What Can I Do About Bullies?
Expert strategies for maintaining a safe, healthy environment in your classroom
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12
Bullying is a complex issue that can be difficult to approach. Veteran teacher Ruth Manna offers some tips in her book, 130 FAQs and Practical Answers From Scholastic's Teacher Helpline.
- Take bullying seriously. Bullies can ruin all kinds of school activities for other students, both inside and outside of the classroom. Bullying, however, can also have a very deep, long-lasting emotional effect. It’s not enough to punish bullies when incidents occur. What’s required is a change in the environment and attitudes of all students, particularly bystanders.
- Be vigilant. Mobilize the entire school community to stop bullying. All staff members and students need to be alert and prepared to stop a bullying incident.
- Increase number of adults. On the playground, increase the ratio of adults to students. A teacher or administrator needs to be present on the playground at all times. Recruit paraprofessionals and parent volunteers to assist those already on duty. Adults should walk around to monitor behavior and step in promptly to stop conflict. Adults need to make the playground safe for all students. They should not stand at the edge of the playground and chat with one another. When students report incidents, adults need to take them seriously and follow up.
- Keep a log. A designated teacher on our playground carries a notebook in which she records the date, adults on duty, and incidents of bullying, exclusion, isolation, and accidents. It helps to have a written record so teachers have accurate data and see patterns of behavior over time. When we meet with parents, it’s enlightening for them to see evidence, not just hear anecdotes.
- Enlist bystanders. Every morning as part of our class promise my students say, “We stand up for what is right, for ourselves and others.” All students need to know they can and should stop bullies. We teach and practice a ready, shouted response, “NO! Stop it right now!” Students are encouraged to stop bullies themselves and seek adult help. We call this “reporting” and stress that students aren’t tattling when they tell adults.
- Monitor at-risk students. At our school we want all students to feel connected to teachers and staff, but we have special concern for emotionally and socially at-risk students. Every fall we make a list of at-risk students so all teachers and staff know their names. Each teacher selects one or two students to touch base with in the halls and on the playground. We check in with these students every day and, in recognizing and caring about them, strengthen their connection to us and to the community. Students who feel genuinely cared for are less likely to become bullies or targets.
- Use literature. Recently a number of books have been written specifically about bullying, and while they’re good, they aren’t always the most effective. A book doesn’t have to have "bully" in the title to be about bullying. I find it’s more effective if the topic can be incorporated throughout the year as students read and respond to literature. For example, one of my read-aloud chapter books is an animal story, Poppy by Avi. Mr. Ocax, a Great Horned Owl, is the villain in Poppy. Ocax is a classic bully who embodies attributes of fear, anxiety, and insecurity. As we read, we discuss characteristics of bullies and what makes them target others.
- Find out if your school has an anti-bullying policy. Is there a guidance counselor or psychologist who could meet with the relevant students or with your class as a whole?
- I highly recommend reading The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School — How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence by Barbara Coloroso. Then talk with an administrator about setting up a joint parent-teacher meeting to discuss bullying and explore strategies for curbing this behavior.