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Principal Helpline: How Can I Develop an Anti-Bullying Protocol?

Always have a plan

Anti-Bullying Protocol

Q

I’m a middle school assistant principal, and my school is having a problem with bullying. We brought in a guest speaker to talk to the students, and we’ve added anti-bullying as part of the seventh grade health curriculum. Still, the school year has barely started and I’ve already had several separate instances to deal with. Do you have any suggestions for a successful anti-bullying protocol principals can use?

A

You’ve made a good start by facing the issue head-on. Making anti-bullying part of the curriculum is important, and bringing in a speaker helps too. It shows students that the school is serious about the issue of bullying and that bullying can have significant consequences for the bully as well as the bullied.

You didn’t mention if your guest speaker talked to parents as well, but that is certainly something you’d want to consider. I’m sure you are familiar with the myriad books for kids and programs available on the topic. All of these strategies are helpful, but having a successful protocol in your toolbox if incidents arise is essential.

One Principal’s Anti-Bullying Protocol

You might find of interest what one middle school principal did in my district.  For years he used the traditional protocol. He’d call the suspected bullies into his office. Then, he’d talk to them seriously and threaten them with consequences like detention. Finally, he’d call their parents.  By his own admission he had mild success at best.

Then, he decided to divide and conquer.  Instead of bringing in the whole group of bullies at once, he brought them in one at a time over several days.

He listened to what each student said without comment. He stopped focusing on past offenses. Instead he told students that from this day forward, anything the student might be doing had to stop. The student was to have absolutely no contact with the bullied victim. No contact included eye-rolling, “accidentally” bumping into the victim, whispering, etc. In addition, he told each student that police would be notified if there were evidence of cyber bullying.

The principal also informed the student that she would be wise not to arrange for a surrogate to bully the other child. Of course, most middle schoolers weren’t sure what a surrogate was, so he explained and gave examples. Usually the student then understood exactly what he was talking about.

Focusing on Future Behavior

The principal started with the least egregious offender. He dealt with the leader of the group last. He also called the parents of each student and explained what was happening along with possible consequences. These included suspension from school. By the time he called in the leader, there was no point in defending or denying past behavior. The principal seemed more interested in the future than investigating the past. Finally, if there was another incident, the principal immediately suspended the student so there would be no question about his follow through.

Keeping a Record

My colleague found success in stopping bullying incidents with this technique. Instead of trying to prove past bullying behaviors, he focused on the future. And students found that having to individually meet with the principal was a lot different from having your posse with you.

The principal also keep careful records of each meeting, his phone calls to parents, and any follow-up he had to do. He talked with the bullied child and her parents so they were clear that the principal had a plan and was taking action. He kept records of these conversations as well..

Of course, no protocol covers all situations. Some past bullying behaviors are too egregious to be ignored, and have to be dealt with before focusing on the future.  But few issues are as important in middle and high school as a strong anti-bullying protocol coupled with a strong disciplinary plan. Left unchecked, the consequences of bullying can be devastating. Good for you for staying on it.

Join our Facebook group Principal Life for more conversation about and insights into the challenges of school leadership.

Posted by Suzanne Tingley

Suzanne Tingley has been a middle/high school teacher, department chair, principal, and superintendent. She taught graduate classes in education administration for the State University of New York. She developed a series of education videos and has been a Scholastic Administrator blogger.

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