Bullying is a major problem in schools in all cultures. It is a complex social phenomenon that negatively affects the well-being of students and the overall culture of schools.
What is bullying?
This is an in-depth look at the problem to help teachers cope with this problem, covering the following topics:
- What is bullying?
- What types of bullying are there?
- Why do students bully?
- What are the effects of bullying?
- Why don’t children tell teachers or parents?
- How to prevent bullying in the classroom?
- How to deal with reported bullying at school?
- What should teachers do about bullying in class?
- What are the signs of a good teacher?
- What if the teacher is being bullied?
UNESCO defines bullying as violence between peers/students, which is characterized as “intentional and aggressive behavior occurring repeatedly where there is a real or perceived power imbalance.”
Bullying is not the same as conflict. It is an unstable situation where one student has more power than the other and uses it to intimidate, humiliate, and wound the less powerful student.
Though most countries have anti-bullying laws, at least 25% of students report having experienced bullying in their lives, with girls slightly more than boys. Most bullying happens during Middle School (around puberty) when students try to find where they stand socially.
Bullying can have legal consequences. In 2021, two South Korean sisters, who were professional volleyball players, were accused of being bullies when they were at school. Following national outrage, both were banned from playing for their club and the national team. So, past behavior affects both the bully and the victim. What you did at school can haunt you for the rest of your life.
Types of bullying
There are many types of bullying.
- Physical bullying – It happens when physical actions are used to gain control or intimidate victims. Physical bullies tend to be bigger and more aggressive than their peers. Examples include pushing, kicking, slapping and shoving. Physical bullying is the easiest to identify, therefore it gets more attention from schools than other, more subtle forms of bullying.
- Verbal bullying – Bullies use words, statements, and name-calling to gain power and control over a target. Typically, verbal bullies will relentlessly insult to belittle, demean, and hurt another person.
- Emotional or Social bullying – Isolating others, tormenting, hiding books, threatening gestures, humiliation, intimidation, exclusion, manipulation and coercion. This is also called Relational Aggression.
- Emotional or Relational Aggression is a sneaky and insidious type of bullying that often goes unnoticed by parents and teachers. It’s a type of social manipulation where teens try to hurt their peers or sabotage their social standing. Relational bullies often ostracize the victims from a group, spread rumors, manipulate situations, and intentionally reveal secrets.
- Online or Cyberbullying – The most recent type of bullying is online. Bullies use social media to attack their victims.
- Posting on social media, starting rumors, sharing photos, sending nasty messages and social exclusion. These are the hardest to manage for a teacher, but if there is evidence of bullying could make life difficult for bullies, but perhaps also their victims by having it out on the internet.
- Sexual harassment or sexual bullying comprises repeated, harmful, and humiliating actions that target a person sexually. Examples include sexual name-calling, lewd comments, vulgar gestures, uninvited touching, sexual propositioning, and pornographic material. A bully might make a crude comment about a peer’s appearance, attractiveness, sexual development, or sexual activity.
- In extreme cases, sexual bullying opens the door to sexual assault. Girls are often the targets of sexual bullying both by boys and by other girls. Boys might touch them inappropriately, comment about their bodies, or proposition them. Girls might call other girls names, make insulting comments about their appearance or body, and engage in shaming.
Why do students bully?
What causes bullying at school?
Low self-esteem, lack of attention at home vs Power/ Dominance – To gain a sense of power among their classmates
Peer pressure/ Popularity – Social hierarchy vs Personality – Strong versus Weak – They wish to challenge their peers
Environment – Home, school and community: The majority of teachers voted for the environment having the biggest impact, although it was mentioned that it is probably a combination of many factors.
So if someone comes from a bad home, violent neighborhood, or school, they are more likely to get involved in bullying. This includes having negative role models – if the surrounding people are violent, they are more likely to act violently.
Personality: While this is true, personality differences play a big role. That is why we find siblings from the same home where one may tend to bully and the other be a victim. Even though their situation is the same, they act differently at school.
After many studies, it was found that students with low scores on extraversion are more likely to become victims of bullying, and children with low scores on agreeableness and conscientiousness may tend to bully. Basically, bullies have low empathy and victims are usually shy.
Therefore, as teachers, a good idea is to be mindful of our learners’ personalities and check in with them often to see how they are doing.
Why don’t children tell when being bullied?
In a recent survey of 1,000 learners in Ireland, showed that only 46% of victims told a teacher, and 33% told a parent.
Here are some of the fears, feelings, and beliefs of young people in terms of telling:
- The bullying will get worse. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to the ridicule and ostracism inflicted on people who have “ratted”.
- They have already been threatened physically, they fear retaliation for telling.
- Shame for not standing up for themselves. They feel like a failure for not coping with school. Like they somehow deserve to be bullied, and the guilt accompanying it too.
- Many victims simply lack the social skills and confidence to come forward.
