Understanding Bullying and How To Recognize It in the Classroom

September 19, 2023

Humans are incredibly social beings. The interactions we have with others play a key role in shaping our understanding of who we are, where we belong, and even if we belong. As an educator, you’ve seen that when students have positive, strong relationships with their classmates it allows them to thrive. But when incidents like bullying occur, it can damage a student’s sense of connection and negatively impact their ability to succeed.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice, about 1 in 5 students have reported experiencing bullying. Unfortunately, only 20% of bullying incidents get reported. This means that in your classroom there are likely students who are silently trying to cope with the impact of bullying.

If you are struggling to know how to address bullying in the classroom, you are not alone. A recent survey conducted by the RAND Corporation found that educators feel bullying is the biggest safety concern facing their school.

Despite the fact that school shootings are an extreme form of school violence and often drive the policy debate around school safety, only 5% of teachers said shootings were the largest safety concern at their school...instead, 49% said bullying and cyberbullying are the biggest safety concerns facing their schools.
- Teachers Agree on Most School Safety Issues, Except Guns; EdWeek, May 2023

When you are able to recognize bullying and respond appropriately, you can support a student’s mental, emotional, social, physical, and academic well-being.

But in order to do so, you need a clear definition of what bullying is and a way to recognize the signs of bullying.

Defining Bullying

Bullying can be defined as unwanted, aggressive, and repeated behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, but there are certain groups of students who can be more vulnerable to bullying. This includes students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and neurodivergent students.

The three main types of bullying are:

  • Verbal Bullying. This includes behaviors like teasing, name calling, and taunting.
  • Social/Relational Bullying. This includes behaviors like purposefully leaving someone out, embarrassing someone, and spreading rumors.
  • Physical Bullying. This includes behaviors like hitting, breaking someone's things, and rude hand gestures.

In the past decade, cyberbullying has also become a serious issue for students. While other bullying often happens on or near school grounds, cyberbullying can be experienced anywhere at any time. Its digital nature means the content is permanent. And it is often difficult for teachers to spot unless you know what to look for.

How to Spot the Signs of Bullying in the Classroom

CPI training stresses that all behavior is communication. When it comes to bullying, listening to the behavior of both the bully and the bullied can help ensure a safe and healthy learning environment for everyone.

A student's behavior may suddenly change to communicate they are experiencing bullying. Or if a student is bullying others, they may be communicating that they too are experiencing trauma or distress. Spotting these signs that someone is being bullied or is bullying others gives you the ability to stop it before it escalates.

In response to bullying, a student’s behavior may change in one of the following ways:

  • Skipping class or not coming to school
  • Withdrawing from class discussions
  • May be frequently ill, sick, or injured
  • May no longer have the same group of friends
  • May start having failing grades
  • Talking back to teachers or classmates
  • Physically assaulting others
  • Acting restless in class
  • May start having heightened emotional responses to situations

You may also notice the following behaviors if a student is bullying others:

  • Consistent, aggressive behavior
  • Blaming classmates for actions or behavior
  • Becomes friends with others who are known to bully
  • Starts or joins physical and/or verbal fights
  • Becomes overly competitive/seeking approval from friends

How you respond to a student in these moments is key to supporting their success and well-being. And CPI’s Crisis Development ModelSM can provide you with the tools to do just that.

The Crisis Development ModelSM helps educators understand the varying levels of crisis development that could result from incidents like bullying and the appropriate responses to help avoid escalating tensions. By understanding the potential impact of your own actions, you are better prepared to offer the right kind of support when needed.

For example:

  • If a student is anxious or withdraws from social interactions, you’ll want to offer them support.
  • If a student is defensive or blaming others for their actions, you’ll need to use a directive tone when addressing them.
  • If a student is being verbally or physically aggressive, you can use safe interventions like calling a fellow teacher in for support and removing bystanders from the room.

By viewing all behavior as communication, you can begin to hear your students’ feelings, validate them, and create a healthier learning environment for everyone.

Schedule a conversation with a CPI representative today to learn how CPI training can help you make a positive difference for students in your school or district.

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