In the news this past month there have been a number of stories that highlight the often devastating consequences of bullying in our schools. Despite attempts by schools to introduce zero tolerance policies and anti-bullying programs, school violence appears to be on the rise. When doing research on this issue it became clear that the success of these anti-bullying programs is directly related to the reporting of threats or violent incidents. This places the onus on students to reduce bullying in the schools. Oliver and Candappa (2007) stated that only 11% of adolescents are willing to report the problem to school personnel and that reporting rates are lowest among boys and minority groups. Given the low rates of reporting among adolescents and the increase in the severity and number of incidents of bullying in the schools, it appears necessary to revisit the role of students in anti-bullying programming.
Eliot et al. (2010) conducted a study examining the relationship between school climate and student willingness to seek help for bullying and threats of violence. The study used an “8-item scale to measure the extent to which students perceived that adults at school care about students, respect them, and want them to do well.” (p. 539). An additional 8-item scale was used to measure student willingness to seek help from school staff members for bullying and threats of violence. Findings suggested that students who perceive their school climate as supportive were more likely to report bullying to school personnel. A supportive school climate was defined by students as having caring and respectful teachers that took an interest in the students on an individual and personal level.
A number of school-based programs currently exist that focus on fostering relationships between teachers and students. Freiberg and Lapointe (2006) stated that of the programs they investigated, programs that encouraged connectedness and trust between students and school authority figures had the most positive outcomes. One particularly successful program paired grade nine students with a teacher mentor. The results yielded positive increases in academic standing and overall positive school experience as defined by participating students. Other important outcomes of programming that promote connectedness was the ability of teachers to convey messages about the normalcy and acceptability of help seeking, as well as providing opportunities for teachers to tackle cultural messages that discourage help seeking by distinguishing between snitching for personal gain and seeking help to prevent bullying (Eliot et al., 2010).
An important message posited by Eliot et al. (2010) from the above noted research study is that we cannot leave the success of anti-bullying programs to the reporting of incidents by adolescents. School personnel need to take an active role in building caring, respectful, and trusting relationships with students in order to foster supportive school climates where students feel safe to report bullying.
Eliot, M. Cornell, D., Gregory, A. & Fan X. (2010). Supportive school climate and student willingness to seek help for bullying and threats of violence. Journal of School Psychology, 48, 533-553.
Freiberg, H. & Lapointe, J. (2006). Research-based programs for preventing and solving discipline problems. In C. M. Evertson, & C.S. Weinstein (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management (pp.735-786). Mahway, NJ: Erlbaum.
Oliver, C. & Candappa, M. (2007). Bullying and the politics of telling. Oxford Review of Education, 33, 71-86.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA