One of the most difficult aspects of cyberbullying from a school administrative perspective is simply that, by definition, it happens in a virtual world. Cyberbullying happens where bullies can often mask their crimes more easily and escape school-administered consequences by committing their offenses off-campus. As Katherine Cowan, communications director for the National Association of School Psychologists, explains for Scholastic,
“One of the capacities of cyberbullying is that it goes from zero to 60 rapidly—it can go viral very quickly and can live permanently online … School administrators face the challenge of having to wrap their arms around a dynamic and incredibly complex social system with the students they serve. The Internet makes it that much more complicated.”
However, there are some steps that school administrators can begin taking in order to better combat and prevent instances of cyberbullying.
According to Emily Richmond’s Scholastic article, “Cyberbullying: What schools can do to stop it,” teachers and school administrators can…
“ Define cyberbullying clearly, and incorporate expectations into Internet and electronic communications for students and staff.
 Involve parents and the wider community as early as possible, whether it’s through a task force to review policy, or via workshops to help families understand and respond to how their children are using the Internet and electronic communications.
 Teach students to be cyber-savvy. In addition to understanding the risks involved in sharing personal information online, students need to understand how the ‘tone’ of their communications can be perceived much differently than they might have intended.
 Finally, report suspected cases of bullying to the supervisors, the parents of all involved students, and, when necessary, law enforcement. While the steps may seem simple, the reality is invariably complicated and changes from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.”
School administrators should also be careful not to conflate anti-cyberbullying efforts with simply more surveillance. Extra surveillance can not only fail to address the key issues at hand, but can also inadvertently punish students who haven’t done anything wrong. To avoid this conflation, your school can also try implementing hotlines or tip lines rather than more attempts at teacher surveillance of student technologies. As Sameer Hinduja of the Cyberbullying Research Center argues,
“…every school should have a system in place that allows students who experience or observe bullying or cyberbullying (or any inappropriate behavior) to report it in as confidential a manner as possible. It seems obvious that we should be using mediums that youth already prefer [i.e. via text/phone]. In addition, being able to broach the subject without being forced to reveal one’s identity or do it face-to-face may prove valuable in alerting faculty and staff to harmful student experiences, and help promote an informed response to bring positive change.”
What’s more, school administrators should also work to set a rigorous standard in regards to all student cyber activity on school grounds—a standard that draws the line at inappropriate behavior rather than inappropriate content. For example, if a student posts a “harmless” video on their blog of a teacher or other student simply walking down the hall, but does so without that teacher or student’s knowledge or permission, that student should be quickly and sharply reprimanded. For though the content may seem innocuous, it is the behavior of video-taping, publishing, and taking liberties with another person’s life and image that is inappropriate and therefore punishable.
By cutting students off at inappropriate behavior rather than waiting for the content itself to become inappropriate, we can begin to teach students that it isn’t simply a matter of blatantly offensive material that’s the core issue here; it’s the use of technologies to inappropriately invade and disrespect the space and reputation of others that’s at the heart of the problem.
These sorts of anti-cyberbullying behavior-centered policies can stretch from anything like having home-room teachers confiscate all cellphones at the beginning of classes and returning them at the end of the day to simply punishing students if they’re caught using a cellphone during class. The severity of the measures will inevitably vary from community to community as the individual school’s climate and state’s laws demand.
For more information and ideas, check out the following resources:
- “Prevention at School,” StopBullying.gov
- “Cyberbullying: What schools can do to stop it,” Emily Richmond, Scholastic
- “Online Bullies Pull Schools into the Foray,” Jan Hoffman, New York Times
- “Setting up a Free Bullying and Cyberbullying Reporting System with Google Voice,” Sameer Hinduja, Cyberbullying Research Center
It is of the utmost importance that all teachers recognize that, in today’s classroom, there are two very distinct types of bullying: in-person bullying and cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can include everything from text messages to emails to Facebook to blogs to chatrooms. Understanding this difference as well as the ins-and-outs of bullying itself will better enable teachers to detect when bullying is taking place and who the perpetrators (and victims) are.
According to the National Education Association (NEA), bullying can be defined as the act of “systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt and/or psychological distress on another.” According to StopBullying.gov, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”
Operating under these understandings of bullying (as well as the knowledge that cyberbullying is distinctive from in-person bullying), how then can teachers take the next step to recognizing where and when bullying is happening?
