Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Effects of Childhood Bullying into Adulthood

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 mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, that extend into early adulthood, with one study showing effects into mid life. The researchers also found "indirect" pathways, youth who had experienced bullying and who had described themselves as depressed or having low self-esteem were likely to be much more depressed in late adolescence and early adulthood.
  • Peer Support. Children who have a strong network of friends are less likely to feel the long-lasting effects of bullying. For children who had few friends during the bullying but more friends later, the impact of the bullying was shorter lived. 
  • Adult Support. When children were bullied and also reported high support from parents, they were less likely to report depression, behavior problems, and emotional problems later. The support of the teacher is critical, especially when children report low parental support. When children who are being bullied also report high levels of emotional support from teachers, the potential for emotional and behavioral problems is reduced later on.
  • Self-Evaluation. When children perceive themselves as victims and report high levels of threat, they are likely to experience more bullying victimization and increasing depression into adolescence. Several studies have shown that poor self-worth in children who experience bullying leads to self-blaming that can last into adulthood, opening the door to adult victimization.
The researchers concluded that "the strongest candidate" to interrupt the pathway between childhood bullying and long-lasting effects into adulthood was a strong support network of peers and adults. Parental support may have a bigger impact on younger children, and older children need a strong network of peers and a trusted teacher at school. They also suggest adults can buffer the effects of bullying by helping children and adolescents build coping skills and by supporting them in developing positive self-worth and healthy peer relationships. 

Bullying is not a rite of passage and does not have to be a life sentence. Parents and teachers have the ability to stop an undesirable pathway for children and adolescence.

"Every child deserves a champion 
- an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection 
and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be." 
~Rita Pierson

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

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

The International Institute for Restorative Practices defines Restorative Practices as "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:
  1. 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 understand why the student engages in hurtful behavior.
  2. To listen and respond to the needs of both those who have been harmed and those who have engaged in harmful behavior. Restorative discipline recognizes that behavior is a means of communication and seeks to identify the need being expressed. It also looks at the needs of those harmed and the impact on the community.
  3. To encourage responsibility and accountability through personal reflection within a collaborative planning process. Those harmed and those engaging in harmful behavior are involved in the resolution process.
  4. To reintegrate those who have harmed others (and sometimes those who have been harmed) into the community as valuable, contributing members. Traditional methods included a consequence such as suspension, without taking into account what would happen to the community when the student returned to school.
  5. To create caring climates to support healthy communities. Especially in an incident where someone has engaged in behavior that hurts another, the community remains the focus. Caring climates and healthy communities separate the deed from the doer, focusing instead on building and maintaining the strong relationships at the heart of those communities.
  6. To change the system when it contributes to the harm. This is perhaps the biggest shift from traditional discipline. Restorative practices are also reflective, encouraging schools to examine how policies and practices may worsen the negative impact. In the United States, students of color are suspended and expelled at a much higher rates than white students. States that have acknowledged this disproportionality are using restorative practices and alternatives to suspension as a way to make changes in the system. 
With this community focus, misbehavior is not the violation of school rules, it is the harming of people and relationships.  Instead of cultivating shame and guilt, restorative discipline breeds accountability and responsibility. Traditionally, justice focused on the one engaging in misbehavior and ignored the people and relationships harmed. Restorative discipline includes those who harm, those who are harmed and the entire community in the justice process.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Social Capital Window of Restorative Practices

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 the horizontal x-axis. Support connotes encouragement, growth, nurturing, warmth, and acceptance and goes from low to high.

The degree of Control is found on the vertical y-axis. Control indicates a range of limit-setting, discipline, expectations, boundaries, intentionality, and structure from low to high.

