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