This article appeared in the Fort Dodge Messenger on September 24, 2012.
Lorie Spanjers, Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency special education consultant, trains teachers in bullying prevention and intervention techniques and programs.
A first step is to recognize that bullying is not something children can usually handle on their own, Spanjers said. It needs adult intervention in order for it to stop.
“Our thinking of bullying is evolving from ‘it’s a rite of passage’ into a definition that considers bullying a form of abuse that has similar characteristics of domestic violence,” she said.
The forms of abuse share three key components, Spanjers said: aggressive behavior, an imbalance of power (intellectual, physical) and it’s repeated over time.
“Those kinds of situations are hard for an eight year old to handle, or a 10-year-old, all by themselves,” she said.
A school – and communitywide effort, in which all adults and children are working together, is necessary in bullying prevention and intervention.
“If I’m a child, I learn not to bully and I also learn what to do if I see bullying happening, so I can help stop it from occurring in the future,” she said.
Focusing on the school environment and making sure it is a safe climate for kids to learn in, one in which they’re taught to respect other people, is also important.
“All of the adults in the building are trained in order to know how to recognize bullying when it occurs and what to do when they see it,” Spanjers said. “Also, the kinds of activities you can do in the classroom to discuss behaviors that may or may not be bullying and what to do.”
Surveying students is also necessary to find out where bullying is occurring, Spanjers said. These areas are called “hot spots.” Often, they’re places that are out of the way, but not always.
“One of the things when I first started learning about bullying that surprised me is a lot of bullying occurs in the classroom while the teacher is present,” she said. “Kids can do things and the teacher doesn’t recognize that it’s going on. Teachers might underestimate the number of incidents that might be occurring in the school.”
Spanjers, as a trainer, recommends that schools form groups or committees, a leadership team, to spearhead and monitor what’s going on and oversee any interventions.
“For sustainability, it’s often best not to have it in the hands of one person,” she said. “If that individual leaves, many times the program falls apart because no one is as knowledgeable in the building who can carry on those efforts.”
Schools are trained using the research-based Olweus bullying prevention program, Spanjers said.
Olweus has four rules: We will not bully others. We will try to help students who are bullied. We will make it a point to include students who are easily left out. If we know someone who is being bullied, we will tell an adult at school and an adult at home.
“Sometimes for older kids, in high schools, they add to that last one ‘and we expect something to be done about it,'” she said.
Prairie Lakes AEA and other organizations, in fostering this understanding and offering this training, want to end the perception that bullying is just “boys will be boys” or harmless teasing.
“It’s a form of aggression we don’t want in our children,” Spanjers said.