In the illustration above, the green panes are categories at the extremes with a high degree of control or support and a low degree of the other. At the top left is the Authoritarian environment with high control and low support. In this school or classroom, academic and/or behavioral expectations are high, but emotional support is low. Strict rule adherence is expected, and emotional needs are not considered. This environment is "doing to" students and staff; at its worst, it is a breeding ground for unhealthy behaviors such as stigmatizing, blaming, and being punitive. The Permissive environment is "doing for" students, with a high degree of support and a low degree of control. While warm and responsive, this environment is lenient and indulgent. It can affect impulse control, prevent adequate social awareness, and promote egocentricity. in students and staff.

The orange pane represents an environment with low support and low control. It is labeled as Neglectful, "doing nothing" for students and staff. With uninvolved and indifferent leaders, staff and students are in survival mode with no warmth and no consistent rules and expectations. The impact of the neglectful environment are behavioral issues with inconsistent consequences and little to no accountability.

Restorative Practices lives in the Restorative pane, "doing with" staff and students. In this environment, high degrees of both control and support from leaders create cultures defined by collaboration, cooperation, shared responsibility and accountability. High expectations are set for staff and students within an accepting and responsive environment. Boundaries are set and enforced through shared decision making.

As schools see the power of Restorative Practices as a way to build the school communities where everyone thrives, it is important to understand the foundation of these practices. The Social Capital Window is an important first step to implementing RP with fidelity. It is especially important for all trusted adults in a child's life to understand, from parents and law enforcement officers to educators and social workers.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Integrating Restorative Practices and Bullying Prevention

We have reached an understanding that effective schools have one common and critical characteristic: a safe and supportive school community. We also know that a safe and supportive school community is the heart of restorative practices and that bullying cannot flourish in these environments. Despite this common understanding, we remain unsure how to integrate restorative practices and bullying prevention within a comprehensive school-wide initiative.

Restorative practitioners, bullying prevention experts, mental health practioners, and policymakers came together to provide this direction. The result of their two-year effort is the white paper entitled Integrating Bullying Prevention and Restorative Practices in Schools: Considerations for Practitioners and Policymakers. With the goal of connecting research- and evidence-based bullying prevention programs with restorative practices, the workgroup first described the problem of bullying, shared best practices in bullying prevention, and laid the foundation for restorative practices. The remainder of this white paper provides opportunities and cautions in integrating bullying prevention and restorative practices.

Some Examples of Appropriate Integration

  • School staff work with trained professionals to identify specific research- and evidence-based bullying prevention and restorative practices initiatives.
  • The implementation process includes wide-spread training of school personnel and a systematic plan, among other considerations, to ensure fidelity of the process.
  • The bullying prevention and restorative practices integrated efforts are preventative efforts, leading to changes in the overall school culture.
  • Parents are engaged in solutions to bullying incidents.
  • Data is collected and analyzed throughout the process to monitor and adjust implementation for greatest impact.
Some Examples of Inappropriate Integration
  • Schools do not choose high quality and proven bullying prevention programs.
  • The implementation process does not provide adequate training for staff and does not tend to the fidelity of the implementation process.
  • Restorative practices are used in bullying situations, rather than in day-to-day activities.
  • Inadequate time and resources for staff prevent the success of the integration.
  • Adults do not play a prominent facilitator role in mediating bullying situations and instead use coercion and other unhealthy strategies to engage students.
  • No systematic evaluation of the integration prevents reflection and improvement.
Integrating restorative practices and bullying prevention should be part of a systemic and comprehensive plan to build and strengthen the school community. This white paper provides clear guidance on how to proceed. However, the impact of this integration remains unknown, and research in this area is still needed.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Restorative Practices as a Promising Approach to Bullying Prevention

In October 2016 the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released Preventing Bullying through Science, Policy, and Practice, the results of a study commissioned by the NAS to determine what we know and what more we need to know about bullying behavior and its impact. Restorative practices is mentioned in the chapter focusing on the research on preventative interventions. In short, despite the growing interest in implementing restorative practices as a way to prevent bullying, little research supports its effectiveness. The panel calls for research in this area in order to support this claim.

