4 Action Steps to Creating Bully-Free Schools
Bullying is an epidemic in schools. It happens in so many different ways to scholars of almost any background and makes prevention feel impossible. As part of National Bullying Prevention Month, KIPP Halifax encourages kids to take the anti-bullying pledge because of bullying’s potentially devastating impact on their lives. I believe educators can make a difference by becoming more proactive, acknowledging early warning signs, and understanding how to eliminate bullying from our school campuses.
Experts say bullying contains two main factors: an imbalance of power and a repetition of behavior. North Carolina laws interpret bullying as any behavior on and off school property that places a student or school employee in reasonable fear. Additionally, the actions interfere with a student’s educational performance. The legal definition also includes cyberbullying, an even more severe threat due to its unending nature across social media apps like TikTok, Instagram, and other online communities.
1. Talk About Bullying Openly
At the beginning of the year, I prioritize meeting with all grade levels to give concrete terminology for bullying. Our faculty and staff will always quickly address minor actions like name-calling or playful physical contact. When bullying is present, we believe in swift and forceful action to send a message it won’t be tolerated. I’ve seen what happens when students are too afraid to speak up or staff members don’t immediately act to help them.
I once met with a fifth-grade student who’d been bullied for most of her life. As a result, she attended three schools in six years. At the meeting with her and her mother, I noticed she couldn’t stop fidgeting with her fingers. When introductions were over, before she even mentioned her name, she asked, “are there bullies at this school?” Her mother said our meeting was the first time anyone sat down with them to discuss bullying before it actually took place.
2. Check In On Students Regularly
After our talk, I constantly checked on her daughter throughout the school year. I made my presence felt in high-traffic areas around the school where bullying could happen to ensure she knew someone was there to protect her. Moreover, I kept an open dialog with other administrators and updated her parents on how she adjusted to her new surroundings.
Now, she’s a high school freshman and participates in a club called “Stand Up to Bullies,” where she shares what it was like as a victim and how she overcame those moments. Unfortunately, she’s lucky. Not every kid escapes bullying with the fortitude to discuss their experiences with other people.
3. Pay Attention to Warning Signs
It's imperative we recognize the warning signs. Some students' grades decline significantly. Others show a complete lack of interest in school. A bullied child may suffer from anxiety, depression, and even intense loneliness. In more extreme cases, students may try to take their own life. According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death for middle and high school students.
4. Make it Part of The Curriculum
School leaders should know there is room for creativity in addressing bullying. I like to use a method I’ve nicknamed the “Triple N,” which gives students three options: speak nicely to one another, remain neutral, or say nothing.
Additionally, I created the “Lunch and Learn” program for K-8 students. Every Friday, they have an opportunity to learn more about me, but also to talk about themselves and their lives outside of school. I’ve tailored our recent conversations toward the topic of bullying. I understood they might be hesitant to discuss their experiences, however, I wanted them to know my office is a safe space to share their trauma without judgment.
The changes can’t happen overnight. We need leaders in our school system and parents outside of it to uphold policies for how our kids treat their peers. We may not be able to eliminate bullying permanently, but everyone can do their part to create a bully-free environment. If we don’t, their lives will always be at risk. Our students deserve better than that.