5 Ways Educators Can Address Bullying in the Classroom

October 17, 2023

As educators, you know that bullying can cause distress for your students. Despite that, many students don’t feel confident reporting it—which makes it difficult to address. The National Center for Education Statistics found that only 20% of bullying incidents get reported. There are many reasons why a student may not feel comfortable reporting bullying:

  • Helplessness: Children want to avoid showing weakness.
  • Backlash: Children want to avoid, or they fear retaliation from the bully.
  • Humiliation: Children are scared that adults may judge them for what is being done or said to them.
  • Isolation: Children who already feel socially isolated may assume no one cares enough to help.
  • Rejection: Children may fear rejection from their friends, so they avoid asking for help.

With so few incidents being reported, it can be complicated for educators to know how to best address bullying in the classroom. But there are things you can do.

There are ways to create an environment where students feel confident coming to you for support; an environment that not only addresses bullying in the classroom—but keeps it from even happening in the first place.

Today, we’ll explore 5 ways that educators can address bullying in the classroom so they can support student well-being and success.

1. Know How to Recognize the Signs of Bullying in the Classroom

Knowing how to recognize the signs of bullying in the classroom is a great first step in helping to reduce and prevent it.

This starts by knowing and understanding what your student’s behavior is communicating. When it comes to bullying, listening to the behavior of both the bully and the bullied can help you identify it, address it, and prevent it to ensure a safe and healthy learning environment for everyone.

Behavioral Signs: The Bullied

  • Skipping class or not coming to school
  • Withdrawing from class discussions
  • May no longer have the same group of friends
  • May start having failing grades

Behavioral Signs: The Bully

  • Consistent, aggressive behavior
  • Blaming classmates for actions or behavior
  • Starts or joins physical and/or verbal fights
  • Becomes overly competitive/seeking approval from friends

If you see a student displaying these behaviors, it may mean they are communicating that they need your help.

2. Respond Consistently to Bullying Incidents in the Classroom

Once you know what behaviors to be aware of in the classroom, you can put plans in place to proactively help students who are experiencing bullying or bullying others. This may include scripting and planning how you may want to address incidents of bullying.

Your consistent response to bullying shows students that you will not tolerate bullying and that you care about their well-being and success.

CPI’s Crisis Development ModelSM and Decision-Making MatrixSM are two tools that provide educators with an understanding of both how to respond to challenging behavior and an easy way to assess the severity and likelihood of such challenging behavior.

By employing both tools, educators can remain in their logical brain during an emotionally charged moment. Doing this helps keep situations from escalating and can help educators remain in control of their own emotions while helping students handle theirs. It also helps you keep your responses even and consistent.

3. Be Aware of the Connection Between Trauma and Bullying

Applying a trauma-informed approach across your school or district provides everyone with the ability to recognize and respond to trauma-related stressors and behaviors. And when you understand the connection between trauma and bullying, you can meet students where they are with empathy and compassion.

“When teachers or educators can come together and be open-minded to be the most trauma-sensitive people possible, they can have some amazing conversations that truly make things better.”
— Dr. Kevin Mabie ED. D.

CPI’s latest edition of trauma-informed de-escalation training provides educators with the tools needed to strengthen their trauma-informed response to challenging situations and address bullying in the classroom.

4. Build Safe Relationships

As mentioned earlier, one of the main reasons why bullying persists in the classroom is because students don’t think educators will do anything about it, so they don’t speak up. This is especially true for those considered more vulnerable to bullying; students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and neurodivergent students to name a few.

But it is possible to create an environment where students feel confident and comfortable speaking up against bullying. An environment where students feel safe coming to you for support. And it starts by being trauma informed.

A trauma-informed classroom:

  • Supports the emotional, social, and cognitive well-being of your students
  • Understands the unique behaviors associated with trauma
  • Fosters a learning environment of safety and connection for your students
  • Recognizes and builds upon the strengths and experiences of those impacted

These practices create an environment where students feel seen and heard. And when paired with a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, you can show students that you will actually do something to make them feel safe.

This helps vulnerable students feel confident coming to you for support. It can also help break the cycle of trauma and bullying by providing students with an adult they can turn to and voice their concerns and get the help they need. And even if a student is still too shy to reach out, your understanding of trauma’s impact on behavior can give you the tools needed to reach out and ask how they are doing.

Unfortunately, new laws and policies in some states are making it harder for educators to offer support to vulnerable students. In an EdWeek article, Nick Archuleta, former North Dakota educator, shared that “It really puts teachers in a bind. We all know that good education is predicated on good relationships. We want students to be able to trust their teachers. We want students to be able to talk to their teachers or counselors about things that may be problematic for them.”

Despite these challenges, it is still possible for educators to show students that in their classroom, they are a safe person to talk to and discuss challenging things. You can do this by:

  • Setting specific office hours for students to come talk to you outside of class
  • Getting to know your students and support their interests
  • Taking student concerns seriously 
  • Letting students know you are an ally to them

It’s really the little things that go a long way as Dr. Kevin Mabie points out,

“It’s amazing to watch a student’s eyes light up with recognition (of human connection) when he or she wasn’t expecting to connect. Taking the time to learn which students might benefit from that extra layer of connection can have powerful, lasting results.”

5. Involve Students in the Effort to Reduce Bullying

While the role you have as an educator plays a major part in constructing the environment of the classroom, your students also are important. Help your students understand the impact that bullying can have and involve them in the effort to address it, to create an encouraging and supportive space.

There are a few ways to do this:

  • Talk to your students about what bullying is and how it impacts others
    • EdWeek found that 48% of teachers felt that their students did not know how to recognize bullying behavior that should be reported. By opening the conversation around bullying, you can help students understand and empathize with one another.
  • Start an anti-bullying book club
    • Reading and discussion are another great way to help students see bullying in a new way. This list of books can get you started.
  • Visually demonstrate how bullying can impact a person
    • The bruised apple activity is one way to visually show your students how words can damage a person even if visually they appear ok on the outside. It’s a simple yet effective way to help students understand the impact of their words and actions.
  • Download our Proactive Approaches to Address School Bullying Resource Guide
    • This guide will provide you with a full list of techniques you can use to help make students part of the solution in your classroom.

Addressing bullying in the classroom isn’t something you have to do on your own. By partnering with other staff and students, you can help create a school or district that actively stops bullying, so it can support student success and well-being. And CPI training can help provide you with the tools you need to create this positive change.

Learn how CPI’s trauma-informed de-escalation training can make a difference for your school or district today.

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