This is the fourth post in our Welcoming Schools “Back to School” blog series. Welcoming Schools, a project of the HRC Foundation, offers administrators, educators and parents/guardians the tools they need to ensure their elementary schools welcome all students and families.
This post comes from Dr. Marlene Synder, the Director of Development for the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Dr. Synder is also a member of the Welcoming Schools National Advisory Council. She discusses the links between Welcoming Schools and Olweus, the world’s foremost bullying prevention program.
We all want our children to learn, thrive and become productive adults. Many students find it difficult to learn, thrive and dream of their futures because of school-based bullying (both traditional and cyber bullying) . We know that bullying is pervasive in our schools. National prevalence studies consistently show that roughly one in five students have been bullied regularly and a similar number have bullied others. Many others witness bullying going on around them, so in fact, there are millions of students who have to deal with the issue of bullying in our schools each day.
Students who bully generally bully students who they perceive as different and/or weaker than they are. Sometimes the bullying might be focused on a student’s family or something about the student that makes him or her stand out from the norm. Perhaps the student has two moms or two dads or lives with his or her grandparents. A bullied student might speak with a strong accent, or be of a racial or religious minority. A student might be bullied because of his or her size, or because he or she does not like to do the things that are expected for his or her gender. We are all too aware of how devastating the results of this kind of bullying can be, as we have heard all too often of students as young as 11 years old committing suicide after being severely bullied at school.
Dr. Dan Olweus, whose program has been researched for the past 30 years, clearly asserts that bullying is peer abuse and it is a civil rights issue. Our schools need to be a place where every student feels safe in school regardless of their family structure or identity. No student should be hurt, humiliated, or excluded at school. School is not a place that any student should fear. School should be a place where everyone feels welcome and a place where students enjoy learning and can grow as a part of a larger community.
The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) was brought to United States schools more than a decade ago. The guiding principles for the OBPP are:
1. Warmth, positive interest and involvement with students and their families are needed on the part of all adults in the school. The responsibility for developing and ensuring a safe and welcoming school climate rests with adults.
2. We need to set firm limits to unacceptable bullying behavior. Clear, consistent rules and messages against bullying behaviors should be present throughout the entire school.
3. Consistent use of nonphysical, non-hostile negative consequences when rules are broken. Because OBPP is research-based, program procedures and guidelines should be followed as closely as possible.
4. Adults in the schools should function as authorities and positive role models. Children learn by example from all adults; teachers and their families.
The content of Welcoming Schools is in alignment with these guiding principles. Welcoming Schools helps the adults in the school become comfortable with interrupting bias-based bullying. Welcoming Schools involves families and the larger community. And Welcoming Schools helps adults proactively create a school climate that is welcoming of the diversity that we find in our schools. Welcoming Schools helps remind us that it is possible to create positive school climates that limit negative behavior and promote respect for all students.
The more we can work together to promote consistent messages against bullying behaviors, our children will learn, thrive and realize their dreams for their futures.