Bullying is an unfortunately common occurrence in schools, and for a classroom teacher it can be challenging to know what to do. However, there are steps to take to help manage the situation when you find yourself with a bully in your classroom.
As a teacher, bullying is, unfortunately, something we all have to deal with during our careers. Regardless of the age of students you teach, it finds its way into the classroom. It could be younger children; it might be more verbal or physical; and it happens in the hallway, lunchroom, or playground. As students grow older, the bullying gets more sophisticated and can involve text messaging and social media. The National Center for Education Stastistics reports that in 2013, nearly twenty-two percent of students reported being bullied in school. Whether the bullying is physically taking place in school or not, it can be difficult for educators to know what to do to handle the situation. However, if you have a plan of action, you can keep your cool and handle it appropriately for all students.
Sometimes as teachers we want to be superheroes, and in our minds, we think that we have the whole situation under control. However, the last thing you want to do when you start to suspect bullying in the classroom is to keep it to yourself. Start by having conversations with your administrator and guidance counselor, because bullying is a pattern of behavior, not a single isolated incident. Your administrator and guidance counselor will have procedures they need to follow to evaluate the situation. There are things they will want, and not want, you to do in this situation based on laws and your school district’s guidelines. However, in spite of this, there are things you can do in your classroom to stop the bully from impacting your students and their learning as much as possible.
Reestablish Safe Environments
Let’s say you have a bully in the classroom. For many students, whether the bullying is directed at them or one of their friends, the classroom can suddenly feel like an unsafe place. It causes emotional distress and can make it physically impossible for students to learn. As a result, when you have a bully in the classroom you often need to take deliberate steps to regain control of the space and create a safe classroom environment again.
The first step is to go back to what you do in the first days of school and reestablish classroom expectations in regards to respect and responsibility. In terms of respect, this means first and foremost modeling for you students how you expect them to speak to yourself and one another. A good way to start this is through simple role playing.
For example, you might start simply by role playing with students about their likes and dislikes. Show them how to respond to people who disagree with their opinions in a positive manner starting with safe topics such as books and movies. If you want to delve into more serious role playing, enlist your guidance counselor to help you. They will have access to resources to help you guide role playing with your students in various types of bullying situations that are appropriate to the age of students in your classroom.
Even if you, and your administrator decide a child is engaging in bullying behavior -remember that they are still a child. You want to be careful to not stigmatize or ostracize the child in front of their peers. First, this often just increases their bullying behavior both inside and outside of the classroom. Second, it does very little to stop the child’s bullying behavior.Deal with the Bully
So when you see the bullying behavior, try to engage them in a private conversation about the situation. Address the behavior, but try to keep your tone and choice of words as positive as possible. First and foremost, listen and let them tell their side of a story. In bullying situations, there are often many other issues going on with the child. You have to be a good listener if you want them to engage in the conversation and truly change the behaviors. This means trying to avoid putting on our stern teacher voices. Don’t lecture, but rather probe them with questions such as ‘How would you feel if someone did that to you or someone you care about?’ You may need to engage other adults in the conversation with the child as well.
Next, find opportunities to reward positive behaviors in all of your students. For example, if Sam offers Charlie a pencil because he can’t find one, praise it. Say ‘Thank you for sharing.’ Finding little opportunities like this one to reinforce acts of kindness helps show the bullying child there are greater rewards in kindness versus meanness. Building a culture of kindness in your classroom is a great way to help counteract the negativity caused by bullying behaviors. The United States Department of Health & Human Services’ stop bullying program recommends a ratio of five positive affirmations for every one negative criticism.
Teach the Class Conflict Resolution
When you have a bully in the classroom, conflicts will spring up quite often. Sometimes they will directly involve the bully, while other times they may stem from the emotions of students who are watching the bullying occur. So when you have a bully in the classroom, one strategy that helps both the bully and the rest of your class is to teach conflict management strategies. These strategies will help everyone cope with the stress bullying creates in your classroom.
Managing a Bully
Scholastic’s website offers a detailed guide to working through the conflict resolution process with students in your classroom. Start by setting up space in your room where students can go to ‘cool down’. That way if your students find themselves in conflict with the bully, they have a place to escape and decompress from the situation. Once everyone has calmed down, create a forum for the students to explain what happened without using negative language, or put downs. Once both sides have been heard, have the students discuss the feelings involved. This is particularly important because bullying is all about emotions. Your classroom bully is often trying to make himself feel better at the expense of another student’s emotions. Therefore, the discussion of feelings is a critical part of airing emotions that arise when you are managing a bully in the classroom. At that point, students will be ready to brainstorm ways to resolve the situation.
Having a bully in your classroom is a complicated and emotional situation for you and your students. The first step is always to include your administrator and guidance counselor as part of the solution. Use them as resources as you work to reestablish your classroom as a safe environment for all of your students. Work to develop strategies to manage the bully’s behavior inside your classroom, and teach the whole class how to deal with the situation.