That call is being answered. RAND, in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, is currently engaged in the first randomized control study of the effectiveness of restorative practices on improving school culture and in addressing behavioral issues. The study will also examine changes in suspension rates, staff and student attendance, student achievement, and more. The study goes beyond the existing and smaller scale studies on restorative practices and looks more broadly at effectiveness at the system level, the peer group level and the individual student level.

The results of this study hold great promise in informing the bullying prevention community for several reasons:
  1. The International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) is providing the training for the control schools at first, and then once comparison data has been collected, will also train the comparison schools. IIRP has trained over 75,000 people from over 80 countries in their research-based approach to restorative practices. The IIRP Graduate School is the first "world's first graduate school wholly devoted to restorative practices." Highly trained facilitators are inside the schools, training staff and students.
  2. This study is also evaluating the fidelity of implementation of restorative practices at each of the control schools. The implementation of research- and evidence-based bullying prevention programs is very difficult to track, probably contributing to the varying degrees of effectiveness shown in fully implemented bullying prevention programs. 
  3. By tracking high-risk behaviors, including bullying, this study aims to show that problem behaviors will be reduced as restorative practices becomes a part of the school. Prior research has suggested effective bullying prevention efforts are comprehensive and school-wide initiatives. 
  4. IIRP has previously shown how restorative practices and bullying prevention programs such as Olweus Bullying Prevention and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) work together.
  5. Most importantly, this study is focused on middle schools, where bullying behavior peaks. 
Some preliminary results of this study will be presented later in October at the 2018 IIRP World Conference, held this year in Detroit, Michigan. 

"The fundamental premise of restorative practices is that people are happier, more cooperative, more productive and more likely to make positive changes when those in authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.” 
~Ted Wachtel, International Institute for Restorative Practices

Monday, October 8, 2018

The State of the Science of Bullying

The mission of, a website created through a partnership of the United States Departments of Health and Human Services, Justice, and Education, is to provide "information from various government agencies on what bullying is, what cyberbullying is, who is at risk, and how you can prevent and respond to bullying."  The website is the most comprehensive online resource for bullying. The "Facts about Bullying" page reflects the most current knowledge about bullying, including definition, statistics, bullying and suicide, and laws and policies. Also on this page is the section "The State of the Science."

While bullying research remains a growing field of inquiry, studies have shown the impact of bullying during childhood and adolescence into adulthood and have confirmed the complex nature of bullying. Even though unanswered questions remain, studies have provided conclusive evidence about bullying. Common understanding includes the prevalence of bullying (between 20% to 28%), the peak of bullying (middle school), and the most common types of bullying (verbal and social).

The following is less commonly known, yet confirmed by research:
  • The growing awareness of the impact of bullying has led some to believe that bullying behavior is more frequent. There is no evidence to support this; however, the prevalence of bullying is still unacceptable and a public health issue.
  • No single profile has emerged those for who engage in bullying behavior. One reason for this is that many who bully others have been bullied themselves; the roles are often changing. Another consideration is the imbalance of power present in a bullying situation. Power is contextual and reflects the norms of the environment. 
  • Adults play a critical role in bullying prevention, in simple but powerful ways. Examples include modeling prosocial behavior, providing consistent emotional support, and engaging in open communication. With regard to communication, it is important to note that students are encouraged to tell an adult when bullying occurs; however, adults often do not know how to respond.
One research conclusion receives very little attention: bullying is a group phenomenon. The traditional image of a two-person interaction, with one person engaging in bullying behavior and another being targeted, is not supported by research. Identifying and holding accountable one or two does not eradicate bullying behavior, nor does it heal the harm that bullying brings to all within the environment. Bullying is social in nature and emerges from peer groups. For this reason, all effective bullying prevention efforts are system-wide and include every community member. Aggressive and unhealthy peer groups, like bullying behavior, cannot flourish in safe and supportive school environments.

As the research community continues this important work and shares its growing knowledge of bullying, educators must commit to put into practice only that which has been confirmed by the research. Additionally, educators must stay aware of the state of the science of bullying so that they are considering only research- and evidence-based initiatives. 

