As educators it can be difficult to know exactly what to do to help your students if they have are experiencing bullying. Even more difficult is how to spot bullying behaviors when most students don’t necessarily disclose what is happening to them.
The first step is to know exactly what bullying is versus what would be considered interpersonal conflict between students. Each of the two situations are handled very differently. The major difference comes when there is a power balance between students (i.e. popularity, differences in socioeconomic status, physical size/strength, etc.). When students are on equal footing, generally conflict resolution strategies will suffice to resolve the situation. However, when those power imbalances are there, it moves into the realm of bullying and/or harassment.
As an educator, your first priority is the safety and wellbeing of all your students. Here are some simple do’s and don’ts when it comes to helping both the students exhibiting bullying behavior and those experiencing their effects.
- Intervene if you witness bullying behavior first hand. Let both students know that what you are witnessing is bullying, whether it is physical or verbal.
- Separate the student exhibiting bullying behavior from the target, either by moving where they sit in class, or asking the student exhibiting bullying behavior to leave the classroom/area.
- Record all instances of bullying, even if you are unsure they match the legal definition. As an educator, your job is to teach all students, which frees you from making a legal determination of bullying.
- Report all instances of bullying to your school’s administration. All districts in the state of Iowa should have a person directly responsible for handling all bullying reports.
- Let the student who is the target of bullying behavior know that you are a safe person to talk to if they need to report bullying.
- Bring the student exhibiting bullying behavior and the student being targeted by that behavior together. This works with resolving interpersonal conflicts, but can actually make issues worse in bullying situations.
- Remove the target of bullying behaviors from their classrooms or normal routines. This can be viewed as a punishment to the student when you are actually trying to help them.
- Ignore situations just because no one has reported them. If you witness bullying behaviors, make note and let your administrators know. Many students do not want to identify as a ‘victim’ of bullying and therefore do not always report what’s happening to them.
- Refer to students as ‘bullies’ or ‘victims’. First and foremost, they are students and labels such as these can reinforce the feeling of helplessness on both sides.
Here are some resources that may be helpful to you when working with students who have been the target of bullying behaviors: