What Is the Best Way to Respond to Bullying in Schools?

by | Aug 2, 2019

What Is the Best Way to Respond to Bullying in Schools?

Facilitating Anti-Bullying Workshops in schools provides us the chance to meet and speak to a lot of teachers about school bullying. So we understand that even in the best schools, bullying can still take place. You may have a clear Anti-Bullying policy and proactive approach around anti-bullying but responding to bullying situations is still an inevitable part of working with young people.

On our search to find the best way of responding to bullying situations, it’s interesting to consider the significant increase in the research around anti-bullying. For example in 1975 there was just 8 articles that contained the word ‘bully’. From 1996 – 2005 there was 1546 articles, and from 2006 to 2015 it was 8,251 articles that mentioned ‘bullying’. Much of this research around bullying and anti-bullying has provided insight into the most effective preventative and reactive anti-bullying strategies.

Let’s look at some of the different reactive strategies to dealing with bullying, and some of the advantages and disadvantages. This blog was informed in part from Peter K. Smith’s brilliant and succinct book The Psychology of School Bullying.’ I recommend checking it out.

Punitive Approach

A Punitive anti-bullying approach involves applying sanctions to the bullying child. Sanctions used in schools can range in severity. This may start with a serious talk with a teacher, and then move into detentions, calling in parents, withdrawal of privileges or litter picking.

The advantages of punitive approaches is that they send a clear message around what is acceptable in the school, and that the schools anti-bullying policy is to be taken seriously. Being on the receiving end of a negative sanction may also bring about positive changes in behaviour.

One study in the U.S. suggested that the most effective sanctions were withdrawal of privileges, and parent / teacher conferences in which the parents are called in to speak to a teacher about the bullying incident. However, just informing the parent about the bullying incident without holding a meeting with the parent often had a significantly negative impact.

A disadvantage of a punitive approach is that we may not gain as much insight in what cause the bullying situation to arise. It is also possible that this approach damages relations further and punished students may become resentful towards the school or the other students involved.

Non-Punitive Approach

A non-punitive anti bullying approach would involve encouraging the bullying child to have empathy towards the victim. This approach is seen in the Support Group Method which focuses on developing peer support, social skills and empathy of the students in involved.

An advantage of non-punitive approaches is that it allows teachers to work collaboratively with all participants of the bullying situation. We may gain a greater understanding of how the situation occurred. It also provides the opportunity to develop respectful relationships between students, and between students and teachers.

However, some have criticised a non-punitive approach as avoiding placing blame of responsibility on the bullying students. For example, the Support Group Method was originally called the No Blame Approach and it was suggested that meetings should be started with ‘We are not blaming anyone for what has happened.’

Restorative Approach

The restorative anti bullying approach which is increasingly more common in schools aims for a middle road between punitive and non-punitive.

This approach also encourages bullying students to think about the consequences of their actions and aims to increase empathy as with the non-punitive approach. However, a restorative approach does not exempt bullying students from responsibility, and does not rule out sanctions if the situation does not improve after initial meetings.

This approach would be based around conferences or meetings with the students involved with the outcome of restoring positive relationships between students. The question posed to the bullying students could be something like:

‘Student x has felt upset by what you have done; What could you do to help make things better and restore a positive relationship?’

This encourages collaboration from the bullying student, and holds them accountable.

The three principles of a restorative approach to bullying are:

  • Responsibility: The bullying student learns to take responsibility for their actions.

  • Reparation: The bullying students are encouraged to make commitments to improve relationships and improve the situation. The victim is involved in this process.

  • Resolution: The bullying incident is successfully resolved so that students can then interact without further conflict.

This approach is more effective if students are used to talking about their feelings, and if the process is led by a skilled facilitator.

A common approach would start by holding a meeting with the bullying student and asking questions to encourage them to think about the consequences of their actions, this would be done without threat of sanctions.

I recommend checking out ‘The Psychology of School Bullying’ by Peter K, smith here, for further reading on this topic.

At OpenView Education we will be visiting thousands of students throughout the country with our Anti-Bullying Workshops to help schools celebrate Anti-Bullying Week 2019: Change Starts With Us. Our visits are supported by original Anti-Bullying Lesson Plans, and we will have activities that support students in creating a warm and supportive environment in the classroom. This can be a great way of preparing students for the application of a restorative approach to Anti-Bullying.

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