No research is ever quite complete. It is the glory of a good bit of work that it opens the way for something still better, and this repeatedly leads to its own eclipse. ~Mervin Gordon

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Middle School Bullying Prevalence and the Importance of Social Frameworks

All forms of bullying behavior peak during middle school, with the highest percentage of students reporting being bullied in the 6th grade. Several structural or logistical reasons help to explain this, such as the transition between elementary and middle schools, the introduction of passing time with less adult supervision, increased class sizes, and multiple teachers during a school day. Bullying happens, though, on a social level. Bullying behavior might be better understood by also using these frameworks: social engagement theory, social development theory, and social structure.

Social engagement theory. Our nervous system's most important function is to ensure our safety, but as humans, we need more than safety; we need connection. When we are safe, we "spontaneously interact" with one another, using facial expression, eye contact, and tone of voice; in other words, we use our social engagement system. At the moment the brain perceives danger, it seeks reassurance. We look to another in this moment in order to resolve things, gauging expression and tone. Without finding that reassurance, our own facial expression, eye contact, and tone of voice change. All of this occurs because the brain perceives a possible threat. Our connections with one another, a key to our happiness, is not just reliant on a strong sense of safety. The brain seeks to resolve a threat to safety through social connections as well in a perfect feedback loop.

In early years, this autonomic and complex interaction happens between a child and a trusted adult.  As children mature into adolescence and adulthood, they look more to their peers and then to themselves for approval and for this reassurance of safety. This is where social development theory comes in.

Social development theory. Erik Erickson's Theory of Psychosocial Development has eight stages. At age 12, children are moving into adolescence, from "Stage 4: Identity vs Inferiority" to "Stage 5: Identity vs Role Confusion." Stage 4 is a time where children move from finding self-esteem in a trusted adult to finding it in a peer group. Stage 5 marks the phase where the adolescent feels a great need to belong and to fit into the community. This is a time for exploration of identity, values, beliefs. The transition from Stage 4 to Stage 5 happens during middle school. Adolescents move from reliance of adults to seeking approval from peers. Belonging and the need to fit into those peer groups seem to take precedence.

Even though this transition is normal, adolescents still require adult attachment for healthy social development. If extensive peer contact increases as a loss of attachment with a trusted adult occurs, it can lead to abnormal social development, including a delayed development of prosocial behavior, the adoption of health-risk behaviors, and an inability to self-regulate.  In other words, even though adolescents are focused on the peer groups, the relationship with trusted adults continues to ensure normal social development.

Social structure. Researchers have found that infants as early as 10 months old understand social dominance and hierarchy, suggesting that social structure is something recognized at an early age. Simple aggressive behavior is seen in small children as a strategy to get what they want. As children mature, they pick up on the norms of the social group and try to belong. Early research suggested that the home and the school communities provide the social structure for children. In adolescence peer groups create their own social structures, developing group norms and identities.

Middle school is a time when social engagement, social development, and social structure interplay at a critical time. Social engagement theory helps us understand that our sense of safety is reliant on our connections to each other in complex, autonomic ways. Social development theory helps us recognize that middle school, especially 6th grade, is time of great transition, from looking to adults for self-esteem to looking to a peer group for the same. The need for belonging and for fitting in intensifies during this time. Understanding social structure helps us frame this period as a time for creating social groups with norms, values and identities established by the group members. The social structure is also where we learn more about power.

Bullying happens at a social level and peaks at a time when the mammalian need for social connection is met with an intense need for peer approval and the creation of social structures within those groups. All of this is happening to children transitioning to adolescence with newly developed and still developing social skills. During the entire middle school experience, the need for connection with a trusted adult remains essential to normal social development; it is a consistent need until reaching adulthood. By approaching bulling prevention work from these frameworks, we start to understand why some of our previous bullying prevention efforts are ineffective at the middle school level and begin to envision how we might create preventative measures that connect to the social development process of our adolescents.

