What are key elements of a bullying prevention and intervention plan?
Any cultural shift, including one that takes place in a school, is a collective phenomenon. Interrupting the cycle of bullying in a school context requires the engagement and commitment of all members of the community. At the same time, cultural change is a process that takes time. It requires a conscious, coherent and sustained effort in order to bring real and lasting change to the values, attitudes and behaviour of everyone involved.
Affecting such pervasive and far-reaching change in any population is a complex process requiring progressive, overlapping and cyclical stages as well as multidimensional strategies.
PRECONDITIONS FOR CHANGE
Before successfully embarking upon the creation and implementation of a bullying prevention program, a school needs to be in a place of readiness for change. As a prerequisite for successful change, it is crucial that all (or the majority) of school community members (students, parents and staff):
- Recognize the existence of a significant bullying problem in the school.
- Believe that peer victimization at school can have serious consequences.
- Are optimistic about the possibility for change. (From: Ken Rigby, Stop the Bullying: A Handbook for Schools, published in 2001.)
COMPONENTS OF A COMPREHENSIVE BULLYING PREVENTION PLAN
Ontario law requires schools to develop a bullying prevention plan with coherent and constructive intervention policies and procedures. The following framework in four parts (not necessarily presented in a linear order or by importance) can help to establish a holistic plan for bullying intervention and prevention.
- Reflection: Encourage all members of the school community to reflect on how they use power in school, and on the link between responsibility and power (whether it is used positively or negatively).
- Attitude change and skill development: Encourage values and attitudes that foster compassion, respect for differences and basic rights, as well as the wellbeing and self-fulfilment of students (and of everyone). Foster the development of skills and abilities needed to ensure that adults are able to model healthy communication and to intervene sensitively, respectfully and effectively, as well as the development of a wide range of social skills among students enabling them to resist bullying and to develop healthy relationships in all areas of their lives.
- Development of school systems: Develop a whole school policy, including a set of coherent and comprehensive protocols and procedures to support and uphold efforts aimed at preventing bullying and intervening in bullying incidents. A code of conduct containing a clear definition and description of bullying is a key element of such a policy.
- Strategies for action: Develop and implement an array of short-, medium- and long-term activities, initiatives, measures and approaches that facilitate and reinforce daily practices and behaviours (among all members of the school community) imbued with the values associated with bullying prevention.
STEPS TO CHANGE
In accordance with the Law, school boards must develop an effective bullying prevention and intervention plan and administer it in their schools. Schools are obligated to implement the plan. In order to make progress in their efforts to prevent bullying while meeting their legal obligations, schools will need to engage all members of the school community – students, parents and guardians, teachers, support staff and the principal – in the development and implementation of their plan. Each group brings diverse knowledge and skills to the table, and when members see their needs and priorities reflected in the plan it could well increase the community’s “buy-in”.
School boards are required to implement the following components:
- Administer an anonymous survey with the whole community to learn more about each person’s perceptions of bullying at the school, and about the types of bullying that are occurring. (The Law requires school boards to administer anonymous school climate surveys with students, parents and school staff, at least once every two years. The Ministry of Education of Ontario has developed survey models to assist boards in this endeavour. These model surveys include questions about bullying and harassment. See http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/teachers/climate.html.) Note: In accordance with Policy/Program Memorandum No. 145, Progressive Discipline and Promoting Positive Student Behaviour, school boards must require that schools communicate the results of school climate surveys to their safe and accepting schools team and that they integrate into their improvement plans strategies aimed at improving school climate in relation to issues raised by the survey results.
- Establish a committee, comprised of students, parents and guardians, and school staff mandated with the responsibility to analyse the survey questionnaires and to disseminate the results. Note: In accordance with Policy/Program Memorandum No. 144, Bullying Prevention and Intervention, each school must have a team responsible for safety and acceptance in the school in order to foster a safe, accepting and inclusive school climate. The team must include at least one student, one parent, one teacher, one non-teaching staff member, one community partner and the school principal. An existing school committee (such as the healthy school committee) can assume this role. The chair of the team must be a school staff member.
- Train school community members to raise their awareness about the problem of bullying and its impact and to build their skills and provide them with the necessary information to enable them to fulfil their respective roles in a responsible manner. (Each year, school boards are required to offer professional development to school staff on bullying prevention and strategies for fostering a positive school climate.)
Other suggestions to facilitate the process:
- Launch a consultative process to gather ideas and opinions that can be utilized for the creation and implementation of a long-term bullying prevention plan. Subsequent to this consultative process, the committee mentioned above can be designated to manage and adjust the plan on an ongoing basis.
- Establish a simple, clear procedure enabling students to report – safely and anonymously – incidents of bullying they observe or experience, and providing guidance to adults in how to deal with such reports.
- Identify a group of adults, easily recognized by students, who provide more sustained and comprehensive support for resolving bullying situations and who are prepared for responding to such situations (i.e. they are motivated, trained and have clear directives and procedures to guide them).
- Implement measures encouraging an ongoing dialogue among students, teachers and other school staff, parents and guardians on issues related to bullying prevention.
For more information and ideas about bullying prevention plans, visit www.safeatschool.ca.