- Some victims believe that nothing can be done about the bullying, and in schools where the anti-bullying ethos is weak, they may believe that nothing will be done.
Therefore, it is important that teachers take a proactive role in investigating whether bullying occurs within their classes.
Now that we’ve looked at what bullying is and why kids bully, let’s look at what teachers can do to stop bullying.
How to prevent bullying at school?
Your first responsibility is to create a safe environment in your classroom – one that protects all students from harm, physical or emotional, as a result of the actions of other students. This means that you must identify any potential bullies and victims, and become a vigilant observer of their behaviors.
Create an Intervention Plan
Properly managed schools with good programs and a positive learning atmosphere have less bullying. All students should be taught how to act when they see someone being bullied, or if they are being bullied themselves. All the teachers should be taught what to do in case of bullying. Set up systems for success in your school.
Explain your anti-bullying policy to students
Make sure students know how to identify the different forms of bullying and how to report bullying behavior. Young people need to feel confident that they will be believed and action will be taken to protect them.
Learners should know that they can walk away or avoid bullying situations, and that they can and should talk to an adult – a teacher or a parent – as soon as possible. There should be no negative connotation or consequences associated with sharing information about a bullying incident.
Let them know that you will always support them and should let you know if bullying ever occurs. But, you won’t always be there. They should learn how to stand up for themselves.
Identify potential bullies and victims
Bullies have complex issues. Some have been bullied and are now bullying out of some sense of transferred revenge. Some have poor self-esteem and must bully to improve their sense of worth.
By understanding a bully’s motivation, we should try and refocus that energy in a positive way. Much of bullying is about power and domination, and it’s important to understand this if you are to address the bully in a disciplinary response.
Victims of bullies also suffer from low self-esteem, but tend to show it through introversion, meekness, and social ineptness. As teachers, we should try to help our students in assertiveness or self-confidence by teaching them the skills to express themselves and praising their accomplishments.
Look for what is called “gateway indicators.” These are initial behaviors that students display that are often gateways for more intentional types of bullying. Some possible gateway indicators include rolling eyes, laughing under their breath, making jokes, turning their back on others, and using sarcasm. If you see these behaviors, look a little closer. There may be subtle forms of bullying already taking place.
Teach kindness and empathy
When students are able to approach ideas and problems from multiple perspectives, they’re less likely to bully others. Students should participate in activities that boost social-emotional learning.
As a teacher, find ways to help children understand and appreciate their identity as well as others’. To do this requires empathy and kindness.
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and teachers need to embed this skill into their curriculum.
One way to do this is to have kids get together and talk about their differences. Allow them to practice conflict resolution, work through problems, and build their understanding of those around them.
Watch out for the forming of social cliques. When you select groups, you are ensuring that your students learn to work with those outside their circle of friends. Pre-selected groups also give students the opportunity to learn how to work with different types of people.
Develop trusting relationships with students
Students need to trust that you genuinely care and want each of them to be comfortable. They also need to trust that they can come to you in confidence, to report bullying they observe or know about.
Strive to empower the bystanders in your class. Tell them to stand up against bullying behavior or to report it to you or another adult. Remind them that research has shown that bullying ends when one person takes a stand.
Encourage good behavior. Positive reinforcement can be more powerful than negative discipline. Catch your kids being good. When they handle a situation positively, take notice and praise them for it.
You have done your best to prevent bullying, but somebody reported an act of bullying or a victim came to see you.
How to deal with reported bullying at school?
Always take every report of bullying seriously – otherwise you risk serious cases falling through the net.
Record what took place and what actions were taken. Get as much information from all parties involved and keep it as evidence.
It is recommended that all schools have a reporting system in place for incidents of bullying behavior and actions to resolve it taken by the staff. Include details such: the nature of the incident, date, time, location, names of those involved, names of witnesses, any other relevant history and the teacher’s response.
Stick to the facts. Be careful however not to ask leading questions. You want to be mindful that there are many sides to a story, so you want to get as much information as you can.
Sometimes a “victim” could be using the system to punish someone else.
“Bullies”, when put on the spot, might lie to get themselves out of trouble. By sticking to the facts and removing emotion as much as possible, students will respect the process more and not react emotionally.
Ask the victim what they want to happen. It is important that the student on the receiving end of the bullying behavior feels included in any action taken and that they are not surprised by anything you do. Children fear what might happen if they report bullying – particularly that the bullying might intensify. They need you to listen, give reassurance and explain that together you will resolve the situation.
Follow the school guidelines on bullying to resolve the issue.
Peer mediation or other types of group counseling are not effective in bullying situations.
Start by interviewing the bully and victim individually, get all the facts, then mediate with both parties present.
Don’t stop until the incident is resolved. Bullying is repetitive by nature, so we should regularly check in to see that it has stopped.
How to react to a bullying incident in class?
How should a teacher react to an incident of bullying in class?