“Middle school is kind of like Middle-earth. It’s a magical journey filled with elves, dwarves, hobbits, queens, kings, and a few corrupt wizards. Word to the wise: pick your traveling companions well."

-~Kimberly Dana, "Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School”

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Feeling Safe at School: A National Downward Trend

Since 1993 the Center for Disease Control's Department of Adolescent and School Health (DASH) has asked high school students the following question on the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS): "During the past 30 days, on how many days did you not go to school because you felt you would be unsafe at school or on your way to or from school?" Before discussing the 2017 findings and 14-year trend, let's explore the concept of safety

In 1943 American psychologist Abraham Maslow first proposed his Hierarchy of Motivation. This human development theory frames a hierarchy of needs: physiological, safety, belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization. The model asserts that the physiological needs of food, warmth, and more must be met before safety needs are met, and so on. In this sense, safety is a broad term and describes security, stability, order and freedom from fear.

From a trauma perspective, this sense of safety is no less critical in human development. Dr. Bruce Perry, internationally recognized author and expert on child trauma, suggests that a sense of safety is necessary for optimal child development. As he asserts, children will thrive when their world is safe and predictable, in addition to having consistent emotional nurturing.

School violence has put student safety on a national stage for the last twenty years. Despite the perception of our students' increasing vulnerability in school, the evidence suggests our students are very safe in schools.  Dr. Scott Poland, expert of violence preparation and crisis response in schools teaches the difference between psychological safety and physical safety, advocating for a "balanced, comprehensive programs consisting of prevention, intervention, mental health, security and crisis preparedness components." 

Here are the results of a nationally representative sample of US high school students responding to the question of not going to school because they did not feel safe on their way to school, during school, or on their way home from school:
  • In 2017, 7% of students reported staying home from school at least one day over the last 30 days because they did not feel safe.
  • The prevalence was higher among black and Hispanic students (9%) than white students (4%).
  • The prevalence was higher among 9th- and 10th-grade students (8%) than 11th- and 12th-grade students (5%).
  • During 1993-2017, a significantly greater percentage of students stayed home from school at least one day, from 4% to 7%.
  • Focusing on our students across states and in large urban districts, context matters. The range of students not going to school was 5% to 12%, with a median of 7%.
  • Across 20 large urban districts, the range was 6% to 13%, with a median of 10%.

Why is the sense of safety that our children feel in school decreasing, despite our added preventative measures, our increased crisis preparedness, and our improving identification of mental health concerns? Did the focus of accountability and spotlight on test scores distract our attention and divert our actions away from providing a level of school safety necessary to provide optimal readiness for learning? If Maslow's theory holds true and the neuro-development research remains strong, then our children's physiological, safety and love/belonging needs must be addressed first at school, not just at home.

Perhaps it is time to articulate a vision of our children's success that takes into account their well-being. Perhaps it is time to step back from comprehensive and balanced school safety programs in order to consider the community context and its impact on our children. Perhaps our children are telling us that despite our attempts to protect them, our personal sense of safety may be more influential on their own sense of safety than the precautions and measures that we provide for them.

This issue is deserving of a larger conversation.

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Puzzling Persistence of Bullying Behavior

Since 1990, the Center for Disease Control's Division of Adolescence and School Health (DASH) has surveyed over four million US students on health behaviors that contribute to physical, social, and emotional problems in adolescence and adulthood using the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). The survey has evolved over the years, reflecting growth in our understanding about youth behavior and technology use. For example, the YRBSS now includes questions about and adverse childhood experiences. The YRBSS included questions about bullying behavior in schools beginning in 2009 and about cyberbullying (electronic bullying) in 2011.

