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Misdirection in Bullying Prevention

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First posted August 12, 2019 for the International Bullying Prevention Association
A new school year brings the opportunity to renew and strengthen bullying prevention efforts. Before implementation, however, it is important to identify what is already in place and reflect on how effective these programs and strategies have been. This is especially important, as some of the traditional ways of approaching bullying prevention result in more damage to the school culture and to students themselves.

In 2016 the National Academies of Sciences released the report Preventing Bullying Through Science, Policy, and Practice that included “Nonrecommended Approaches” to bullying prevention. Despite no evidence of their positive effects and compelling reasons why they should be avoided, some of these bullying prevention approaches are still commonly found in schools and communities. Some of this misdirection in bullying prevention include zero tolerance, giving advice only, expecting bystanders…

(A Sense of) Safety First

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First appeared as a blog post for the International Bullying Prevention Association on July 30, 2019 Since the 1950s, American schools have been engaging in safety preparedness, beginning with fire drills, evolving into additional emergency protocols, and finally with active shooter training. Unfortunately, no evidence exists that these measures bring any improvements in the sense of safety. As Dr. Daniel Siegel (2015) explains, students need to be “seen, safe, and soothed, in order to feel secure” (p. 145), and these needs will not be met by current school safety practices alone. As collective wisdom considers the emotional and social impact of these safety measures, it is important to note that for more than a decade, US students have been reporting how many of them miss school because of safety concerns. Karyn Purvis and her colleagues remind us, there is a difference between being safe and feeling safe: “Felt safety, which has to be determined by each individual, includes emotional…

Bullying Prevention as a Trauma-Informed Approach

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Article #4 of the IBPA Trauma Series First posted July 12, 2019
In using the lens of trauma, the effects of bullying are better understood for their widespread impact on all involved in a bullying situation. This lens then allows for a systems-level approach to bullying prevention through trauma-informed practices.
The foundation of trauma-informed practices is a safe and supportive school community where students have a strong sense of belonging. Dr. Caelan Soma and Derrick Allen of Starr Commonwealth have developed 10 steps for creating trauma-informed schools.  Provide school-wide childhood trauma awareness and understanding of how trauma impacts children’s learning and behavior. Any person can help students thrive when they understand the impact of stress and trauma on learning.View trauma as an experience rather than an incident or a diagnostic category. When bullying or any traumatic event occurs, it marks the beginning of an experience that may last for months or even years.Bel…

Viewing Bullying through the Lens of Trauma

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Article 1 of the IBPA Trauma Series
Originally posted June 27, 2019
In August 2017, the US Department of Health and Human Services released Bullying as an Adverse Childhood Experience on its StopBullying.gov site. This fact sheet calls for all involved in bullying prevention efforts to have a strong understanding of trauma, to see the relationship between trauma and bullying, and to develop a shared vision of how bullying prevention might become a part of trauma-informed practices. 
What is trauma? Trauma is an experience that leaves a person feeling hopeless or helpless, perceiving a tremendous loss of safety and fear for survival. The details of a traumatic event itself are not important; instead, the focus must be on the way people experience the event.  When the brain perceives threat to safety, whether that threat is real or imagined, the most instinctual part of the brain (often called the reptilian brain) goes into survival mode. This powerful automatic response is often catego…

The Effects of Childhood Bullying into Adulthood

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When the Center for Disease Control named bullying an "Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE)" in 2017, it validated the 30-year effort examining the long-lasting effects of childhood bullying into adulthood. The research efforts have suggested these principles: bullying is prevalent, being a target of bullying has a multi-symptom, negative impact, and the impact of being a target is long-lasting. Professors Patricia McDougall and Tracy Vaillancourt reviewed the literature in order to determine how far the negative impact can reach and which effects have the deepest impact.

The researchers selected 17 prospective studies to review. Prospective studies take a population and look at effects of over a long period of time, and so these studies looked at the effects of painful childhood experiences, including bullying, into adulthood.  The following are some of the findings:

Mental Health. McDougall and Vaillancourt found a "direct" pathway between childhood bullying and me…

Looking at School Discipline from a Community Lens: More on Restorative Practices

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The International Institute for Restorative Practices defines Restorative Practicesas "an emerging social science that studies how to strengthen relationships between individuals as well as social connections within communities." This focus on communities shifts how we look at behavior and discipline at school, zooming out to see the impact of actions and words on the community as a whole. 
Looking specifically at discipline, Restorative Practices remains focused on the community. The goals of Restorative Discipline, articulated by Lorrainne Stuzman Amstuz and Judy Mullet, are marked shift from focusing on the individual alone. They have been adapted here: To understand the harm and develop empathy for both those who have been harmed and those who have engaged in harmful behavior. This is a shift from a punitive stance where the focus is on the student and his/her behavior. Restorative discipline also takes into account the harm to people and relationships and seeks to unders…

The Social Capital Window of Restorative Practices

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The goal of Restorative Practices is to build and strengthen strong school communities. Eighty percent of the efforts is for building the relationships that provide the backbone of strong school communities; 20% of the efforts aims to restore and heal those relationships that are harmed.

At the basis of Restorative Practices is the Social Capital Window, a broad categorization of school or classroom environments. The University of Michigan's Professor Wayne Baker defines social capital as the resources available within networks. including information, ideas, cooperation, support, and power. The Social Capital Window, also called the Social Discipline Window, categorizes social norms and behavioral expectations into four types of environment, based on degrees of support and control and reflecting the impact of different types of leadership. The Social Capital Window is an adaptation of Diane Baumrind's Parenting Styles from the 1960s. 

The degree of Support is indicated by th…