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Virginia Journal of Education

On the Front Lines, Too

Education support professionals play a key role in preventing bullying at school.

By Tom Allen

Bullying is never OK. Never. It can leave its victims feeling powerless, alone, sad and sick. It creates serious problems at school and at home, wreaking havoc on the lives of young people who have done nothing to deserve it. Bullied kids have higher rates of lots of bad things, including depression and suicide.

Bullying in schools has to be addressed effectively, and doing so will take more than the efforts of teachers, administrators and school resource officers alone. Of course, it’s also a parental and community issue, but in school buildings bullying prevention requires an active and ongoing collaboration among everyone who works there. This includes a group that is sometimes overlooked in anti-bullying strategies: Education Support Professionals (ESPs), who make up more than one-third of school employees. They must be an essential part of any school’s anti-bullying efforts.

There are several things about the work ESPs do that put them in a good position to help counter bullying:

• They’re often among the first staff members to arrive at school in the morning and the last to leave in the evening, work throughout the building, and are familiar figures to many students.

• They often live in the communities they serve, making them likely to interact with students outside school, too. (For example, NEA surveys show that 81 percent of bus drivers and 69 percent of school clerical workers live in the school district where they work, compared with 39 percent of teachers.)

• Their duties frequently take them to areas prone to be bullying sites, such as school buses, cafeterias and playgrounds.

In a National Education Association survey called “Education Support Professionals’ Perspectives on Bullying and Prevention,” ESPs said they frequently hear or see bullying incidents, and have such incidents reported to them by students. They also said, in overwhelming numbers, that they believe bullying prevention is part of their job, but noted that they felt the need for more training in how to do so effectively.

They’re not necessarily getting that training:  Among ESPs in the survey who worked in school districts with bullying prevention strategies, fewer than three in five said they’d gotten training on that policy. The only ESP groups who reported an increase in training were paraeducators and staff members in transportation, health and student services.

ESPs responding to the survey also said that, within the past month, at least one student had reported a bullying incident to them. Specifically, health and student services (43.4 percent) and security services staff (41.6 percent) were most likely to receive such reports of bullying, whereas those in skilled trades (4.4 percent) were least likely.

ESPs working in security services were most likely to have observed bullying, and were most likely to call bullying a major problem at their school, along with ESPs in transportation services. Least likely to call bullying a major problem were ESPs in custodial and food services.

ESPs know the problem and are valuable allies in finding solutions.

Mobilizing Support Professionals
In response both to the seriousness of the bullying problem and to these findings, NEA has developed and now offers bullying prevention tool kits designed especially for ESPs. These include separate tool kits for bus drivers, clerical and administrative workers, custodians, food service workers, paraeducators, health and student service employees, skilled trade workers and technical service providers.

Each one contains strategies for preventing bullying, and tips for effectively and safely intervening when bullying happens. There’s also an opportunity to take NEA’s nationwide Bully-Free Pledge, interviews with ESP Association members, a list of resources for more information, and suggestions on how ESPs can better inform themselves and their local Association.

They’re all in downloadable formats and can be accessed at Other online resources are also available there, including the materials of the full Bully-Free program and information on suicide prevention.

Check them out. Because bullying is never OK.

Allen is the editor of the Virginia Journal of Education.


Educators on Bullying

In a survey conducted by the National Education Association, more than 5000 teachers and education support professionals were asked about their bullying knowledge, needs, experiences with various types of bullying, including that of special populations, such as gay and lesbian students. Here are some of the key findings:

• 62 percent of school employees report they have witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month.

• 98 percent believe it is “their job” to intervene when they see bullying happening in their school.

• 46 percent of school employees—teachers and education support professionals—say they have not received training on their district’s bullying policy.

• 61 percent say they would benefit from additional training on when and how to intervene in bullying situations related to perceived sexual orientation or gender nonconformity.

• 74 percent say they could benefit from training on when and how to intervene with cyberbullying.

• Education support professionals are as likely to witness bullying as teachers and are as committed as teachers to solving the problem.

• Connectedness (between staff members and staff and students) was found to be an important predictor of willingness to intervene in bullying situations. Staff members with higher feelings of connectedness were more likely to report being comfortable intervening with bullying across all special populations and in situations involving negative racial or religious comments as well as sexual remarks.

• Responses indicated that bullying is a problem across the country—in rural, suburban and big city schools. In other words, any school district official who assumes they don’t have a bullying problem is probably mistaken.






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