Copyright

20 Experts Share Tips to Stop Bullying in the Classroom

illustration of anti-bullying expert
1 in 5 teachers witness bullying in the classroom
illustration of student being bullied
77% of teachers lack confidence in educating students about bullying
illustration of teachers

In 2018, Study.com ran a survey that found 1 in 5 teachers witness bullying in the classroom every day, yet only 23% of teachers feel confident educating students about bullying.

Shocked by these stats, Study.com collected bullying prevention tips from experts in the field to better support teachers working to address bullying every single day.

20 experts answered the question: "What is the #1 strategy teachers can use to eradicate bullying in their classroom?"

Check out their responses below to pick up valuable strategies for encouraging respectful behavior in your classroom.

Filter by category:

When students feel that the teacher cares for them beyond academics, then there is less bullying in the classroom

If I had to pick one strategy, then I would say that teachers need to engage in activities/practices in order to promote connectedness and sense of belonging in their classrooms so that all students genuinely know each other and have strong connections with their peers and foster student-teacher relationships. We know from research that when students feel that the teacher cares for them beyond academics and that they have support from peers in their classrooms, then there is less bullying in the classroom.

Dorothy L. Espelage, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology at the University of Florida and author covering bullying, sexual harassment, dating violence, and gang violence

Understand and address the underlying causes of the behavior

Rather than punishing people who bully, we think the best response for teachers is to understand and address the underlying causes of the behaviour. We never call anyone a 'bully' or a 'victim' because bullying is a behaviour not an identity. By labelling someone a 'bully' you are basically saying that this behaviour is their defining quality, when in reality there's always a reason for their behaviour — often to do with previous stress and trauma, difficult home lives and lack of support.

Holly Everett
Head of Education at Ditch The Label, "We believe in a world that is fair, equal and free from all types of bullying."

Bullying risk reduction efforts have to be part of an overall character education program

Bullying risk reduction efforts have to be part of an overall character education program. Teachers and counselors can work together, along with pure helpers, to provide short awareness trainings to students.

Teachers can also be trained to respond in ways that are empowering and supporting for potential victims. Teachers need to be made aware of school district reporting procedures and work closely with the school counselor to deal with the emotional and social consequences of bullying.

Dr. Russell Sabella
Cyberbullying and cyberkindness expert and professor at Florida Gulf Coast University

Making things better requires a coordinated effort on the part of all players

Rather than focus on 'bullying,' I'd reframe the goal: How might a teacher go about creating a compassionate classroom?

I don't use the word 'bullying' as it has come to mean everything from minor complaints ('She promised she'd sit with me at lunch and now she says she didn't promise.') to harassment (ongoing, unwanted negative attention that typically involves an inequity in social status between the harasser and the target).

I prefer the term 'social aggression,' which describes hostile verbal and/or physical behavior meant to insult, embarrass, humiliate, and/or make the target feel 'less than.' Typically the harasser feels entitled to behave this way and he/she may justify the behavior with all kinds of excuses, such as

  • 'He started it.'
  • 'She stole my friend.'
  • 'He's weird.'
  • 'No one likes him.'
  • 'Everyone does it.'

There are many players involved in the creation of a 'culture of cruelty' — students, teachers, administrators, coaches, and not least of all, parents. Making things better requires a coordinated effort on the part of all players. Adult leadership is necessary to prioritize creating and maintaining a compassionate classroom. Kids must be part of creating the game plan. Without their honest input it's unlikely good ideas will stick.

Annie Fox, M.Ed.
Parent educator, teen adviser, and author of Teaching Kids to Be Good People. Learn more at anniefox.com

Children who are not bullies or victims have the most powerful role to play in shaping the behavior of other children

As soon as children begin to interact with others, we can begin to teach them not to be bullies and not to be bullied. We can give them words for their feelings, limit and change their behavior, and teach them better ways to express their feelings and wishes.

In kindergarten, children learn the power of exclusion. We begin to hear things like, 'She's not my friend and she can't come to my party.' Respond with, 'You don't have to be friends with her today, but it's not all right to make her feel bad by telling her she can't come to your party.'

In the early elementary grades, cliques and little groups develop which can be quite exclusionary and cruel. Children need to hear clearly from us, 'It's not all right to treat other people this way. How do you think she feels being told she can't play with you?' Kids don't have to play with everyone, but they can't be cruel about excluding others.

Children who are not bullies or victims have the most powerful role to play in shaping the behavior of other children. Teach children to speak up on behalf of children being bullied: 'Don't treat her that way, it's not nice.'

The daily inclusion of age appropriate anti-bullying concepts and skills is the backbone of instilling prevention of bullying strategies into children's everyday lives.

Sherryll Kraizer, Ph.D.
Founder of the Coalition for Children, a non-profit working to increase child safety and prevent child abuse, bullying, and interpersonal violence

Providing sufficient and high-quality supervision, especially in high-risk areas, never ignoring it, and responding appropriately

Allan Beane, Ph.D.
Internationally-recognized speaker, expert, and author on bullying.

If students see their role models diss others or use any type of bullying behavior, it is guaranteed that students will follow

The number one bully prevention strategy for teachers may surprise you, but it has to do with their own role-modeling of behavior. Teachers can set a tone and a positive, inclusive culture by being very careful about their own gossiping, exclusion, and verbal bullying towards other teachers.

Because teachers are human, like the rest of us, it is normal to create a social hierarchy amongst their teacher peers. If students see their role models diss others or use any type of bullying behavior, it is guaranteed that students will follow. When teachers set a tone to include teachers, not speak badly about others, and include those adults (and students) that are part of their community, students rise to the occasion and follow their adult leaders!

Dr. Joel D. Haber
Clinical psychologist, bullying expert, and speaker with over 20 years of experience

I believe in the power of one to help/encourage the rest

I believe in the power of one to help/encourage the rest. Teachers should focus on one student at a time to encourage one to model the right behavior. If one student decides not to laugh with the rest of the group, it could reflect and alleviate poor behavior overall. I believe this is how you make true change in a classroom.

I also believe that teachers who encourage exciting leadership and community projects would make better students who would not partake in bad behavior. It creates a better atmosphere.

Scott Hannah
Anti-bullying speaker, strategist, and project consultant for the Great American NO BULL Challenge

When teachers speak up against bullying, it gives kids permission to do the same

Bullying is ultimately a power play. It's an attempt to take power over someone in a negative way, and it is usually repeated over time. My number one strategy for teachers is to speak up against bullying whenever they see it happen. Their response becomes a model for the students. We need to show students how to speak up against bullying in a way that is both powerful and positive at the same time.

It's not just what we say, it's how we say it. Something as small as, 'Hey, no bullying' or, 'Wait a minute — that's not how we treat people,' when said in the right tone of voice, can go a long way toward stopping bullying. When teachers speak up against bullying, it gives kids permission to do the same.

Tom Thelen
Full-time anti-bullying speaker with a message that inspires students and teachers to speak up against bullying. Learn more at tomthelen.com

Creating a sense of belonging and community should be the primary direction for educators

Bullying is usually symptomatic of some deeper problems with a school's culture or climate. I have said that bullying doesn't wound students; it pours salt in a wound that is already there… Creating a sense of belonging and community should be the primary direction for educators, not just to stop bullying but to create a stronger learning environment for all students.

Bullying is ultimately about how power is used in an environment; therefore, adults must examine how they use power with students. If they find that it's okay to mistreat a student because somehow that student deserves or needs harsh treatment in order to learn, then students are being taught that it is okay to mistreat someone if they think the person deserves it.

My first recommendation to any school is focus first on adult behavior and make sure it is aligned with a golden rule principle: treat students they way you want them to treat each other.

Jim Dillon
Educational consultant and author of No Place for Bullying: Leadership for Schools That Care for Every Student

The key is to respond; don't ever ignore bullying

What makes a difference in reducing bullying is a teacher who understands bullying dynamics, cares desperately about students, is visibly present, examples caring in his or her behavior, and tells kids peer cruelty will never be allowed (and then backs up that verbiage).

