The Ebb and Flow of Bullying Prevention in Schools

Stacia Walker, Bullying and Harassment Program Coordinator, Cedar Rapids Community School District

So, you’ve decided to adopt a bullying prevention program in your school district. You’ve spent months upon months researching and analyzing what bullying and harassment program best fits your school system, and you discover the perfect fit! There is district support, a team of staff is trained, and you are ready for implementation. What can go wrong?

As you are handing out fresh training materials and outlines, you get the first push-back. “Here we go again!” “What are they going to make us do now?” “I’m just too busy!” “My plate is already full!” And, they are right. Teachers have more and more pressures and expectations put on them than ever before. What now? How do you get staff buy-in and maintain enthusiasm?

For the past 12 years, I have had the pleasure of working with a district in Iowa consisting of approximately 7,800 students. I wore many hats in my position, and I was fortunate that one of those hats was to be a trainer and supporter of the bullying prevention program. It was an honor to be a part of implementing and sustaining a district-wide initiative that truly aimed to impact all students; guiding these efforts did not come without its ups and downs, however.

At first, the staff involved in the driving committee are extremely enthusiastic and energetic. Then, when the program is rolled out, there are those few neigh-sayers that bring down the energy. Once students are exposed to the new lessons, we start to see that the desired positive change in school climate and the energy has returned. As time passes, we lose enthusiasm again as things are no longer “new” …and so goes the ebb and flow of the implementation and sustainability of a program. Do not be discouraged by this! Most districts have the same experience. Here are some practical strategies to gain buy-in and keep it.

  • What is the why? – As much as we want all staff to be passionate about bullying prevention, it might not be number one on everyone’s list – they have an academic curriculum to cover. We can help these folks with their “whys” by providing and explaining data showing the time-saving impact of credible bullying prevention programs: if students feel safe, they will be more present in the classroom – both physically and mentally.
  • Beyond bullying – First and foremost, a common language needs to be established: a definition of bullying, bullying prevention rules, and the roles within a bullying situation. Having a common language and understanding around bullying behaviors is crucial for bully prevention. However, the learning goes beyond language. Include lessons and activities focusing on relationship builders; these strongly support a positive and inclusive school climate deterring bullying behaviors, as well as build life skills in connecting and communicating with others.
  • Keep it fresh – Lessons need to be revised on a regular basis. Once a lesson has been around for a while, it can become stale. Ensure the lessons are staying relevant to today’s topics and evolving technology.
  • Invest in the program – Ensure staff are provided with the materials needed to successfully implement the program, including time for the lessons to be carried out.
  • Make it a priority – It is essential to have leadership buy-in and active support. Higher-level leadership needs to engage staff in regard to the importance of the bullying prevention program. And this support needs to continue even after the program is fully implemented…staff should see and feel that their administration finds this initiative as important ten years down the road as on the first day of implementation. Passive support: simply saying they support the program but not providing the resources needed to implement the program and/or serving on the steering committee to assist in the guidance of the program, is NOT enough.
  • Continue the learning for all – Staff training is essential for keeping bullying prevention at the forefront of school priorities and initiatives. This training needs to include ongoing boosters for returning classroom teachers and annual training for new classroom teachers. In addition to teachers, training needs to be available to all staff members including custodians, bus drivers, and food service personnel.
  • Remember the MTSS triangle – Just as with academics and social-emotional programming, the Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) applies to bullying prevention. 80% of students will respond from universal lessons and discussions, 15% will benefit from an additional layer of support (possibly in a small group setting), and 5% may need the highest level of individual intervention and support.

I have now personally embarked on a new adventure in my life of bullying prevention. This year, I had the opportunity to join the Cedar Rapids Community School District team, which serves over 16,000 students in Iowa. My position is newly-created, and the primary goal of this role is to implement a bullying prevention program district-wide. Having the privilege of impacting so many students’ lives is an unbelievable feeling.

Districts of all sizes bring their own individual obstacles to the table. However, I am sure I will still encounter some of the same hurdles and joys as I did in a smaller district. Bullying prevention is crucial to our students’ feeling of safety at school, which in turn impacts success at school. While there is an ebb and flow of implementation, focus on the joys and successes. You ARE making a difference in a child’s life.

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