In June 2018 DASH released "YRBSS Data Summary and Trends Report: 2007-2017," presenting  trends of bullying and cyberbullying since each was added to the survey. The following are a few highlights:
  • Overall, the rate of bullying on school property has remained stable since 2009. About 20% of US students report being bullied.
  • The number of males reporting being bullied significantly decreased from 19% in 2009 to 16% in 2017.
  • No significant changes were found in females reporting bullying, and the number reporting being bullied remains stable, around 22%.
  • Overall, the rate of cyberbullying remained stable since 2011. About 15% of US students report being cyberbullied.
  • No significant changes were found in cyberbullying for either males or females.
These highlights are limited to overall trends and gender focus; even so, they bring the impact of our  bullying prevention efforts into question. The rates of students being bullied and cyberbullied remain stable. Since 2015 every state in the US has anti-bullying school policies. In 2016 the National Academies of Science declared bullying a serious public health issue. By 2017 the CDC categorized bullying as an Adverse Childhood Experience. We have research- and evidence-based programs proven to reduce bullying, some with 40 years of proven effectiveness. We know that bullying cannot flourish in safe and supportive environments, and that developing social-emotional core competencies within those safe schools is the best line of defense.

Are we really putting into practice what we know? If so, then why do one in five of our young people continue to report being bullied on school property?

Maya Angelou told us that when we know better, we do better. Why aren't we doing better?

Thursday, October 4, 2018

More Misdirection in Bullying Prevention

In addition to zero tolerance and advice-only support, other misdirection in bullying prevention is important to discuss.

Expecting bystanders to solve the problem is problematic and irresponsible. As Barbara Coloroso has suggested, the bystander role is complex, holding varying degrees of complicity in bullying. The following cannot be overstated: adults are the first line of defense in a bullying situation. The power imbalance that separates bullying from other acts of aggression needs adult intervention. Children/young adults need to identify power structures and understand social injustice, and they will need guidance for this process. Bystanders alone cannot solve the bullying problem.

Implementing piecemeal efforts can bring more harm to the school culture and to the most vulnerable in a school population. Motivational speakers and special assemblies are often used in schools as bullying prevention strategies. While students and staff may report being entertained, inspired, even moved by these events, unfortunately, no evidence exists that they reduce bullying behavior in schools. Furthermore, because they do not take into account differing student needs in the schools, schools should avoid large group assemblies on sensitive issues presented by an outsider. Finally, without adequate staff preparation and investment in the event, students are left more vulnerable than they were before the assembly. Effective bullying prevention needs a whole-school, carefully- planned initative; piecemeal efforts should be avoided.

Finally, peer-only conflict resolution can leave our targeted children more vulnerable. We must continuously remind ourselves several things. First, while we wish for our students to have solid social-emotional skills and strategies, the process of developing them occurs under the guidance of a trusted adult. More importantly, bullying is different from other forms of conflicts because of the power imbalance. Peer mediation and conflict resolution provide no benefit in resolving a bullying situation. Adult intervention is needed to erode the power struggle between students. We must not leave our vulnerable and targeted youth alone to resolve a bullying situation with the person engaging in the aggressive behavior.  This cannot be stressed enough. Conventional wisdom such as “they will work it out” and “this is natural peer conflict” erodes any progress we have made as a society in preventing bullying behavior.

History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children. 
~Nelson Mandela

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Misdirection in Bullying Prevention

Before embarking on a bullying prevention path, schools should take stock of what is already in place and reflect on how effective these efforts 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.

For example, zero tolerance, the rigid and inflexible approach to enforcing school policy, was listed in 2016 by the National Academies of Science as a non-approach to bullying prevention. Zero tolerance damages a school culture with its emphasis on control and an absence of growth and support. It also becomes interconnected with disproportionality, as students of color are suspended and/or expelled at higher rates than white students. Reports of bullying incidents decrease, not only because of the harsh penalties imposed, but also because of the fear of retaliation. The stakes are just too high.

