How 3 school leaders are preventing and responding to bullying

How 3 school leaders are preventing and responding to bullying

How 3 school leaders are preventing and responding to bullying

In Beth Lehr’s 21 years as an educator, she estimates she’s handled only four cases of “true bullying.” But the assistant principal at Sahuarita High School in Arizona and her staff regularly address “not nice” student actions and exchanges. 

Even when those don’t rise to the level of bullying, each incident is taken seriously with the goal of building and supporting a healthier relationship with the students involved, according to Lehr. “Every situation is unique. There’s no one answer,” she said. 

“That’s the hard part of anything in education, especially in administration,” Lehr said. “There is no one size fits all.”

As educators, parents, policymakers and others seek out solutions to school violence, efforts at bullying prevention and response are often cited as one approach to prevent tragic incidents like mass school shootings.  

While there is not one specific approach that can address all bullying situations, secondary school administrators who spoke to K-12 Dive said their school communities first work hard to build positive cultures and relationships. Staff also dig into the details of any allegation of bullying, listen to both sides of the conflict, add measures to prevent repeated unwelcome behaviors, and work toward resolutions that help the students involved feel safe.

Ashland Middle School, Ashland, Oregon

The top priority for the 500-student Ashland Middle School is to create an environment that is physically and emotionally safe, said Assistant Principal Katherine Holden. 

That includes preventative measures like setting schoolwide expectations for kindness and respect in the grade 6-8 school, as well as having in-depth investigative procedures for when unkind and hurtful behavior occurs, said Holden, who was named 2022 Oregon Assistant Principal of the Year by the Oregon Association of Secondary School Administrators.

“[The] number one priority is making sure that students feel safe at Ashland Middle School, and that they understand the adults will help them resolve conflict or do something if we hear, if we know, or if we see something being done that’s unkind,” Holden said.

The school’s response to unkind behavior happens even if the event involving students took place off campus or outside school hours.

“We want to make sure that there’s nothing that’s getting in the way of them being on campus and being comfortable and feeling safe,” Holden said.

Students at Ashland Middle School in Oregon painted “kindness rocks” and arranged them in the school’s Kindness Garden. The rocks have symbols and words to encourage kind behavior.

Permission granted by Katherine Holden

 

When investigating an incident, school staff will try to obtain as much information as possible, including talking to those who may have witnessed the behavior and getting tangible information like screenshots of online postings. Those efforts help staff quickly understand the situation and speak with those involved, she said.

The school works with the reporting student on a plan for making the situation better. The student who used unkind or hurtful behavior is asked to take responsibility for their actions and to follow a plan to make better decisions going forward. Holden adds that a lot of effort is made to maintain the autonomy of the reporting student. 

“The main point is we want to make sure that the person takes accountability for their actions, is reflective about their actions, and then understands that moving forward, we have an expectation that they’re going to act differently and treat their peers in a kind, respectful way,” Holden said.

The approach is the same even if the event appears to be a smaller offense that, for instance, hurts someone’s feelings. 

“Those are things that we take very seriously because we want our student population to know that if something’s making them feel uncomfortable, or unsafe at school, we’re going to take that seriously and we’re going to fix it, we want to resolve it,” Holden said.

The school community intentionally teaches about the value of diversity and inclusion and how to respond to microaggressions, among other lessons. Staff purposefully create a positive school climate by greeting every student in the morning and rewarding students for doing kind acts. 

“That culture of kindness … appreciating diversity, appreciating each other, being inclusive in our activities is really a foundational part,” Holden said. 

Sahuarita High School, Sahuarita, Arizona

Investing in building trust is a top focus for the Sahuarita High School community in building a positive school climate and preventing bullying, said Lehr. This means creating trust among faculty and school staff in administrators, and trust among students in teachers.

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