Steps to Prevent Cyber Bullying in Schools
The best way to address bullying in schools is to stop it before it starts. There are a number of things school staff can do to make schools safer and prevent bullying.
Assess your school’s prevention and intervention efforts around student behavior, including substance use and violence. You may be able to build upon them or include new bullying prevention strategies.
Assessments, especially surveys, can help schools determine the frequency and locations of bullying . They can also measure the effectiveness of current prevention and intervention efforts. Knowing what’s going on can help your staff select appropriate prevention and response strategies.
Assessments involve asking school or community members, including students, about their experiences and thoughts related to bullying. An assessment is planned, purposeful, and uses research tools.
Use Assessments to:
- Identify what’s going on. Adults underestimate the rates of bullying because kids rarely report it and it often happens when adults aren’t around. Assessing bullying through anonymous surveys can provide a clear picture of what is happening in your school.
- Target efforts. Understanding trends and types of bullying in your school can help you plan bullying prevention and intervention efforts.
- Measure results. Get an idea if your prevention and intervention efforts are working is to measure them over time.
An assessment can ask specific bullying topics, such as:
- Frequency and types
- Adult and peer response
- Locations that bullying happens
- Staff attitudes about bullying
- Parts of the school or community that may support or help stop it
- Finding out if students feel safe at school
- School culture about bullying
How to Develop and Implement an Effective Assessment
Should schools choose to use school-wide surveys to assess bullying. There are several steps involved:
- Choose a survey. There are many free, reliable, and validated assessment tools available. Choose a set of measures that covers the questions you want answered, is age appropriate, and can be answered in a reasonable amount of time. You can also make your own using information included in our lessons. (We are working on a Cyber Bully Busters School Survey.)
- Obtain parental consent as your district requires. Some allow passive consent, others require active consent. According to federal guidelines, at a minimum, each year the Local Education Agency (LEA), must notify parents about the survey and when it will be conducted. Parents have the right to opt their child out of the survey. Parents also have the right to inspect and review the surveys before they are given.
- Administer the survey. Include your staff in the administration process. School staff are best equipped to judge how to carry out a survey at school.
- Administer surveys early in the school year. Schedules surveys after students are settled in a routine but there is still time to use the findings in the school year’s prevention efforts.
- Assess at least once every school year. Although it is a good idea to survey students at the start and end of the school year to track progress and plan activities for the following year.
- Decide which students will be surveyed to ensure statistically significant results. Schools may choose school-wide surveys or surveys of specific grades. (In high schools we highly recommend school wide surveys.)
- Plan to administer the survey when all students can take it at once. This will reduce the chance that they will discuss it and affect each other’s answers.
- Protect student privacy. Many surveys are subject to the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Assure students that their responses will be kept confidential and that their answers can’t be tracked back to them.
- Analyze and distribute findings. This is best done by appointing a special committee of staff members, or by using your counseling staff.
- Make sure you continue to protect students’ privacy by ensuring that no personally identifiable information is accessible. (If privacy is breached, all future surveys will be worthless.)
- Consider how the survey results will be shared with teachers, parents, and students. Once again, protect student privacy.
- Make sure that you are prepared to respond to the results of the survey. Have a clear plan for prevention and intervention in place or in development.
Include Parents and Students
School staff can do a great deal to prevent bullying and protect students, but they can’t do it alone. Parents and students also have a role to play in preventing bullying at school. One mechanism for engaging parents and youth, a school safety committee, can bring the community together to keep bullying prevention at school active and focused. Another could be creating a Student-Led Anti-Bullying club. (Make sure you have staff sponsors that you trust to monitor this group closely.)
Benefits of Parent and Student Engagement
Research shows that school administrators, such as principals, can play a powerful role in bullying prevention. They can inspire others and maintain a climate of respect and inclusion. But a principal cannot do it alone. When parents and students are involved in the solutions:
- Students feel safer and can focus on learning.
- Parents worry less.
- Teachers and staff can focus on their work.
- Schools can develop more responsive solutions because students are more likely to see or hear about bullying than adults.
- School climate improves because students are engaged in taking action to stop bullying.
- Parents can support schools’ messages about bullying at home. They are also more likely to recognize signs that a child has been bullied or is bullying others. (We have included a list of “Parent Tips” in this appendix that can be sent home to parents.)
Schools can set the stage for meaningful parent and students involvement, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Parents and students need to feel included and be given opportunities to contribute their expertise. To sustain their involvement, schools need to provide meaningful roles for them. Here are some examples:
- Students can contribute their views and experiences with bullying. (But be careful of possible retaliation against them.)
- Parents can contribute to a positive school climate through the parent teacher association, volunteering, and school improvement events.
- School staff can keep parents informed, make them feel welcome, and treat them as partners. Schools should consider identifying a school coordinator to support parent and youth engagement strategies.
Set Policies & Rules
School staff can help prevent bullying by establishing and enforcing school rules and policies that clearly describe how students are expected to treat each other. Consequences for violations of the rules should be clearly defined as well.
Types of Rules and Policies
There are several types of policies and rules that work to prevent bullying. Each serves a different purpose. For example:
- A school mission statement establishes the vision for the school. Everyone should know how they personally help the school achieve this shared goal.
Sample Mission Statement (Courtesy of stopbullying.gov)
[Name of School] is committed to each student’s success in learning within a caring, responsive, and safe environment that is free of discrimination, violence, and bullying. Our school works to ensure that all students have the opportunity and support to develop to their fullest potential and share a personal and meaningful bond with people in the school community.
