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Virginia Journal of Education

Your Classroom


Being There for Bullying’s Victims

Suggestions from NEA's Bully Free: It Starts with Me program.

An advocate is one that pleads the cause of another, or one who supports or promotes the interests of another. How can we support students who have been bullied? How can we stand for all bullied students and help stop bullying? We have to be their champions. We must create a culture in our schools where everyone is treated respectfully and bullying is correctly understood and addressed. We need to be better at knowing how to identify bullying, intervening in bullying incidents, and advocating for bullied students.

You can begin by taking NEA’s Bully Free pledge, a promise to students that they can talk to you and you will listen, that you will stand up for them, and that they are not alone. Take the pledge at Then be aware to take these issues:

Be present and available to observe and listen.
We know that bullying commonly takes place in areas on school grounds with little or no supervision, such as in the hallways between classes. Make an effort to move to the areas where students are during transition times. Just your presence can make a huge difference. And, when something does happen, you are there to see it with your own eyes and intervene right away.

Educate students.
Involve your students as peer advocates. Get student input when developing a bullying prevention plan. Integrate the topic of bullying and how to deal with it into your curriculum. Role-play with students on diffusing a bullying situation and engaging bystanders. Create opportunities for students to work together, such as assignments that require sharing and collaboration. An anti-bullying curriculum should encourage students to report bullying and harassment to an adult.

Bullying is a solvable problem.
Expand your advocacy for bullied students by ensuring that your school has a comprehensive bullying prevention plan in place. Such a plan helps educators learn how to recognize bullying behaviors, how to intervene appropriately, and how to prevent it in the first place.

Students can’t learn in fear.
Students must be provided with a safe school climate conducive to learning. Bullying is a huge obstacle to that. We sometimes feel that many things affecting student learning are out of our control. Bullying is not one of those things. A student who is being bullied at school is being denied an opportunity to learn. We have the ability to change this, to stop the negative impacts on students’ well-being and their ability to learn, and ultimately, in some cases, to save their lives.

Where and when do students feel unsafe?
Do school climate surveys with staff and students to help identify areas for improvement. A positive school climate is associated with less bullying and more learning. You can also conduct a mapping activity. This involves making copies of the school map and asking all staff to indicate where they think students do and do not feel safe. The same activity should be done with students. Strategies must be implemented to remedy these “hot spots” (e.g., more adult supervision on the stairwells or better lighting in dark hallways).

Stand up.
Let your voice be heard with a call to action. Organize members, nonmembers and parents around bullying prevention. Get bullying on the map; ensure that space is carved out to address the issue at local meetings and state conferences. Track changes to your state’s anti-bullying law. Also, remember that parents of bullied students can be strong allies and advocates.

Zero out zero tolerance.
Zero tolerance policies hinder bullying prevention efforts, because they generally involve suspension or expulsion and are related to increased dropout rates and discriminatory application of school discipline practices. Also, there is no evidence that removing students from school makes a positive contribution to school safety. We do know that students who bully need pro-social models. We can advocate for bullied students by working to develop and/or utilize bullying prevention programs that do work, such as:

• Targeted behavioral support programs for at-risk students

• Character education and social-emotional learning programs

• School-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports

• Early intervention strategies

If it’s broken, it needs to be fixed.
A large part of being an advocate for bullied students is to not accept the status quo. Be informed about measures you and/or your school may be using that are known not to work, or that make a situation worse. For example, peer mediation and conflict resolution are valuable strategies that do work in other instances, but they are not the right fit for dealing with bullying. The message that both parties are partly right and partly wrong is inappropriate. Students who bully must receive the message that their behavior is wrong and won’t be tolerated. The fact that peer mediation exacerbates the imbalance of power between the student who bullies and their target also cannot be ignored. Speak up for changing the current way of addressing bullying. The research is out there; encourage your colleagues to be open to change.

Develop ESP-specific strategies.
Education Support Professionals (ESPs), such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and paraeducators, are often present where bullying tends to occur, so they need concrete strategies to use during an incident. Be sure to involve all school staff in the development of a comprehensive school-wide prevention plan as well as in all trainings. 

Evaluate annually and sustain efforts over time.
Monitor classrooms and school grounds to be sure policies are being implemented. Consistency of effort is essential. Bullying prevention requires a long-term commitment.

Bullying is a social justice issue.
NEA’s and VEA’s vision and mission statements are rooted in social justice, including a vision of society in which all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure. Bullying is a behavior designed to oppress another person. It is our duty as educators to assure a safe learning environment and social justice for all students.


The Evolution of Teacher Leadership

As the concept of teachers moving into leadership roles has grown and changed, the way schools and administrators look at teacher leadership is evolving, too. The process will not, and has not, been easy. Here are some examples of the shift taking place from old teacher leadership functions to new ones, provided by the Aspen Institute and Leading Educators, in their report, “Leading From the Front of the Classroom”: 
                                 Old Model                                   New Model



• Teacher takes on responsibilities for administrative tasks (e.g., the ordering and distribution of supplies) or events outside of the classroom (e.g., family night or field trips).  

• Teacher observes and coaches other teachers, models best practices, and leads team meetings.



 • District administrator or principal sets meeting agendas.
• Teacher rarely participates in formally evaluating or coaching other teachers. 
 • Teacher sets meeting agendas.
• Teacher may participate in formally evaluating or hiring other teachers.



 • Teacher lacks time to observe and work with colleagues on their instructional practice.
• Teacher may or may not receive additional compensation. 

 • Teacher receives release time and training to observe and work with colleagues on their instructional practice.
• Teacher receives additional compensation in exchange for increased responsibility and authority.


 • Selection is based on seniority or personal relationships.
• Limited professional development on leadership. 

 • Selection and training are based on competencies aligned to leadership role.
• Significant professional development on leadership.


 • Teacher has no defined role relating to giving other teachers feedback or helping them improve.

 • Teacher has specific duties that drive key system-wide goals (e.g., improving instructional quality, building aspirational student and staff cultures).


Public Schools: A Nation’s Cure-All?

“At a time of increasing scarcity of resources, we continue to expand the expectations placed on schools. Schools are now charged with teaching Internet safety, anti-bullying education, drug-prevention education, sex education, and the list goes on. Each and every one of these excellent programs is a response to an identified need. Each one has value and merit.

“Schools have become societal surrogates, taking on a multitude of programs designed to address a perceived need while rarely eliminating programs.”

 Howard Pitler, former executive director, McREL (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning)








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