StopBullying.gov provides a good list of starting places when it comes to identifying signs of bullying in students, including: students suffering from unexplained injuries, lost or damaged belongings, frequent illness or feelings of illness, sudden changes in appetite, sudden negative changes in grades and/or academic interests/rigor, sudden negative change in school relationships, and a variety of self-inflicted wounds such as cutting or running away from home.
While these symptoms may sound obvious enough, they can actually be kept well-hidden by students (and often are) due to feelings of immense shame, fear, depression, and/or isolation. In order to detect and identify these symptoms, it is of paramount importance that teachers strive to develop a healthy rapport with their students, their students’ parents, and their fellow teachers. Without these clear lines and opportunities for honest communication, we won’t be able to recognize what’s normal for any given child and thus won’t be able to recognize significant changes (aka possible warning signs) either.
Developing and maintaining this many relationships, however, is far too much for any one teacher to undertake successfully by themselves. Knowing this, consider the following possibilities for fostering and opening up wider lines of communication, empathy, and observation:
- Hold regular (mandatory) meetings/lunches/get-togethers with other teachers in order to catch up on how each other’s students are doing
- Try creating an anti-bullying task force composed of teachers, administrative staff, and students
- Discuss and share the Anti-Bullying “Seating Chart” from Glennon Doyle Melton’s article, “One Teacher’s Brilliant Strategy to Stop Bullying”***
- Hold regular meetings with parents to discuss their children’ s home life, internet usage, phone usage, and any issues that might be cropping up in the classroom
- Work with school administrative staff to craft and implement anti-bullying policies for your school
- Make sure that all students understand that, should they come to you with information or concerns, they will not be immediately judged or punished, but listened to, considered, and respected
- “One Teacher’s Brilliant Strategy to Stop Bullying,” Glennon Doyle Melton, Reader’s Digest
- “How to Identify Bullying,” National Education Association
- “What is Bullying: Bullying Definition,” StopBullying.gov
- “Student Welfare: Freedom from Bullying,” McKinney ISD
- “Cyber-Bullying: Developing Policy to Direct Responses that are Equitable and Effective in Addressing this Special Form of Bullying,” Karen Brown, Margaret Jackson & Wanda Cassidy, Simon Fraser University, Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, Issue #57
The hard truth about the SAT and ACT exams is this: While some universities may be ceasing or phasing out the use of these test scores in their admission process now, this still leaves us with the majority of top and mid-level colleges that continue looking to these scores to help them make important admission and scholarship decisions. This means that, for better or for worse, SAT and ACT prep continues to be a necessary investment for most students.
There is mounting evidence to show that these standardized exams favor not simply the wealthy, but specifically wealthy white males. In a recent report from William C. Hiss, former dean of admissions at Bates College, and Valerie W. Franks, a former Bates assistant dean of admissions, “they reviewed 33 colleges and universities that did not require SAT or ACT scores,” and found that “those who didn’t submit SATs were more likely to be minority students, women, Pell grant recipients or the first in their families to go to college” (Todd Balf, The New York Times, 2014). They also found that there was “no significant difference in college GPA or graduation rates between those who had submitted tests and those who did not” (Balf, NYT, 2014). This means that even for women, minority, and lower-income students who are every bit as intelligent, creative, and scholastically successful as their wealthier, white, male peers, they are still likely to find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to the SAT and ACT exams.
This is certainly evidence to suggest that our general college admission process is in need of a dramatic overall and fast. But so long as these exams are still administered across the country each year and their scores still looked to as a major admissions metric, this prejudice is also evidence of an increased need for affordable test-prep for all. As Todd Balf explains in “The Story Behind the SAT Overhaul” for the The New York Times,
“While more colleges are choosing to opt out of standardized testing, an estimated 80 percent of four-year colleges still require either SAT or ACT scores, according to David Hawkins at Nacac, and admissions officers report feeling bound to the tests as a way to filter the overwhelming numbers of applicants” (2014).
In his Atlantic article “The SAT-Prep Industry Isn’t Going Anywhere,” James Murphy agrees with this assessment, explaining,
“The problem, though, is not test prep but the test. It is not teachers and tutors who make students anxious; it is the SAT. … Although more schools than ever are making SAT scores optional for application, good test prep will remain important as long as high-stakes, time-constrained, multiple-choice exams are being used to determine who gets admitted to the most selective colleges and universities. … It is important not to confuse the medicine with the sickness.” (2014)
And this really is the keynote of this article: The SAT and ACT exams are flawed, yes; problematic, certainly; stress-inducing, definitely; but they are still here. They are still being used and looked to and depended upon. And for as long as they are, test-prep will continue to be necessary the same way that extra tutoring is often necessary for student success in everyday classwork.