- A code of conduct describes the positive behaviors expected of the school community. The code of conduct applies to all, sets standards for behavior, and covers a focused set of expected positive behaviors. State laws sometimes specify what must be included in a school’s code of conduct.
- A student bill of rights includes positive things students can expect at school. Keep it short and easy to remember, so it is useful in day-to-day school life.
Sample Student Bill of Rights (Courtesy of stopbullying.gov)
Each student at [school] has a right to:
- Learn in a safe and friendly place
- Be treated with respect
- Receive the help and support of caring adults
Integrating Rules and Policies into a School’s Culture
As you develop or update school rules and policies, have a plan for keeping them relevant and meaningful for students and school staff.
- Make sure school rules and policies are consistent with state laws and the school district rules and policies.
- Include school staff, parents, and students when developing rules and policies. Giving students a role can help them set their own climate of respect and responsibility. Parental involvement can reinforce these messages at home.
- Train school staff on enforcing school rules and policies. Give them the tools to respond to bullying consistently and appropriately.
- Incorporate rules and policies in day-to-day school interactions. Teachers and students can discuss the rules in class. Students can hold each other accountable. The principal can give an annual “state of the school” speech that reports on the mission.
Establish a Reporting System
Schools can establish clear procedures for reporting rule violations so that reasonable consequences can be given to students when rules are broken. Reporting systems help track individual incidents and responses as well as trends over time.
Some tips for establishing a reporting system:
- Make it easy. People are more likely to report when it’s a simple process.
- Maintain reports and track patterns.
- Keep reports confidential and private. School staff and students have to be able to report violations without fear of retaliation.
Build a Safe Environment
A safe and supportive school climate can help prevent bullying. Safety starts in the classroom. Students should also feel and be safe everywhere on campus, in the cafeteria, in the library, in the rest rooms, on the bus, and in the gym. Everyone at school has to work together to create a climate where bullying is not acceptable.
Create a Safe and Supportive Environment
In general, schools can:
- Establish a culture of inclusion and respect that welcomes all students. Reward students when they show thoughtfulness and respect for peers, adults, and the school. The Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Technical Assistance Center can help.
- Make sure students interact safely. Monitor bullying “hot spots” in and around the building. Students may be at higher risk of bullying in settings where there is little or no adult monitoring or supervision, such as bathrooms, the gym, and the cafeteria.
- Enlist the help of all school staff. All staff can keep an eye out for bullying. They also help set the tone at school. Teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, office staff, librarians, school nurses, and others see and influence students every day. Train school staff to recognize and prevent bullying.
- Set a tone of respect in the classroom. This means managing student behavior in the classroom well. Well-managed classrooms are the least likely to have bullying.
Manage Classrooms to Prevent Bullying
Teachers can consider these ways to promote the respect, positive relations, and order that helps prevent bullying in the classroom:
- Create ground rules.
- Develop rules with students so they set their own climate of respect and responsibility.
- Use positive terms, like what to do, rather than what not to do.
- Support school-wide rules.
- Reinforce the rules.
- Be a role model and follow the rules yourself. Show students respect and encourage them to be successful.
- Make expectations clear, and keep these expectations simple, direct, and specific.
- Reward good behavior. Try to affirm good behavior more often then redirect bad behavior.
- Use one-on-one feedback, and do not publicly reprimand.
- Help students correct their behaviors. Help them understand violating the rules results in consequences. (And make sure there really are consequences, students learn early when the school is bluffing.)
Classroom Meetings (Information Courtesy of stopbullying.gov)
Classroom meetings provide a forum for students to talk about school-related issues beyond academics. These meetings can help teachers stay informed about what is going on at school and help students feel safe and supported.
These meetings work best in classrooms where a culture of respect is already established. Classroom meetings are typically short and held on a regular schedule. They can be held in a student’s main classroom, home room, or advisory period.
- Establish ground rules. Kids should feel free to discuss issues without fear. Classroom meetings are not a time to discuss individual conflicts or gossip about others. Reinforce existing classroom rules.
- Start the conversation. Focus on specific topics, such as bullying or respectful behaviors. Meetings can identify and address problems affecting the group as a whole. Stories should be broad and lead to solutions that build trust and respect between students. Use open-ended questions or prompts such as
- Share an example of a student who helped someone at school this week.
- Without names, share an example of someone who made another student feel bad.
- What did students nearby do? What did you do? Did you want to do something different—why or why not?
- If you could describe the perfect response to the situation what would it be? How hard or easy would it be to do? Why?
- How can adults help?
- End the meeting with a reminder that it is everyone’s job to make school a positive place to learn. Encourage kids to talk to teachers or other trusted adults if they see bullying or are worried about how someone is being treated.
- Follow-up when necessary. Monitor student body language and reactions. If a topic seems to be affecting a student, follow-up with him or her. Know what resources are available to support students affected by bullying.
Educate About Bullying
Training school staff and students to prevent and address bullying can help sustain bullying prevention efforts over time.
Staff Training on Bullying Prevention
To ensure that bullying prevention efforts are successful, all school staff need to be trained on what bullying is, what the school’s policies and rules are, and how to enforce the rules. The fact that you are reading this shows you have already completed our training program on Cyber Bullying.
Training can be successful when staff are engaged in developing messages and content, and when they feel that their voices are heard. Learning should be relevant to their roles and responsibilities to help build buy-in.
Remember that we offer a comprehensive online course for school age children, Online Safety & Digital Citizenship, to teach them many aspects of online safety, including lessons over cyber bullying. This course can be given to your entire student body at a minimal cost to the school.