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What can schools do about bullying?

Schools have a very important part to play in preventing bullying, and in dealing with both face-to-face and cyber bullying. They should have a multi-faceted, comprehensive anti-bullying policy in place. Students will not inform either parents or school officials if they do not believe that adults can and will do something. Adults must take action when people are not treated respectfully. Appropriate action in dealing with minor infractions can assist in the development of an atmosphere in which bullying of any type is less likely. Firm discipline is crucial, but sanctions need to be proportional to the offense.

1. Develop a whole school anti-bullying policy. This involves planning and communication with staff, parents and students, so that all have information about what constitutes bullying and cyber bullying, put policies in place, and understand what is to be done when bullying is witnessed.

Communication with the community is particularly important regarding cyber bullying. Students minimize the harm electronic comments can cause, and adults may do the same. Both students and their parents may have a belief in absolute "free speech" and may devalue the seriousness of some cyber bullying behavior.

A school-wide policy will provide overall assessment, and clear procedures for evaluating material directed at students, staff or school. All stakeholders should understand procedures for formal disciplinary action. Not every bullying event may have a school connection or rise to the level of "substantial material disruption" of the learning environment. However, other action options should be available and clear.

2. Use the classroom to develop rules and empathy. Successful programs described in the research literature often had teachers and students develop, at the classroom level, a list of unwanted behaviors that could be classified as bullying or cyber bullying and understood by the children. This procedure enlists the ideas of the students and allows for the explanation of why certain behaviors are wrong.

3. Clear and comprehensive behavior codes. Cyber bullying events that occur on school property will probably clearly fall under the anti-bullying policy. However cyber bullying often is done away from school to students by students. Some schools have a student-signed behavior code that prohibits cyber bullying behaviors even if they occur outside of the school building.

4. Check for crossover effects. Since electronic bullying is often accompanied by bullying at school, administrators should carefully investigate in-school behaviors that are covered by school policies. If these behaviors correspond to cyber bullying that is taking place outside of school this helps the school to make the argument that the cyber bullying is affecting the learning environment.

5. Effective classroom management and disciplinary methods. Naturally, a well-run classroom provides less opportunity for bullying; there is greater attention to learning tasks and less "open" time. Classroom discipline may play a part in the other direction as well. Overly harsh discipline creates an atmosphere in which "might equals right". The assumption is created that one should use status and power to get what one wants and children will imitate these negative models.

If the child feels powerless and disrespected in the learning situations, bullying among students is also more likely to occur. On the other hand, some children will be so used to being dominated by adults they will show helplessness among their peers, and become targets of bullying.

6. Improved supervision. Bullying decreases with more supervision of children on playgrounds, in hallways, cafeterias and other school settings. This should encourage the use of volunteers and other adults in those places where bullying is likely to happen.