Teaching Special Education Students About Bullying

Instructor: Amanda Wiesner-Groff

Amanda has created and taught English/ESL curricula worldwide, has an M.Ed, and is the current ESOL Coordinator for the Saint Louis Public School District.

Bullying is a very serious issue; therefore, it is important to teach students about the dangers involved with this behavior. This lesson will focus on teaching special education students about bullying and what should be done if they ever become a victim.

What is Bullying?

Bullying is verbal or physical harassment based upon a person's sex, disability, religion, race, culture, or skin color. There are many different types of actions and behaviors that constitute as bullying; however, some of the most common are:

  • Name-calling, profanity, verbal abuse, threats, and verbal sexual advances
  • Physical assaults with hands, feet, or other objects
  • On-line slander, abuse, or threats
  • Unwelcome physical contact
  • Indirect slander, threats, verbal abuse, or name-calling

These behaviors have great impact on the victims and can lead to a number of negative outcomes, including:

  • Decrease in academic performance
  • Difficulty concentrating/focusing in school
  • Increase in absences in order to avoid school
  • Depression and decreased feelings of self-worth
  • Increase in anxiety and feelings of loneliness

In a school environment, bullying negatively effects not only the victim's physical, emotional, and mental well-being, but also their academic success. Special education students have a higher likelihood of becoming victims of bullying because of the exposure of their challenges, conditions, or physical/learning/mental disabilities. Since bullies often target people who appear unable to defend themselves, special education students often become the focus of bullying behaviors. This is why it is important to teach your special education students what bullying is and how they can go about protecting themselves from it.

Special Education and Bullying

One of the first steps in preparing special education students for potential experiences with bullying is to first create a supportive and nurturing classroom environment where they can feel safe. From there, it is all about being clear about bullying as you advocate for respectful behavior.

Creating a Classroom Community

When students feel there is a safe and supportive place to go when trouble arises, they will not find it as hard to open up about experiences with bullying that may occur. You can create a supportive classroom community by:

  • Developing classroom rules and guidelines together as a class.
  • Encouraging positive reinforcement and engagement between all class members.
  • Allowing for daily reflection and feedback to be sure all needs and concerns are being addressed.
  • Acknowledging students' struggles and achievements to show your genuine desire to offer support.
  • Making sure you also follow the guidelines put in place; lead by example and display the behavior you wish to see in return.

When followed, the guidelines should help everyone feel safe, respected, and supported within the classroom. In the end, a classroom community provides students with a place to turn should they ever have negative experiences with bullying.

Be Clear About Bullying

In order for special education students to understand how to treat others, or what to do if they are being bullied, they need to be aware of the behaviors that constitute bullying. Using the lists above, discuss different types of bullying behaviors as well as the negative outcomes that can arise when someone is a victim of bullying.

  • Brainstorm types of bullying students have seen or experienced, and then add to that list.
  • Lead a discussion about the academic, emotional, mental, and physical effects of being bullied.
  • Put students in small groups to conduct question and answer sessions about experiences with bullying.
  • Hold regular class meetings where students can talk about any new or ongoing issues with bullying, and how they have handled the situations.

Once students have a clear understanding of what constitutes bullying behavior, they will know what to look out for and how they can begin to defend themselves and their peers.

Become A Strong Authority Against Bullying

In addition to creating a classroom community, and teaching your special education students about bullying, you must also be sure to establish yourself as a strong authority against any form of bullying behavior both inside and outside of the classroom:

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