Some adults believe that bullying is best resolved by the children and young adults and engage in another misdirection: giving advice only.  Giving advice without any other assistance and support may be more harmful than doing nothing at all. Adults are the first line of defense, as they are responsible for providing the safe and supportive environments that deter bullying behavior. Because they are also the ones who establish and enforce policy that address bullying behavior, adults should be the ones to intervene in a bullying situation. In a study from Stan Davis and Charisse Nixon, students reported that traditional advice from adults, such as demanding the behavior to stop or sharing with the aggressor how it makes the targeted young person feel, is perceived as making an already bad situation worse. The NAS Panel concluded that one particular ineffective piece of advice, fighting back, translated into action may “escalate the level of violence” and bring more harm to those involved. 

The most effective bullying prevention efforts are a part of a systemic and comprehensive school culture initiative. When we engage in practices such as zero tolerance and giving advice only, we are doing more harm than good.

As Maya Angelou has taught us, "Do the best you can until you know better. 
Then, when you know better, do better.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

In Support of the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) Model

 The most effective bullying prevention initiatives are always a part of a systemic and comprehensive school reform effort.  Successful educational reform expands a school-only focus to include the greater community. The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) Model provides the template for successful school reform efforts.

The WSCC Model was developed through the powerful partnership of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). It joins health and well-being with education and learning.

For 30 years, the CDC's Coordinated School Health Model has provided the blueprint for health education policies and practices across the United States at district, regional, state, and national levels. The WSCC Model reflects an expanded and updated Coordinated School Health Model.

The ASCD's Whole Child Initiative was launched in 2007 as a way to shift from focusing on academic achievement as a measure of student success to promoting the "long-term development and success of all children." The five tenets of the Whole Child Initiative is the core of the WSCC model, ensuring that each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.

The alignment of school, health, and community efforts around the health and learning of every child was the focus in an issue of School Health in November 2015.  This issue explores community partnerships and the educational attainment and health development of students.

Because of the comprehensive scope of the WSCC Model, funding for implementation can be found in grants for coordinated school health, safe and supportive environments, and even school climate transformation.

Despite our best efforts using research- and evidence-based bullying prevention programs, 20-30% of US students continue to report being bullied on school property.  A combined health and education approach within a coordinated home-school-community template shows promise in reducing bullying in our schools and in our communities.

"Health and education affect individuals, society, and the economy and, as such, must work together whenever possible. Schools are a perfect setting for this collaboration." ~WSCC

Monday, October 1, 2018

Bullying 101

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. It is a time to unite us in our efforts across the United States in keeping our children and young people safe, happy, and healthy. As we begin this month-long bullying prevention focus, it is also a good time to bring forward some essential understandings.

1. What is bullying? Bullying is an act of aggression with three specific characteristics: it is intended to do harm, it is repeated or has a high likelihood of being repeated, and it involves an imbalance of power. All three characteristics must be present in order for a behavior to be considered bullying.

2. What are the types of bullying? Bullying can be physical, verbal (oral and written), social (or relational), or cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is bullying through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. 

3. Is bullying a rite of passage? In 2016 the National Academies of Science concluded that bullying is not a rite of passage. Furthermore, because of the negative short- and long-term effects on anyone involved in a bullying situation, they declared bullying to be a national public health issue.

4. How prevalent is bullying? Bullying is reported from Kindergarten through 12th Grade. It peaks in 6th grade at 39%. One in five US students report being bullied on school property, a fairly stable statistic. This does not include bullying that occurs in neighborhoods, the home, or other places.

5. Who is most at risk for being bullied? While there is no single factor that puts a child at risk for bullying, some groups are most at risk of being bullied: LGBTQ youth, youth with disabilities, and socially isolated youth. Because bullying is rooted in power, a person engaging in bullying behavior perceives him/herself to be in a superior position to someone who is perceived as different or "less than."

Awareness is only the first step in bullying prevention. Knowing what to do and then taking action are the next steps. As Goethe said, "Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do."

Trust as the Beginning Place

(First  poste d  September 17, 2019 for the International Bullying Prevention Association) Over the last five years or so, governm...