If a teacher witnesses bullying, how do they respond? That all depends on the type of bullying and the proof. The key is to respond; don't ever ignore bullying. Dignify and don't discipline publicly - you actually can cause more damage to the targeted child...

Better to call a private conference with the bullying child: 'I saw/heard how you treated Jane, and that is against our school code and bullying behavior. That behavior is not tolerated.' Listen to the child and let him or her know you will be monitoring the behavior. If needed, require a consequence such as service learning, writing a note explaining intention of different behavior, reading a book on bullying behavior, or some consequence that applies to the infraction.

Again, it's not simple, and it's always a matter of the maturity, intent, rules, evidence, and the kids involved. Just do not ever let it go. My concern is that people believe that bullying is simple to eradicate — it's not. But nothing matters more than a caring tuned-in teacher.

Dr. Michele Borba
Award-winning author, expert, and speaker on children, teens, parenting, bullying, and moral development

It is very difficult to hate when you know someone personally

I heard former first lady Michelle Obama say in an interview the other day that it is very difficult to hate when you know someone personally. I think it's very true. So, as a parent, I would love for teachers to help students get to know each other and connect at a more personal level. Kids love to play games, so incorporating simple icebreaker games into the weekly schedule to be played throughout the year (instead of just the start of school year) would a great idea. A few such simple games could be:

  • Two truths and a tale: each child says 2 true things and one lie about themselves and the others have to figure out what is true and what isn't
  • Three stars and a wish: each child shares 3 things they are really good at, and 1 thing they wish they could be better at
  • More similar than different: the teacher states a common fact (I have 2 siblings, I love Harry Potter, etc.) and kids raise their hand if they agree, so they can see they are more similar than different

I would definitely be grateful to a teacher if they made weekly icebreakers possible for my child!

Sumitha Bhandarkar
Founder of afineparent.com and author of the mini-course "How to Be a Positive Parent"

Create a climate that doesn't allow bullying to occur

The number one thing [teachers] can do once [in the classroom] is to create a climate that doesn't allow bullying to occur. This means getting to know their students and developing positive relationships with them; teaching rules and expectations; spending time discussing what bullying is and how to report it; and facilitating development of social-emotional competencies so students have the tools to deal with problems and stressors they may face. It means stopping all inappropriate behavior, whether it is bullying, conflict, or rough play that may turn in to something more. It means consistency in responding to bullying so students know it is not acceptable behavior.

Creating a positive classroom climate rooted in shared values and responsible student participation can help student feel safe, supported, and engaged in school. Ensuring this type of learning environment is the number one strategy teachers can use to eradicate bullying in their classroom.

Jan Urbanski, Ed.D.
Director of Safe and Humane Schools within the Institute on Family & Neighborhood Life at Clemson University

We have to delve into what is happening, why it's happening and how we can make it stop

I think that the most important thing would be for teachers to be more willing to 'get involved.' Far too often we see many that don't want to create waves. We have to delve into what is happening, why it's happening and how we can make it stop. And supporting the victims is also at the top of the list, letting them know that what they are going through is NOT their fault!

Kirk Smalley
President of Stand for the Silent, one of the leading and most effective anti-bullying organizations

By inspiring kindness in schools, we can decrease bully-related incidents by upwards of 32%

I think one of the #1 strategies teachers can do is promote, reinforce and instill the behavior that they want kids to emulate. In our case it's kindness. But you have to come up with creative ways to make 'Kindness Cool' (which isn't always the easiest). We find that by inspiring kindness in schools, we can decrease bully-related incidents by an upwards of 32% without ever mentioning the word bully.

Brian Williams
President and Founder of Think Kindness, on a mission to inspire crowds of Kindness Ninjas in schools across the country

Meaningful connections with adults play a vital role in both bullying prevention and intervention

Meaningful connections with kids are the essential pre-requisite for creating classroom cultures that prevent bullying behavior. Strong teacher-student connections are based on trust and nurtured through consistent positive interactions. When a student perceives that a teacher or administrator is truly invested in his well-being, he is more willing to talk about what is going on in his life and to be open to adult feedback. Students care if we care about them.

