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The Preview: Education

Stop bullying: 3 long-term solutions every teacher needs to know

Girl holding notebook defensively against her chest as two girls mock her in the background

Following the recent rash of events and a storm of media coverage, bullying is front and center in the nation's consciousness. Cyber-bullying and school violence are adding new dimensions to the age-old issue of bullying, and articles such as this recent one from Newsweek are asking tough questions about what causes bullying and how to help children build empathy and resilience.

As a teacher on the frontlines, you're probably feeling the pressure to find and implement solutions to the bullying problem. Quick fixes are easy to find—just Google "bullying" and you'll uncover a wide variety of tip sheets, such as this one on On-the-Spot Intervention in School from the Department of Health and Human Services. These quick tips may be effective in the moment, but to really put a stop to bullying, you'll need to dig deeper—uncovering the root causes of your students' behavior and implementing long-term solutions. Read on to discover how to pinpoint the "whys" behind bullying, create plans that address and reroute bullying behavior, and build all students' social-emotional resilience.

Find out the "why" behind bullying behavior

There's no single explanation for bullying—it can be triggered by multiple factors, including poor social skills, frustration, a need for power, and a lack of impulse control and other executive function skills. Every child who bullies is different, and that's why it's critical to conduct a reliable assessment that reveals the big picture of a student's behavior. Using functional behavior assessment and/or a behavior rating scale can give you the information you need to determine the "why" behind bullying and launch an effective intervention plan.

Functional Behavior Assessments

A functional behavior assessment (FBA) is an important addition to your anti-bullying toolbox. An FBA is a tool that helps you determine the likely function or purpose of a student's behavior, the antecedents that trigger inappropriate behavior, and the people and situations that tend to reinforce the behavior. Ideally, a student's whole educational team should work together to complete the FBA and determine next steps based on the results.

An effective FBA can be relatively easy to conduct; a practical guide like Prevent-Teach-Reinforce can guide your team step by step through the FBA process. To see how a good FBA reveals triggers and patterns of student behavior and helps you work toward solutions, download this blank Functional Behavior Assessment form.

Behavior Rating Scales

Behavior rating scales are another popular, efficient way to objectively determine what's behind a child's behavior. Quick and inexpensive, these tools help you record observations over a period of time in the student 's natural setting. A behavior rating scale will:

  • help you gather information more reliably than an unstructured interview of a student

  • require minimal time, expense, and training to administer

  • pick up low-frequency but important behaviors that might be missed in direct observation sessions

  • use the expertise of people who know the child best—teachers and parents

Two examples of behavior rating scales are the School Social Behavior Scales and the Home & Community Social Behavior Scales. Used in tandem, these tools reveal how a student behaves at school and at home—a critical step toward decoding bullying, since problems at home can exacerbate behavior problems. Their dual emphasis on social competence and antisocial behaviors is also important, since a student who exhibits hallmarks of social competence (such as strong leadership skills) can also exhibit antisocial bullying behaviors such as insulting peers and starting fights. (This free download from SSBS-2 gives you more details on behavior rating scales, their advantages, and how to make the most of them.)

Implement individualized positive behavior support plans

After you use an assessment to collect information about your students' behavior, the next step is to use the proven positive behavior support (PBS) approach to reduce bullying behavior in school. You might already be participating in schoolwide PBS, which uses positive, nonaversive behavioral interventions and systems to encourage students to behave in socially acceptable ways. But when a student isn't responding to schoolwide PBS and is exhibiting persistent bullying behavior, it's time for a behavior support plan tailored to that student's needs.

To examine how a good PBS plan works, download this detailed sample plan from Executive Function in the Classroom. You'll see a complete PBS plan—including modifications, reinforcements, and consequences—for a boy named Max, whose behavior issues include verbal and physical aggression toward his peers. For more guidance on positive behavior plans, a practical, step-by-step manual like Positive Strategies for Students with Behavior Problems or a quick guide like Behavior Support are ideal places to start.

Build all students' social-emotional skills and resilience

To free students from the giving and receiving ends of the bullying equation, one of the most important things you can do is make sure all students have a strong foundation of social-emotional skills. The best and most efficient way to do this is to integrate an effective social-emotional learning program into your curriculum. This might sound daunting, but today there are field-tested, proven social-emotional learning curricula that don't overburden busy teachers, are brief enough to use with your existing program, and are easy to use with no special training required. And the benefits are worth the effort. An effective social-emotional learning curriculum can teach students skills that are key to preventing and resolving bullying behavior:

  • Understanding the link between the way they feel and the way they think and behave

  • Appropriately monitoring and modifying their feelings (such as how to deal with jealousy, anger, and frustration)

  • Using problem-solving and communication skills to manage difficult situations

  • Relaxing and remaining calm in situations that are stressful or worrisome

Weave social-emotional learning into your current program with a curriculum like the Strong Kids series. The five age-appropriate, evidence-based Strong Kids curricula include brief, field-tested lessons that help students develop empathy, solve interpersonal problems, deal appropriately with negative emotions, and more.

Get an inside look at a social-emotional learning curriculum with these free sample lesson plans from the Strong Kids series:

  • Strong Start: Grades K-2. See how to help young children understand and verbalize feelings instead of taking them out on others.

  • Strong Teens: Grades 9-12. Help older students understand how to manage and deal with anger, a pivotal emotion in bullying behavior.

As the question of bullying intensifies in schools across the country, taking steps to resolve it is a critical long-term goal for every teacher. Combine your most effective quick fixes with the long-term strategies in this article, and you'll help make your classroom a bully-free zone and give all students the social-emotional skills they need to succeed.

This article features the following resources:

Prevent–Teach–Reinforce: The School-Based Model of Individualized Positive Behavior Support

School Social Behavior Scales, Second Edition (SSBS2)

Home & Community Social Behavior Scales (HCSBS)

Executive Function in the Classroom: Practical Strategies for Improving Performance and Enhancing Skills for All Students

Positive Strategies for Students with Behavior Problems Teachers' Guides to Inclusive Practices: Behavioral Support, Second Edition Strong Start—Grades K–2: A Social and Emotional Learning Curriculum Strong Teens—Grades 9–12: A Social and Emotional Learning Curriculum

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