While school shootings grab national headlines and have the public demanding increased security, most school administrators know, and statistics confirm, that bullying is a far more common threat to the safety of students and personnel. One in five students report they were bullied during the 2017 school year. Name-calling, intimidation, pushing, and tripping are not fatal, yet these bullying tactics feed a climate of fear and isolation, negatively affecting academics, behavior, and attendance. Left unchecked, bullying creates an atmosphere ripe for more serious acts of violence—but to stop bullying, its motives need to be researched.
Defining the Problem
The definition of bullying is broad—it is repeated, aggressive behavior intended to cause distress. The classic bully is the brute that shoves a cowering classmate and demands fearful respect along with lunch money. Bullies get a surge of power—however artificial and temporary—by name-calling and picking on others with perceived differences. Meanwhile, victims suffer decreased confidence and self esteem, making them more vulnerable to attack.
Less recognizable as physical bullying—but just as harmful—is psychological bullying such as intentionally excluding a classmate from schoolyard games or refusing a seat at the lunch table. The pervasiveness of these century-old forms of psychological bullying has grown with the rise of social media and smartphone use creating new challenges for school leaders. Cyberbullying is unrestricted by time or location. Victims of cyberbullying cannot escape the harassing or embarrassing content posted by bullies.
The Effects of Bullying
Victims of bullying are at increased risk for anxiety, depression and other health issues, problems that may continue into adulthood. Bullying negatively impacts academic performance, and victims often skip school or drop out to avoid their tormentors, exacerbating their academic decline.
The bully also suffers. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, kids who bully tend to engage in risky behaviors such as drug use and early sexual activity. They are also more likely to fight, vandalize property and dropout of school. As adults, bullies are more prone to have criminal records and be abusive towards their partners and children. Students who witness bullying often suffer many of these same problems.
To stop bullying, schools must do more than write zero-tolerance rules and punish bullies after the fact. A chronic bullying problem points to a school environment that pits students against students, students against teachers and even teachers against students. Over time, this hostile climate becomes the school’s culture. An initiative to reverse that culture and stop bullying begins with improving the daily school climate.
The day-to-day atmosphere of a school may be a safe and supportive climate where students feel a sense of belonging and ownership. It may be a hostile climate with fear and feelings of isolation. A negative school climate undermines security, trust, and communication. The school takes on a culture prioritizing self-preservation over the good of the community. In these types of environments, students may seek to protect their self-concept by bullying others.
Why Bullies Bully
In a 2014 study, Dr. Julia Fluck analyzed the motives behind bullying behavior. Bullies, Fluck found, felt they had no alternative, their victims “needed” to be bullied, and bullies sought revenge for actual or perceived slights. The need to feel powerful and in control was a primary reason for bullying behavior. Some bullies admitted they needed to demonstrate they were part of the “in” group by bullying members of the “out” group.
According to Fluck, most bullies do not seek money or valuables, although these theft incidents were more common in districts with high rates of poverty. Fluck’s research included victim surveys that revealed those most often bullied are minorities and students with low self-esteem.
Features of Effective Anti-bullying Programs
The first step to any stop bullying initiative is to define bullying behavior and set policies with enforcement mechanisms. Students, teachers, and staff all need access to a communication system that will allow them to report incidents without fear of reprisals. With expectations set, the school can address the underlying school climate so that expectations will be met.
The National School Climate Council lists qualities essential to creating and sustaining a positive school climate.
– values, expectations, and norms that support feelings of safety,
– an engaged school community,
– educators that nurture a love of learning,
– a school community that collaborates to achieve these ends.
Technology can support climate improvement programs by streamlining information and communication systems, securing buildings, tracking student attendance and automating behavior management systems. Using technology to empower students reduces the feelings of powerlessness that underlie bullying. Technology can shore up the confidence of victims enabling them to understand they have been wronged and must report their victimization.
5 Technologies to Facilitate Anti-Bullying Programs
Smart ID Cards – Most schools require personnel to wear identification badges while in the building. Fewer schools issue IDs to students. These badges are often in-house produced, laminated IDs worn on a lanyard and function solely to verify with hall monitors that an individual is authorized to be in the building.
Smart IDs utilize RFID technology for a smarter card that helps increase safety. An embedded chip holds a cardholder’s unique identifying number, and a swipe or tap of a card to a card-reader connects the individual to his or her information stored on a host computer.
Issuing smart IDs to students gives them a greater sense of membership in the school community with increased responsibility, autonomy, and accountability. A One Card system allows students to record their own attendance, initiate purchase transactions in the cafeteria or school store and check out library books. Students become active in school operations, creating for them a greater sense of autonomy, an important goal of any stop bullying campaign.
Automated Attendance – With Smart ID cards, students become responsible for checking themselves in and out of school. This attendance function may be extended to individual classrooms with card-readers installed at classroom doors.
Students will gain a greater sense of autonomy and self-efficacy when trusted with this responsibility. Additionally, automated attendance systems improve security of buildings by providing school personnel with real-time information on who is in the building at any given time. Powerful reporting functions make it easy to identify attendance and tardiness issues before they become chronic.
Automated Behavior Management – Innovations in behavior management include systems that automatically trigger referrals and interventions. Students will understand that consequences for behavior are not subjectively applied by adults, and any consequences they experience are a direct result of their own behavior.
Teachers, administrators, and counselors can quickly enter behavior notes, both positive and negative, into the system, and these records, unlike systems that depend on handwritten notes, are consistent across classrooms and grade levels.
Automated behavior management systems may include a learning component. Students may be assigned graduated learning modules that will teach them expectations and norms. Integrated assessments identify a student’s deficits in social-emotional learning so they may be addressed.
Secure Door Access – Most incidents of bullying occur away from supervised areas. A secure door access system gives school administrators more control over their buildings by blocking access to restricted areas. From a central dashboard, the building principal can control the locks on every door in the building and, in an emergency, lock all doors at once. Personnel and students may be allowed access, via their ID cards, to specific rooms and areas at set times. These authorizations are controlled from the administrative dashboard.
With these systems, student activity may be tracked and problematic behavior identified. Overall school security is improved without the oppressive presence of armed SROs and other overt security measures that negatively impact a school’s climate.
Centralized Data Control – Good communication and simplified reporting systems are important components of any stop bullying program. Upgrading district technology to integrate SIS, behavior management, attendance, and administrative systems will streamline operations, reduce the frustration of inadequate legacy systems and improve internal and external communications.
Students need to feel they are part of the school community. Lacking this sense of relatedness can cause them to strike out at their peers to gain a sense of competence and control. A secure, supportive and inclusive learning environment creates a school climate that gives potential bullies alternatives. At the same time, victims and bystanders will have the confidence to report incidents. Contact ScholarChip to learn more about new technologies that support school climate improvement and anti-bullying programs.
ScholarChip offers a solution called Alternative Behavior Educator (ABE). This innovative program enables counselors to identify, monitor, and improve student behavior throughout a student’s career, while giving administrators and teachers powerful data-driven reports that quickly flag at-risk students, help monitor and chronicle progress, and support decision-making tasks.
The ScholarChip system incorporates the complete spectrum of behavior and integrates student rewards, interventions, and tracking with PowerSchool®, Infinite Campus, and other popular SIS platforms.
To learn how ScholarChip can help keep your schools safer and more secure, learn more about the many solutions ScholarChip provides, or to get free recommendations, feel free to schedule a 1-on-1 with one of our specialists.