The Bullying-Free NZ School Framework
The nine elements of an effective whole-school approach to preventing and responding to bullying.
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Bullying prevention research and what does the evidence tell us?
Since 2009 there has been a huge growth in research into bullying and schools to expand our knowledge and understanding about bullying. As bullying prevention programmes are tested in more challenging and diverse environments, we learn more about what works and what doesn’t work.
The evidence tells us that a successful bullying prevention programme is based on best practice and evidence-based approaches that are embedded in a comprehensive and coordinated school-wide approach. Research shows that multi-component, whole-school initiatives involving the whole school community are more likely to reduce bullying behaviour than single-component programmes, such as those involving only classroom curriculum activities.
Bullying prevention approaches may look different in each school, since they need to align with the values, goals and priorities of each particular school and their community. But, in the end, they all need to achieve the same thing – students attending schools that have positive environments to support them to reach their full potential.
The nine core elements of a successful bullying prevention whole-school approach
Research evidence indicates there are nine core elements to an effective school-based bullying prevention approach. These elements are inter-linked – each is important to making bullying prevention and response more effective. For example, data are needed to assess local needs, and strong leadership support is critical to policy development, implementation and professional learning.
1. Strong leadership support
Leadership is critical. All leaders within the school community should make sure that steps are taken to challenge and respond to bullying. A proactive school principal who champions bullying prevention and response is a common factor among successful school-based bullying prevention programmes.
The principal should create and empower a leadership team that focuses on all aspects of school safety, including bullying, and school climate. Research shows that schools are most effective when they have the support of their senior leadership team and at least one senior staff member coordinating their bullying prevention efforts.
For further information on leadership within a bullying prevention approach refer to strong leadership.
2. A positive school and classroom climate and culture
Climate and culture refers to the core values, attitudes, beliefs and behvaiour of the school and classroom. This goes through every aspect of school and classroom life and determines the wellbeing and bullying prevention in schools. Work that improves classroom climate can help address factors that act as catalysts to bullying.
A positive school climate and culture is one where its norms, values and expectations make all students feeling safe, respected and valued; where everyone feels listened to, understood and empowered. Nurturing not only students’ academic development, but also their social, emotional and character development is important. A positive climate is the foundation for a school where positive behaviour is the norm, and where students actively work to stop or reduce bullying, such as reporting bullying to an adult (safe-telling).
For further information on supportive school and classroom climate and ethos within a bullying prevention approach refer to a positive school and classroom climate and culture.
3. Gathering and analysing data
Data collection is a critical dimension of bullying prevention. Schools need a clear picture of the nature and extent of bullying problems in their school so they can plan an appropriate response.
Schools should use data-driven evaluations (starting with a pre-test and measuring repeatedly after implementing any programme) of school climate and bullying, including looking at incident reports to see where school culture can be strengthened, or if vulnerable students need more support.
For further information on gathering and analysing refer to Step 2: gather data.
4. Student leadership, agency and voice
Actively involving students in either designing and reviewing initiatives and creating opportunities to for students to learn skills and lead approaches can have a major impact in developing and implementing effective solutions to bullying. A clear understanding of what students think about bullying will help to develop the most appropriate approach to bullying prevention. Research shows that peers are more aware of bullying episodes than adults, so surveying students’ perceptions provides essential information on the nature of bullying.
For further information on student agency refer to student leadership, voice and agency.
5. Effective and supportive policies
The whole school community needs to share the same perspective on preventing and responding to bullying for policies to be effective. Establishing a shared understanding of bullying in a school requires including and working with all members of the school community. A school’s policies and practice on behaviour, diversity, and challenging prejudice are key.
For further information on effective bullying prevention polices refer to Effective and supportive policies.
6. Involvement of parents, carers and whānau
A positive school climate creates an ‘ethos of caring’ that shapes all relationships in the school community. It’s important to communicate and closely work with parents, carers and whānau.
This adds strength and depth, and has a positive impact by helping family life reinforce the actions of the school, and by helping parents and carers develop their own skills and attitudes. Parents, carers and whānau need to be fully informed, frequently consulted, and recognised as equal partners in the bullying prevention process.
For further information on involvement of parents and whānau within a bullying prevention approach refer to involving parents, carers and whānau.
7. School-wide professional learning and development (PLD)
Many school staff struggle with how to manage student conflicts, build students’ social skills, and encourage a sense of responsibility for others. Evidence indicates that when the senior leadership team is strongly committed to providing resources for professional development, and school staff are trained to recognise bullying and effectively handle incidents, bullying rates are lower. Whilst minimal training can help, more intensive training can make a much bigger difference.
For further information on professional learning and development within a bullying prevention approach refer to School wide professional learning and development
8. Universal approach (universal actions targeted at class and school level)
Extensive research in school and community settings has shown that the way programmes are designed and implemented may be as important as the content of the programme itself. The most effective take a whole-school approach, are implemented over a long time, and involve many different aspects not just a focus on one single component.
A key starting point is a broad-based focus on wellbeing that emphasises strengths. This is more effective than focusing only on bullying behaviour. A universal whole-school approach develops a culture where talking about feelings and wellbeing is the norm, where is ok to have a problem and ask for help, and where the whole-school population has the skills and attitudes to support those with greater needs.
For further information on universal approaches refer to Teaching and learning: universal approaches
9. Targeted approach (early response and targeted support)
A targeted approach that is integrated with a universal approach, can help those with bullying problems and alleviate any emotional and behavioural issues at the start.
An initial assessment of a student’s needs will help shape a plan setting out how the student will be supported, and who will take what action. This should be followed by regular reviews to check how the plan is working. Both short- and long-term approaches are needed, including using school data to regularly review policy and procedures and monitoring progress.
For further information on targeted approaches refer to Targeted approaches: early response and targeted approaches.
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