As an administrator, you want results. You want to see them quickly, and you want them to last.
Research has proven that the most intensive “anti-bullying” programs produce, at best, a minor reduction in bullying after two years of implementation. That is hardly a result that can make you and the school community happy. It also has been proven that one-time anti-bully pep rallies and motivational assemblies by high paid speakers produce no long-term benefits. The kids get gung-ho about being nice to each other, but after a couple of days the aura wears off and they go back to being just the way they used to be.
However, if you use strategies that employ the Golden Rule, you see results almost immediately. The Golden Rule requires us to think, and it is a lot easier to implement than zero-tolerance policies that alienate students. It actually reduces social aggression rather than intensifying it, and teacher, administrators, parents and students have fewer problems to deal with. Reducing bullying occurences is easier than you might think.
This is the most important element to success in solving the bullying problem in school: Stop thinking of students as “bullies!”
The reason anti-bully programs and policies don’t work well is because they reinforce a perception of people as bullies!
Bully is not a psychological diagnosis but an insult, on the order of idiot, jerk and punk. We wouldn’t insult students with these terms, and we shouldn’t use the insult bully either. The moment we think of people as bullies we have pre-judged them and are more likely to be prejudiced toward them.
No one is perfect, and we are all sometimes mean to people. We wouldn’t want to be insulted when we’re not nice, and we shouldn’t insult others, either.
Have you noticed that when you accuse students of being bullies, they almost always deny it and often blame the other children involved? From their point of view, they are on the receiving end. We are meanest to people when we feel victimized by them. When we feel victimized, we become angry and hateful and want revenge. Pay attention to news stories about people who committed terrible violence. You will notice they almost commit their heinous acts against their perceived tormentors. If you look at your life, you will see that almost every time you’re mean to people, it’s because you believe they hurt or offended you—they talked back to you, they defied your orders, they complained about you to the school district.
Once you realize that most aggressive behavior is really victim-mentality behavior, the aggression in your school will become more comprehensible to you, and you will be better able to deal with it. And you will realize that the best way to reduce aggression is not by teaching students how not to be bullied, but by teaching them how not to feel like victims.
When you label the kids who are sent to you for being aggressive as bullies, you have no compassion for them or understanding of their experience. They argue with you and resist learning from you. They will be angry with you in return, will hate the school and will try to get back at you. But if you realize they feel like hurt or oppressed by the student they attacked, they will feel that you see the event from their point of view. They will feel you are empathic, and will be more likely to listen to you, learn from you and accept your advice and discipline.
You will also make parents happier. No parent likes to be told that their child is a bully. Some will agree with you, especially if they see their child being mean at home as well. But most will be angry and defensive, and argue that the school is unfair. You will have to try even harder to convince them that their child is socially aggressive. This process is not likely to have good results.
When you stop using the word “bully,” you will avoid these problems.
And get rid of the word “bullying.” It is a vague term that obscures what a person actually did and causes us to categorize actions as the same, regardless if they were assault and battery or eye rolling. Label behaviors accurately as theft, vandalism, verbal insults, or pushing, and you will have a much better handle on how to deal with the problem.