Teaching prevention through anti-bullying lessons is about more than just eliminating bullying; it’s also about promoting the development of healthy relationships.

What is Bullying?

Bullying is an unwanted and often aggressive behavior involving a real or perceived power imbalance. Children who are bullied, or who bully others, may have serious and lasting developmental issues through adolescence and adulthood. Typically, for an individual to be considered a bully, they:

  • Leverage an imbalance of power: children who bully use their ‘power’ (e.g. physical strength, access to embarrassing/private information, popularity) to control and/or harm others
  • Repeat the behavior: bullying behaviors happen or have the potential to happen, more than once

Bullying is more prevalent than you might expect. According to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children

  • Bullier: 30% of youth admit they have bullied others
  • Bullied: 1 in 3 students say they have been bullied at school
  • Bystander: 70% say they have witnessed bullying

6 Tips to Foster a Bully-Free Learning Environment

Consider these six anti-bullying activities to encourage students to practice compassion and positive relationship building with their peers and the school community:

1.  Anti-Bullying Skits: Start by modeling the behavior you want to see by helping students understand the negative impact bullying has on others. If this is the first time you using role-playing with your class, ask students to stick closely to the script. As students gain experience in doing role-plays, encourage them to be creative and develop a deeper understanding of their characters. To take the anti-bullying skits one step further, come up with real or fictional stories to perform as a class, like bullying on the playground, bullying at the cafeteria, or bullying on the school bus.

2. Create an inclusive community early on in the school year: Students are more likely to feel safe and comfortable when their learning environment is positive, inclusive, and inviting. Adapting the physical space by changing the layout of desks, seating arrangements, and visual supports can benefit all students. Different arrangements of the classroom can promote social interaction to build a sense of community. Below is an example of what an inclusive layout of desks looks like (horseshoe) versus what a non-inclusive layout looks like (rows).

3. Knowledge Building Circles: Knowledge Building Discourse is a communal activity in which learners come together to pose questions, exchange theories, and to revisit, negotiate, and refine their ideas (Natural Curiosity). Knowledge Building Circles promote attentive listening and communication, eliminates hierarchy, and fosters respect in the classroom.

4. Positive Reinforcement: Consider token reinforcement which occurs when points or tokens are awarded for desired behavior. The rewards themselves have little value but they can be collected, then exchanged for something valuable to the student. For instance, when a student shows a certain behavior (e.g. helping a student get up after haven fallen from the swing set) the teacher can choose to give them a ticket. At the end of the week, tickets can be exchanged for an individual prize or classroom prize (e.g. stickers or pizza party).

5. Digital Programs: Practice and build healthy relationships in safe space using curriculum-aligned digital programs that focus on bullying prevention, healthy relationships, and compassion:

  • Honor Code – Bullying Prevention for middle school students takes a practical approach to bullying prevention by empowering students to create positive change in their school community, whether they’re engaging in bullying, on the receiving end of it, or witnessing it in their school.
  • Character Playbook offers six lessons that cover key concepts around positive character development, social-emotional learning (SEL), and teaching healthy relationships. This program allows students to engage with real-world scenarios, including bystander intervention training, resolving conflicts, effective communication, and positive relationships.
  • The Compassion Project promotes compassion education for elementary students and helps educators facilitate lessons around fundamental SEL skills while focusing on the complex but critical skill of compassion.

6. Activities for Parents: Explore ways to involve parents in the process of building a bully-free learning environment. Engage parents in your bullying prevention programs and increase awareness through Parent Teacher Student Association meetings, conferences, newsletters, and social media. Ask parents to model and role-play with their child around what healthy and unhealthy interactions look like. Inspiration could come from real-life encounters, observations, or even stories (e.g. bullying a younger sibling, bullying your playdate friend, or bullying at the park).

Taking steps to prevent bullying in your classroom will go a long way in improving your classroom culture and effectiveness as an educator. Students that experience healthy relationships are less likely to bully others, more likely to support students who are being bullied, and are better able to reach their educational goals. Promoting these healthy relationships is key to preventing bullying and creating a safe and nurturing learning environment.

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