When kids feel alienated from adults, on the other hand, we are all in a whole lot of trouble. Without strong adult connections,

  • Kids who bully act without the hindrance of disapproval by a grown-up who matters to them
  • Kids who are victimized feel isolated from sources of support and intervention
  • Kids who witness bullying have no one to turn to report what they have seen

Meaningful connections with adults play a vital role in both bullying prevention and intervention. Kids who lack these connections benefit from neither.

Signe Whitson
Author, internationally-recognized speaker, and Chief Operating Officer of the Life Space Crisis Intervention Institute. Learn more at signewhitson.com

The most important thing to combat bullying in the classroom is to encourage students to be upstanders

The most important thing to combat bullying in the classroom is to encourage students to be upstanders. They can do this one of three ways: by standing up to the bully (hard for a lot of kids to do), by giving comfort to the target, or by reporting the incident of bullying to a trusted adult. Some kids do have the courage to stand up to perpetrators of online cruelty and to them I say, 'Fight cruelty with kindness.' Never sink to a bully's level. Instead, try disarming them with a message of concern or kindness.

Diana Graber
Digital literacy expert, creator of the Cyber Civics program, and author of Raising Humans in a Digital World

Some kids fear being labelled a snitch if they report their bully to a teacher or principal

Explain that reporting isn't snitching. Some kids fear being labelled a snitch if they report their bully to a teacher or principal. But there's an important difference between snitching and reporting. A snitch tells the truth so that someone can get in trouble; when you report, you tell the truth so that someone can get the help they need. It's all your thought process; that's all it is.

Fabian Ramirez
Anti-bullying speaker and drug prevention specialist. Learn more at fabianramirez.com

The most important thing for teachers is to make sure they do something when a student speaks up

My #1 strategy for preventing bullying is setting rules and boundaries on the first day for what is expected of students and what will not be tolerated. If there is bullying or disrespect in the classroom this is what the consequences are. If any student feels uncomfortable about another student it's important that targeted student speak up to the teacher. The most important thing for teachers is to make sure they do something when a student speaks up.

Jim Jordan
Anti-bullying expert, speaker, and author of 4 books on bullying

With the right plan, teachers will begin to see immediate results as they acknowledge the student's positive behavior.

My work at the Board of Education included developing, implementing and training teachers to implement a behavior modification program in their classrooms to achieve a positive learning environment. Teachers were instructed to consistently use the exact language to respond to difficult and inappropriate behaviors - immediately and effectively. When used consistently, student behavior changes as students come to believe that good behavior and positive consequences are partners, and negative behavior results in negative repercussions. With the right plan, teachers will begin to see immediate results as they acknowledge the student's positive behavior.

Whether a child is punching or tripping another child, uttering inappropriate comments or sharpening his pencil a dozen times a day, it disrupts the classroom, and impedes learning. The child needs to be held accountable and helped to alter their behavior. Students become part of the solution as a 5-10 minute discussion ensues and ends with an apology. The class and the teacher decide what would help the bully to use his head instead of his hands. The bully apologizes to the target. The target accepts the apology.

For the next 5 days, the teacher compliments the aggressor and the target to further enhance forgiveness and the continuation of peace and positive behavior. I like that this strategy pulls the all the kids in, everyone is involved and they begin to realize the enormity of bullying and its subsequent consequences.

Alexandra Penn
Crisis Intervention Specialist, speaker, founder of Champions Against Bullying, former counselor at the Board of Education, and co-author of There's A Bully In My Belly
Combat Bullying Teacher Grant from Study.com
Receive $1000 to spend on the resources and materials you need to promote safe, positive relationships inside and outside the classroom.
  • Receive $1000 and a 12-month Study.com membership to supplement your teaching
  • Must be a full time preschool to 12th grade teacher
  • Apply today!
Get started today with Study.com's
Anti-Bullying Resources
Support