stop to it, and teachers are not equipped to do so.
While you are reading this post you need to understand that this is not another post about preaching respect or teaching manners or group counseling or even how the community plays a role in learner development. This is about putting an end to bullying. It’s about protecting your learners and their right to learn and enjoy school without being threatened, violated, terrorized or picked on.
It’s about stepping in and saying, “I’m your teacher, and you will not be bullied. Not while I’m still around.”
If you want to be that kind of a teacher, if you want to end bullying in your classroom forever, if you want to take a stand for those who can’t always stand for themselves, then keep reading.
How to stop bullying behavior
This website can help any teacher get control of their classrooms. It can help them to thrive in the profession. The strategies that I recommend in each and every article on this site are both simple and effective. This article is no different. Put the strategies and guidelines below into practice and you will put an end to bullying.
But, you have to follow through since it does take a certain amount of work. You’ll have to be vigilant. You’ll have to have courage. The rewards for you and your learners can be life changing.
- Take a stand and make a commitment.
Decide right now that you will do whatever it takes to legally, safely, and ethically prevent bullying in your classroom. You must commit yourself that, above all, to protecting each learner’s right to learn and enjoy school.
- Know what bullying is.
Bullying is the strong preying upon the weak. It can be a physical advantage, for example if the bully is big and strong in size or a social advantage, maybe the bully is ‘rich’ and has a lot of influence. It can be one learner or many. It usually takes the form of threats, intimidation, repeated cruelty, and/or forcing someone against his or her will to do what the bully wants.
- You take care of it.
Don’t wait for someone else to step in. Don’t assume that because you referred the bullying behaviour to the principal or his deputy, that it’s going to be taken care of. You take on the responsibility and see it through to the end.
- Know your school’s bullying policy.
It’s important that you’re familiar with your school’s bullying policy, if there is one. When should a learner be referred to the office? What circumstances constitute suspension? What about expulsion? You need to be clear on these matters so you can accurately communicate the policy to your learners and their parents.
- Work within the school policy.
In most schools that I know a learner who physically bullies another learner is usually suspended, as of course they should. Make sure you understand what your responsibilities within the policy and be sure to follow them.
- Have your own bullying policy.
In addition to your school’s bullying policy, you must have your own policy, or steps you take when bullying occurs in a classroom. You are in a better and more influential position to stop bullying than any principal or management staff. To effectively stop bullying, learners who bully must answer to you and his or her classmates.
- Send a copy of your policy to parents the first week of school.
Your bullying policy should be part of the classroom management packet you send home to parents during the first week of school. It’s a smart way to protect yourself from complaints, and it gives parents a chance to discuss bullying with their child.
- Make a promise to your learners
At the start of every school year, and repeated regularly throughout the year, make a promise to your learners that if they are the victim of bullying, you will take care of it. It’s your job to take care of it. And you will protect them and make it go away.
- Make a second promise
Promise your learners that if ever they’re bullied, they can talk to you privately and you will never reveal you’ve spoken. They can slide you a note or ask if they can speak to you during lunch time about a lesson issues. But you will protect their privacy and you will never reveal that you heard it from them.
- Communicate your policy.
Teach your bullying policy to your learners during the first week of school. Define bullying for them, model what it looks like, role-play common scenarios, and make clear what happens if they bully a fellow learner.
- Watch your class like a hawk. Always. Notice body language. Keep an eye on learners who are socially awkward, smaller in size, or less confident. Be aware of those learners who have fewer friends, who are alone most of the time, or who play by themselves during lunch time. They are often, though not always, most likely to be bullied.
- Keep your ear to the ground.
Victims of bullying are usually afraid or embarrassed to come forward. Be proactive. Identify your leaders early in the school year (a key strategy). Check in with them often. Build a trusting relationship with these few key influencers. It’s important that you’re able to count on them to be your eyes and ears on the playground or whenever you’re away from your class.
- Talk to your learners.
When you’re working with individual learners, ask them, “How are things going? Anyone bothering you? Do you know of any learners who pick on others?” It takes only a few seconds and if you have a good relationship with your learners, they’ll give it to you straight.
- Don’t discourage snitching.
You can’t protect your learners from bullying if you discourage them from telling you about it. The truth is, frequent snitching is a message that the teacher is not protecting the rights of learners to learn and enjoy school without interference.
- Get the facts.
When you get a report of bullying, take your time gathering the facts. Take notes, interview witnesses, and open a file for documentation. Don’t be in a rush to react, and don’t overreact. You need to find out exactly what happened.
- Separate immediately.
