School-Based Bullying Prevention: Establishing Clear Program Goals

What Do You Want To Change?

  • Overview

    StartThe underlying goal of each school-based bullying prevention programs is to stop bullying from occurring. But, how bullying is defined, and which specific behaviors and actions constitute bullying, may differ from one school to another. Staff within the same school may even disagree about the definition of bullying.

    In order to change school climate and student behaviors, everyone involved in the program should use the same definition of bullying. A consistent definition of bullying can help those involved set shared goals and determine a baseline for evaluating the success of the program.

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  • Steps to Take: Lessons Learned from the Research

    Steps to Take:  Lessons Learned from the Research

    Develop a clear definition of bullying so that everyone has the same understanding of the problem.

    • Consult several sources.
    • Know the difference between bullying and other problem behaviors.
    • Defining Bullying

      Start by understanding how your school defines bullying. It is difficult to understand, prevent, and measure bullying without a consistent definition. For example, what one teacher sees as normal kid behavior could, in fact, be bullying. Or, what one teacher sees as bullying could be a form of violence that is not addressed adequately through bullying prevention efforts.

      • Consult several sources.

      • Government definitions. The U.S. Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define bullying as unwanted, intentional aggressive behavior that occurs over time and involves a power imbalance. This definition is further refined to exclude certain youth, such as siblings or current dating partners.
      • State law definitions. Each state has different laws and policies and may define bullying differently. These laws and policies can also affect the requirements set for educators. To address these differences, the U.S. Department of Education compiled an inventory of all state laws and policies, and identified 11 common components within state anti-bullying laws (for more information on state-specific regulations, see Identifying Specific Jurisdictional Issues).

      Other Useful Info... has a list of all state anti-bullying laws and policies. To learn about your specific state, visit the Policies and Laws section of the web site.

      See the CDC's Bullying Surveillance among Youths: Uniform Definitions for Public Health and Recommended Data Elements for more information on defining bullying.

      • Know the difference between bullying and other problem behaviors.
        • There are two types of bullying:
        • Direct bullying includes behaviors that occur in the presence of the victim.
        • Indirect bullying includes behaviors such as spreading rumors about the victim or encouraging others to exclude him or her.
        • Bullying can also be expressed in different ways:
        • Physical bullying includes actions such as hitting, kicking, punching, tripping, spitting, and pushing.
        • Verbal bullying includes actions such as taunting, name-calling, sexual comments, or using threatening words, notes, or gestures.
        • It is important for school staff to also recognize the differences among aggression, violence, and bullying to ensure that bullying prevention efforts target behavior that occurs over time and involves a power imbalance—two characteristics that differentiate bullying from violence and aggression. For example, part of the Bully-Proofing Your School program is a staff training that covers, among other things, the definition of bullying and how it differs from normal peer conflict. In addition, students receive six lessons that discuss the definitions of bullying and how it differs from other types of conflict.

      Useful Definitions

      Violence is defined as the use or threat of physical force or power against another person, group, or community. Some forms of bullying can be violent, but not all violent behavior is considered bullying.

      Aggression is defined as the intentional use or threat of harmful behaviors against another person. It is important for school staff to understand that while all bullying is aggression, not all aggression is bullying. For example, a fight between two friends would be labeled as aggression but not bullying.

    • SMART Goals

      Setting goals can provide direction for bullying prevention efforts, by figuring out which actions will be taken to reduce bullying and how success will be measured.

      • Use SMART goals to set clear program goals. According to this framework, goals should be:

        • Specific,
        • Measurable,
        • Achievable,
        • Relevant, and
        • Time-Bound.

        One example of a program goal that follows the SMART goal framework is: “Between the beginning and end of the school year—during which time the bullying prevention program is implemented—student self-reports of school-based bullying incidents in the previous 30 days will be reduced by 30%.” The example sets a specific, relevant goal (reducing bullying by 30% in the previous 30 days) that includes a measure to assess progress (student self-reports) over a certain amount of time (between the beginning and end of the school year). Developing SMART goals should include all of those involved in the bullying prevention efforts, especially teachers and other school staff, so they can feel empowered to achieve the goals they help set rather than achieve goals set for them by someone else.

    • Developing School Policies

      Once you have a common definition of bullying and know your program goals, the next step is to communicate the school’s stance on bullying. For example, staff can establish and enforce school rules that show the school’s expectations for how students should treat one another and the consequences for violating those rules.

      • Establish a code of conduct. A code of conduct applies to everyone and describes positive behaviors that are expected by the school. An example of a code of conduct can be seen in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which had four major subgoals, one of which was to develop clear rules against bullying. An example could include rules such as: “We shall not bully other students; we shall try to help students who are bullied.” The program suggests using these rules to guide classroom discussions and instructs teachers to use positive reinforcement when students follow the rules. The program also stresses the importance of using common language and expectations.
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