“I think it’s important to have a positive school climate in all of our schools. This program is a framework to make sure that’s in place.”
Dr. LaDonna McFall, Director of Schools
Trainers from Nashville met with leadership groups representing Coffee County elementary and middle schools last week as an initial step in the system’s implementing the internationally successful Olweus bullying prevention program.
“It prevents bullying, but it also helps us with better communication,” said Priscilla Van Tries, Coffee County Schools student services coordinator, who is spearheading implementation. “That leads to better behavior and academic gain. The researcher has proven that.”
At the heart of the Olweus [pronounced ol Vay us] system are two key areas of impact – communication and consistency. Consistency means that every possible issue is recognized and addressed and communication, perhaps the more daunting part, is an aim for a new environment within the schools.
“[Olweus] is about giving us as a school community a common vocabulary, a common understanding in the [classroom] and with working with the community as well,” Mc Fall said.
“This makes things consistent from one school to another and provides a framework in the way to issues are handled.”
The first step to commonality is to clarify the definition of bullying.
“It’s not conflict,” program trainer Jeannie Carr-Connelly explained. “It’s peer abuse. We want teachers to look at it as a form of abuse. If any other type of abuse were happening, we would intervene every time.”
Carr-Connelly said, “In society and media there are so many things that are called bullying that are not true. We want to narrow it down a give them a true definition, and get them to understand.”
She said that role-play, practice exercises, and the use of how to conduct classroom meetings were shared with the leader groups to be carried back to their respective schools to train every single staff and faculty member at the school.
Group discussions are part of what Van Tries describes as a change in school climate.
“It helps with better communication with each other, parents and adults, and students. That leads to better behavior and that leads to academic gain. When kids feel better about themselves they make better grades.”
Empathy, often missing from an increasingly cynical culture is crucial. Group sessions give time for the students to discuss their experiences with bullies, and thereby establishing empathy with the larger group.
One of the important dynamics of bullying is bystanders.
Carr-Connelly said that only 15-20 percent of students are directly involved in bullying incidents as aggressors or victims.
“The rest are standing around either laughing or adding to it. So we really want to talk to the teachers about how to empower the bystanders and speak into a bullying situation every time.”
She said that just having the conversation of the passive abuse is where the group conversions come into play as a part of the solution.
“If I were bullied, I could talk about how that made me feel, and show others how even laughing at a joke about somebody is hurtful.”
She adds that exclusion and isolation are issues to be addressed.
“If some one is sitting by himself and we don’t invite him to sit with us, we see how much that affects the student.”
She said that as “kids find similarities so that they’re not as likely to bully a student that they know what is going on with them.”
The program is research based and proven to be effective. In Carr-Connelly’s experience, she has seen the effectiveness when districts work to make the program work.
“There is a huge success rate because they’ll get more reporting because the kids are aware that [the system] is doing this and then the student will learn to trust the adults because they will see that something will be done,” Carr-Connelly said.
She said that oftentimes the staff feels like all instances are being caught, but statistically, students say that teachers only intervene 25 percent of the time.
“We want to get to where the kids know that the staff will intervene every time.
“We don’t want to do a one-shot thing. This has to be a systemic change this is about changing the school climate, not about a program. Changing attitudes and beliefs about what bullying is. Changing our culture, basically.”
Research Backs Program
The Olweus Bully Prevention program comes from a large-scale study by Dr. Dan Olweus in the 1970s, the first of its type in the world.
In the 80s, Olweus continued his research with a systematic intervention study. The revolutionary study stressed the effectiveness of Olweus’ then newly formed program.
According to Clemson University, the program distributor, “The first evaluation of the OBPP took place in Bergen, Norway and targeted 2,500 students in grades 5-8 over a period of two-and-a-half years between 1983 and 1985. Researchers used an extended selection cohorts design, in which same-age students could be compared across time.”
It was a blueprint for future studies, and together with U.S. studies have shown:
Marked reductions in students’ self-reports of being bullied (reductions of 62 percent after 8 months and 64 percent after 20 months) and bullying others (reductions of 33 percent after 8 months and 53 percent after 20 months);
• Reductions in teachers’ and students’ ratings of bullying among students in the classroom.
• Positive program effects for students’ self-reported antisocial behavior (involvement in vandalism, theft, and truancy) and students’ perceptions of positive school climate.
• Fidelity of program implementation was related to program outcomes.
In a South Carolina study, interactions were found for students a 16 percent decrease in rates of bullying among students in intervention schools and a 12 percent increase in bullying among students in comparison schools, resulting in a 28 percent relative reduction of bullying others in intervention versus comparison schools.
In Philadelphia, a 2007 study showed a drop from 65 incidents per 100 student hours, to 36 incidents.
One challenge met by researchers is the same faced by educators, to get an idea of the extent of bully that is actually happening according to the children’s perspective.
According to an assessment of the program by Blueprintsprogram.com, “Students are given an anonymous questionnaire (25-45 minutes long) to assess the nature and prevalence of bullying at the school. The survey is administered in spring of the school year prior to program implementation.”
The responses have indicated, universally, that problems have gone largely unnoticed.
Van Tries said that the implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program will be an ongoing process over the next several months and into the next school year.
According to violenceprevention.org informational, The Impact of Bullying:
A single student who bullies can have a wide-ranging impact on the students they bully, students who observe bullying, and the overall climate of the school and community.
Victims can exhibit
- Low self-esteem
- Health problems
- Poor grades
- Suicidal thoughts
- Observers of Bullying
Students who see bullying happen also may feel that they are in an unsafe environment. Effects may include feeling:
- Powerless to act
- Guilty for not acting
- Tempted to participate
Students Who Bully Others
Students who intentionally bully others should be held accountable for their actions. Those who bully their peers are also more likely than those students who do not bully others to *:
- Get into frequent fights
- Steal and vandalize property
- Drink alcohol and smoke
- Report poor grades
- Perceive a negative climate at school
- Carry a weapon
- Schools with Bullying Issues
When bullying continues and a school does not take action, the entire school climate can be affected in the following ways:
- The school develops an environment of fear and disrespect
- Students have difficulty learning
- Students feel insecure
- Students dislike school
- Students perceive that teachers and staff have little control and don’t care about them
* Not all students who bully others have obvious behavior problems or are engaged in rule-breaking activities, however. Some of them are highly skilled socially and good at ingratiating themselves with their teacher and other adults. This is true of some boys who bully but is perhaps even more common among bullying girls. For this reason it is often difficult for adults to discover or even imagine that these students engage in bullying behavior.