Once you’re clear on the facts of the incident, and know who is responsible. Act immediately. Separate the bully or bullies from their classmates and put them in detention. Tell them why, but don’t lecture, reprimand, raise your voice, or even ask for a response.
- Report the bullying.
If the bullying behaviour in any way triggers a consequence in the school’s policy, you must report it, and always if it’s physical in nature. Keep in mind, regardless of how it’s handled in the office; you will still follow through with your classroom bullying policy.
- Speak to the bully’s parents.
Call the parents of the bullying learner and set up a meeting. Be kind and respectful. Just give the facts during the meeting, reading straight from your notes. Tell them simply that bullying is unacceptable, and inform them of how you’re taking care of the problem and how the learner will be held accountable.
- Speak to victim’s parents.
Let the parents of the learner being bullied know exactly what happened and how you’re handling it. Assure them that you’ll do everything in your power to make sure it doesn’t happen again. This is now a very important responsibility and highest priority.
- Extended detention.
Keep the bullying learner(s) in extended detention for one week. Also, keep him (or her) with you, or under adult supervision, during lunch time. If his behaviour is perfect and he is kind to his classmates during the week, then give him a try-out; allow him to re-join the class on a probationary basis.
- Prepare an apology.
Sometime during the one-week extended detention, ask the bullying learner to write an apology to the victim and then memorize it. Ask the victim privately for permission to have the bully address the class. Most of the time they will happily say yes. If not, writing the letter is instructive and therefore still worth doing.
- Send a message.
After checking the work, have the bullying learner address the class. Reciting an apology publicly puts her (or him) on record in front of her classmates that she acknowledges her behaviour and promises not to do it again. It can be a powerful, humbling, and behaviour-changing experience.
- Again, supervise.
Keep a close eye on both the bully and the victim for weeks after the incident. Know who they’re with on the playground and where they’re playing. Have your leaders keep an eye on them—preferably playing with them. Trust your learners, but always verify.
- Talk to them often.
Talk to both learners often. Ask how things are going and if they’re having any problems. Never hold a grudge against the bullying learner. Give him or her an opportunity to put the past where it belongs.
- Talk to the parents.
After a couple of weeks, have a chat with both parents and let them know how their child is doing. They need to know that you haven’t forgotten and that you’re going to see it through to the end of the year.
- If it happens again…
If you see or hear of more bullying behaviour from the same learner, which is unlikely if you follow the steps above, then place him or her immediately back in extended detention for an unlimited period of time.
If the learner can’t be trusted, then you can’t leave him or her alone with others. It’s as simple as that. This is the promise you made to each of your learners and is the right thing to do. Keep the learner in extended detention until you can trust him/her again—which could take weeks.
- When to consider a social worker.
If you notice the victim of the bullying becomes withdrawn, less social, or unable to enjoy your classroom, then consider referring the learner to professional counselling. The bullying learner, too, should be referred if the bully-like behaviour is repeated.
- Be an expert in classroom management.
The truth is, bullying hardly, if ever, happens in well-run classrooms. When standards of behaviour are clearly communicated, when learners are held accountable using an effective classroom management plan, and when the teacher is well-versed in fair, effective strategies, then learners don’t bully.
- Build positive relationships with your learners.
One of the keys to effective classroom management is to build trusting relationship with your learners. When learners like you, trust you, and believe in you and your message, they are extremely influenced and much less likely to be involved in bullying behaviour.
- Make your classroom incredible.
When you create a classroom your learners love being part of, they experience a sense of belonging and connections that makes them to be both inclusive and protective of one another, regardless of background or personality.
And when all learners are considered valuable members of the class, when they’re engaged and motivated, and when they’re busy learning and contributing to a class they really care about, then bullying doesn’t even enter their mind.
- Protect Like A Parent
When parents send their children to school, it’s with the assumption that they’ll be safe. It is our responsibility as teachers to make sure that they are, not just from bullies, but from anything that interferes with learning, building friendships, and enjoying the school experience.
Parents will do anything to protect their children. They’ll go to the ends of the earth to care for them. They’ll stand in front of anyone or anything wishing to harm them. They’ll lift a car above the ground to save them.
We must have a similar mindset toward each of our learners. After all, in the classroom we are the last line of defense. Bullying doesn’t have to be a problem. It doesn’t have to take place in your classroom. It doesn’t have to be part of the daily lives of our learners.
You have the power to put a stop to it. You’re the only one with the power to put a stop to it.
Now it’s your turn. What strategies do you have to tackle bullying in your classroom? Let me know in the comments below.
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