By Teachers, For Teachers
The vast majority of teenage students have experienced bullying at one time or another. According a report published by Business Insider in October of 2013, approximately 80 percent of students report experiencing some form of harassment.
The majority of this bullying is verbal between peers, but with the proliferation of cyber media, bullying behaviors increasingly occur in the digital arena as well. Students bully one another in the hallway, online, in the bathrooms, in the cafeteria – anywhere the teacher’s back is turned. Although a great number of adults have each played crucial parts in confronting the bullying epidemic, it is imperative that the most important people – the students – play a central role toward establishing a culture of anti-bullying.
Lawmakers are not ignorant to the problem of bullying, and have addressed the issue with a series of legislation. The majority of states have laws that seek to either prevent bullying or deal with it when it occurs. Some even have laws mandating that school personnel must report bullying incidences to students’ family members.
Similarly, organizations also actively contribute toward anti-bullying causes. Organizations like the National Bullying Prevention Center sponsor messages, training, resources and activities that support students, parents and educators. Events like National Bullying Prevention Month (October) and Unity Day are sponsored through NBPC, and other organizations like this help communities across the country prepare for and respond to bullying.
Schools themselves have taken a more proactive approach to bullying as well. Many teachers receive annual training to recognize bullying situations and make appropriate interventions. School personnel work with students and families to educate them about bullying. This helps parents communicate to their children about bullying and helps students deal with bullying as well.
Overall, there is a huge spectrum of individuals – from legislators to organizations to educators to families – who are passionate about curbing bullying … and yet the problem persists. What other solutions exist that can address the obstinate bullying problem? The solution is not in training, laws, organizations, or education. These are all fantastic responses to bullying, yet they primarily empower adults – not students – to take on the bullies. Ultimately, it’s the students and not the adults who must, at some point, be the ones to address the issue.
Downers Grove South High School in the Chicago suburbs has taken a unique and positive approach to bullying at their school: They empower students themselves. Bullying often takes place behind the adults’ backs, where the bully won’t be reprimanded. But students see what’s going on. Students notice the bullying. And students have the power to speak out against it. Downers Grove’s program, called Join the Movement, doesn’t just talk about bullying to students. It seeks to reshape the culture of the entire school, where every student is responsible for every other student. When any form of bullying occurs, students step up and do something incredibly powerful: they tell the bully to stop.
Although bullying perniciously continues, it has decreased significantly at schools like Downers Grove, which has its own Join the Movement programs, encouraging students themselves to take responsibility for the culture at their school. Although all the lawmakers, organizations, parents, and educators in the world could continue to exert themselves in the name of anti-bullying, no one can make a greater impact on their school’s culture of bullying than the students. When students are reminded by other students that they possess the power to stand up against bullying, then more and more individuals in a school join the “movement” and speak out when they see it occurring. Bullies, then, become an awkward minority, and think twice before being reprimanded by their peers. The power of students in reshaping their own school culture must be central to any anti-bullying efforts.
How can we teach students to spot bullying? To have courage to say “stop it” to meanness? To build one another up rather than tear one another down? As you examine the culture of your school and the responses already in place for bullying situations, think critically about how you can empower your students to play the central role standing up for one another.
How does your school address bullying? What solutions have contributed to a culture of respect and anti-bullying? Tell us what works for you in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com.