Bully Free ZOneThe age old problem of bullying not only still exists but it is spiraling out of control and affecting so many young people day after day. Bullying has been prevalent in schools since schools became a formalized place of education. Bullying was normal and just kids growing up. After the school shootings of Columbine and other schools, school violence came into the limelight for school professionals, law enforcement and communities.

Making a strong voice against school violence, schools developed zero tolerance policies. Sending a strong message that school violence is not tolerated. Unfortunately, the policies are not showing effectiveness in curbing bullying. Policies only react to the behavior and do not provide intervention.  Some school policies state that students will be expelled or suspended from school when exhibiting violence on or off campus or during school sponsored events. The law states that students must receive a free education, this is turn requires that students who have been expelled or suspended return to school or another type of schooling.

Research has found a multitude about bullying: characteristics of victims, bullies and bystanders; types of bullying; the victimization and the long term effects of bullying; where bullying occurs and why; and types of interventions to use in curbing or eradicating bullying. In spite of all of the research, bullying has a life of its own with its complexities and continues to thrive.

Bully behavior affects everyone from the victim, bystander, school personnel, families and the community. The effects of bullying are numerous for victims. Most importantly, researchers found that victims of bullying carry the scars and continue to be victims into adulthood. This in turn affects their learning ability, academic success, social skills to build peer relationships and strategies to solve conflicts.

Bullies continue their behavior for various reasons. They do not find the interventions to be effective in changing their behavior possibly due to the fact that they are bullied at home or have a dysfunctional family life; they like getting their way and being powerful; the harsh punishments are worth it to continue; and they just believe they are teasing or that the other students desire being bullied.

Bystanders, recognized as the largest group of students, are the “caring majority” according to the Committee for Children (2005) or the “silent majority”[1]. They are either part of the problem encouraging bullies by showing their support or by their lack of support for the victim. Many bystanders just do not want to get involved or are afraid to speak up and support the victim.

Bullying continues for many reasons. Students do not report all incidents. Victims have received little to no support when they report bullying behavior. Ineffective and inconsistent interventions have not helped the problem and retaliation by the bully has caused many victims to suffer silently and quit reporting the behavior.  Bystanders don’t speak up for fear of becoming the bully’s next victim and because they did not receive adult support. Teachers are then given the false impression that bullying is not occurring in their classroom.

School personnel continue to tolerate bullying in spite of anti-bullying programs and curriculum. Unfortunately, some teachers and school personnel believe certain children deserve what they get or that bullying is just something kids do.  Oftentimes, school personnel lack skills to intervene appropriately and effectively.  Due to this lack of skills teachers are inconsistent with their behavior toward bullying or they ignore the behavior. Afraid to damage the school’s reputation, adults and school officials do not report all incidents of bullying.

Interventions currently employed react to the bullying behavior and do not alleviate bullying.  Many interventions are short lived, ineffective and inconsistent. Being consistent is very time consuming for teachers and school officials. This lack of intervention sends a clear message to the bullies that they can get away with their behavior and the victims feel that the adults do not support them. Receiving no help, victims no longer report bullying and continue to suffer.

Based on Glicken’s [2] four ways to decrease school violence, the four evidence-based programs meet many of these needs. The reviewed programs address parent involvement, character education and bullying prevention interventions. Bully-Proofing Your School implements conflict resolution curriculum. Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, Bully Busters, Bully-Proofing Your School and Steps to Respect are all designed to change the school climate and promote a safe, positive learning environment which encourages empathy and caring for others. “Given the complexity surrounding bullying behaviors, prevention and intervention efforts need to include not only the individual, peer group, family and school, but also the community”.[3] The programs address the needs of the entire school community, bullies, victims, bystanders, teachers, administration, and parents.

An important component found throughout research is that schools should focus on finding a program that meets the specific needs of a school and utilize evidence-based programs that have shown results in reducing bullying and improving the school climate.

In general, school wide prevention programs have shown success at decreasing bullying.  Due to the complex nature of bullying, the relationships involved, and the needs of individual school communities the programs need to be “flexible, comprehensive and strategic”. [4] A consistent thread throughout successful programs is the full support and commitment of the entire school community embracing the program. The most important component of changing the climate of a school is teaching the students that bullying behavior is not accepted and the school community must focus on positive behaviors and relationships.

Researchers are studying bullying in an effort to stop this behavior. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires that all children receive a free education in a safe and inviting environment providing opportunities for success. Bullying behavior does not allow victims to be successful students and to thrive in their academic and social life. Bullying also leads to more dangerous violence. Government agencies, school districts and researchers across the nation are developing and implementing policies and strategies to reduce bullying. More and more programs are now available at all age levels.

I believe it is so important to remember to create a caring and humane society which allows for a safe, positive learning environment.  Let’s begin the New Year with a resolution to focus on the positive and change the school climate. 

It is with a joyful heart that I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.  Enjoy your family and friends and please take time to appreciate the small things in life we tend to forget in our hectic lifestyles.  I will return to my blog after the first of the year.

Warmest regards,


Changing the School Climate (January, 2011)


[1] Garrity, C., & Jens, K. (1997) Bully proofing your school: creating a positive climate.  Intervention in School & Clinic, 32(4) 235-246, p.4. Retrieved March 24, 2009, from Education Research Complete database.

[2] Glicken, M. (2004). Violent young children. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

[3] Espelage, D., & Swearer, S. (2003). Research on school bullying and victimization: What have we learned and where do we go from here? School Psychology Review, 32(3) 365-385. Retrieved October 20, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.

[4] Nordahl, J., Poole, A., Stanton, L., Walden, L., & Beran, T. (2008). A review of school-  based bullying interventions. Democracy & Education 18(1), 16-20. Retrieved October 21, 2009 from Education Research Complete database.

[5] Boynton, M., & Boynton, C. (2005). The educator’s guide to preventing and solving discipline problems. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


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