- First, ensure the safety of all your learners. Stop the bullying immediately by getting between the two students, blocking eye contact and de-escalate the situation.
- Separate the learners, ask them to move to different parts of class or, if one is very emotional, ask a friend to escort them to the bathroom to wash up. Give them time to calm down.
- Tell them that you will speak to them after class.
- Get the rest of the class back on task, but be more vigilant and walk around. Check in on the students and make sure that the parties involved don’t interact again.
- Once the class is over, speak to both students, but separately at first. Ask one to stay behind to talk, and the other to come back at another time to see you privately. It’s up to you who stays and who goes.
- Once you have both sides of the story, write a report. That will let students know that you are monitoring their actions.
- Speak in a matter-of-fact tone of voice to describe what you heard or saw. Let all students know bullying is always unacceptable.
- Refer to school rules regarding bullying, and impose the consequences.
- Notify colleagues and parents of the situation. Engaging parents in bullying prevention programs will help reduce incidents in the classroom. On average, 22% of complaints by parents are about bullying and that the school is not dealing with it. This is second only to complaints about discipline and behavioral issues.
How to deal with the bully?
It is important to let the bully know that you are not upset with them as a person, but their behavior is unacceptable. They are there to learn and work with their friends. Such behavior isn’t tolerated in the civilized world and they will need to be better if they want to be successful in the future.
- In a calm, clear manner, describe the bully’s behavior to them and explain why it constitutes a form of bullying.
- Explain the effect of their behavior on the victim.
- Try to figure out what happened (from the bully’s perspective)
- Tell them that their behavior is harmful to others. Explain what behavior is expected.
- Make them understand their responsibilities and the consequences of their actions (the parents will be informed, they will stay behind a year at school or given a notice, etc.).
Don’t allow them to blame the victim. Instead, encourage them to own up to their behavior. Address the bullying behavior and administer the appropriate discipline.
What to do after bullying?
Keeping tabs on both the bully and the victim is an important step in making sure bullying ends. Watch how they interact in your classroom. Monitor them at lunch and pay attention to what happens at recess. Make a few surprise visits to the bus area. Observing how your students interact with each other will help prevent future bullying incidents.
In private conversations, ask your students how things are going and if they’re having any problems. Give the victim tools to deal with future bullying incidents and to regain self-confidence. Encourage the bully to make good choices.
It is important to keep in mind that it is not only the victims of bullying, but the bullies themselves who need help. First of all, you shouldn’t regard the child’s aggressive behavior as childish horseplay. When aggressive behavior isn’t addressed in time, it can become a lifestyle, and childhood is precisely the right time to address the issue.
Talk with the child openly and try to work out what provoked them to behave that way. Sometimes, when children are victims of violence or abuse from their parents or older siblings, they direct their distress and hurt towards other children.
Your efforts should not go into looking for punishment, but in trying to change the child’s aggression into socially accepted behavior. Often, only punishing the aggressor is not effective in stopping the unwanted actions. What’s more important than the punishment is showing the child that you accept them, but not their aggressive behavior.
Don’t hold a grudge against students who bully. Give them an opportunity to put the past in the past. With the proper support and encouragement, they can learn to treat others with respect and kindness.
How can teachers stop bullying?
As educators and agents of socialization, teachers are in an influential position to promote healthy relationships among students and prevent negative interactions.
Signs of a good teacher are:
- Concentrates not only on imparting knowledge, but also creates a safe environment for learning.
- Spots signs of bullying and reacts accordingly.
- Notices when a learner looks upset or is left out of a group.
- Tries to find out the reason behind bad behavior.
- Supports students who are bullied and tries to stop the bullying.
- Helps students find the right way to react when someone is bullying them and does not tell them to ignore the bullying or to hit back at the bully.
- Helps the aggressors change their behavior.
- Sets a good example for all students to follow.
How can teachers change bullying behavior?
Bullying does not happen in a vacuum. It is supported by social dynamics, within which the bully and the victim are not the only actors. In an environment affected by bullying, most of the people would fall into the category of bystanders. Bullying episodes can somehow be nourished or hindered by the people who can see or know what’s happening.
Remember, this is also a learning opportunity. You won’t always be in your students’ lives. So, use this as a time to give them the skills to be better in the future.
Let the rest of the class know how they might appropriately intervene in such a situation, or get help. Tell them you noticed their inaction or that you are pleased with how they acted.
Roleplay situations so that students practice how to behave and see what is expected of them. Do a roleplay where you give the victim a script to follow, where they tell their bully that their actions are unacceptable and that it should stop. Practice saying the words, work on eye contact and strong body language. Teaching social skills is an unwritten part of a teacher’s duty.
What if a teacher is being bullied?
Often we get a class that is so bad, that it feels like we are the ones being bullied.
For tips on how to fix out-of-control classes – check out the playlist on classroom management.