One of the most important parts of establishing a bully-free culture at any school is encouraging all students—victims and perpetrators as well as bystanders—to speak up and say, “No, that’s not okay. Not at our school.”
However, this is often easier said than done, as bystanders may fear being called a teacher’s pet or becoming a target themselves. With that in mind, here are several creative ways to persuade bystanders to stand up for their classmates and stop bullying before it starts.
1. Provide an anonymous reporting system. This might be a simple box or bulletin board where students can leave statements about unkind acts that they have witnessed. Or, you might encourage bystanders to report directly to the principal, promising anonymity as you investigate the incident further. A school counselor or student leader can also be a good point person for bystanders who wish to speak out.
2. Give bystanders specific language to use. It can be very difficult to know what to say to a bully. As a class, you might try role-playing various age-appropriate scenarios; for example, a second grader who sees a classmate push another child on the playground, or a seventh grader whose friend thinks it’s “funny” to post something cruel about a peer online. Invite students to brainstorm responses to these situations.
Alternatively, you might encourage the entire school to respond to bullying using the same words, such as “That’s not the Eagle way,” or “Respect for all.”
3. Start a “Speak Out” campaign at your school. After talking with students about the importance of bystanders saying something, challenge them to create a video or poster campaign persuading their peers not to keep silent. Watch celebrity examples online as inspiration.
4. Enforce consequences for bystanders who don’t speak out. This one is a little more controversial, but some schools are choosing to punish silent bystanders as well as the perpetrators of bullying incidents. Whether or not this is appropriate may depend on the circumstances—remember that bystanders can feel just as threatened by bullies as their victims. However, knowing that there are consequences for not intervening may encourage some bystanders need to come forward.
5. Study bystanders throughout history. Over the years, there have been many famous witnesses to horrible acts of cruelty. Some spoke out and some didn’t. As a class, study examples of both responses as well as the consequences of the bystander’s actions. Then invite students to draw their own conclusions. Is it always better to speak out? Why or why not?
Question for you: Does your school encourage bystanders to bullying to speak out? How?