Recent empirical research shows that bully prevention programs and/or curricular-based efforts are often ineffective or
only marginally helpful in reducing bully-victim-bystander behaviors in schools. Instead, a comprehensive, multi-tiered
systemic approach, with a focus on instructional and relational/management practices, has been proven to be most
effective in shaping school climate improvement efforts.
A distinguished panel of researchers (Cohen, Espelage, Twemlow, Berkowitz and Comer) recently authored a white paper
outlining five overlapping processes that not only prevent bully-victim-bystander behavior but also promote the development
of socially, emotionally, ethically and civically responsible and caring people and communities.
Bullying is most effectively prevented by the creation of an environment that nurtures and promotes prosocial and ethical
norms and behaviors. Building on the U.S. Department of Education’s (2012) bully prevention guidelines the authors offer
these five essential processes in promoting a positive school climate:
1. Endorsement & Engagement of Educational Leadership-District and building leaders need to fully endorse
and lead any and all effective school reform efforts. These leaders must commit to create safe, supportive,
respectful and engaging climates for learning.
2. Engaging the whole school community-Students, parents/guardians, school personnel and community
members/leaders need to be co-learners and co-leaders in effective school climate improvement efforts. This
creates a “platform” for all practice efforts.
3. Assessment-Assessment is important not only as an “engagement” strategy but also to establish “baselines” to
gauge progress over time. There are three levels of assessment:
· readiness assessments that support school leaders understanding of how ready or not they are to embark on a
school-wide reform effort
· comprehensive school climate assessment
· targeted bully-victim-bystander-witness assessments via student led participatory action research
4. Policies-Today there are 49 states that have developed bully prevention laws. Legally and psychosocially there is
a powerful bully prevention trend that “blames” the bully and tends to focus on punishment. These kinds of “zero
tolerance” policies and laws are unhelpful. Helpful policies need to:
(1) enhance the whole school community learning and working together to understand their shared vision for what kind of
school they most want
(2) be aligned with research based findings about what really helps to reduce bullying behaviors
5. Practices-the authors suggest three levels of school-wide/systemic interventions designed to promote a safe,
supportive, prosocially informed, climate where students and adults alike think about “what’s the right thing to do?”
(i) Being a living example: It is well known that children pay more attention to what educators and parents do
rather than what they say.
(ii) Classroom management and disciplinary practices: A foundational dimension that shapes school climate
and how safe--or not--students feel.
(iii) Pedagogy: A range of pedagogic practices support prosocial education such as cooperative learning, service
learning and moral dilemma discussions. Prosocial educational curriculum focuses on the systematic
development of core sets of social, emotional, ethical and civic skills that help youth more effectively handle life
challenges, make better decisions, and thrive in both their learning and their social environments.
The authors suggest that bullying is a complex social process that involves all members of the community. There is much
to be learned but we know that a comprehensive, multi-tiered/systemic approach with a focus on promoting prosocial
behavior rather than an emphasis on merely extinguishing bully behaviors will provide the foundation for effective teaching
and learning and in developing the skills to participate in our democracy.
To learn more about how you can help schools to integrate these vital steps in bully prevention and in promoting a