• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • October 2021 •
Developing a safe and healthy school climate requires taking steps to prevent bullying and harassment in the school community. Principals should focus on connected, coordinated efforts and programs to train staff and engage students and communities for bullying prevention. The IDRA EAC-South will soon release an online technical assistance package with videos, literature reviews, and strategy guides for interrupting, dissuading and taking assertive steps in facing bullying and harassment. This article provides some categories for your checklist.
School Policy Regarding Bullying and Harassment
An important leadership role for principals is to develop, disseminate and support clear no-nonsense policy on all forms of discrimination. Policy statements help normalize safety and positive communication and describe the consequences of negative behavior and actions. Teachers and staff can support these policies and act accordingly. Following are sample elements of a school policy:
- We believe that all students have a right to a safe and healthy school environment. The district, schools and community have an obligation to promote mutual respect, tolerance and acceptance.
- We will not tolerate behavior that infringes on the safety of any student. No student or staff shall intimidate, harass or bully another student through words or actions. Such behavior includes direct physical contact, such as hitting or shoving; verbal assaults, such as teasing or name-calling; and social isolation or manipulation.
- We expect students and staff to immediately report incidents of bullying to the principal or designee. Staff who witness such acts will take immediate steps to intervene when safe to do so. Each complaint of bullying should be promptly investigated. This policy applies to students on school grounds, while traveling to and from school or a school-sponsored activity, during the lunch period, whether on or off campus, and during a school-sponsored activity.
- To ensure bullying does not occur on school campuses, our school or district will provide staff development training in bullying prevention and cultivate acceptance and understanding in all students and staff to build each school’s capacity to maintain a safe and healthy learning environment.
Administrators should listen with compassion to students targeted by bullying and harassment and give verbal and physical support to those who are hurt. They should not focus on characteristics that might have been the trigger for the bullying.
Below is a sample of guidance:
All parties involved should be interviewed and written statements should be taken. These statements should be obtained separately, and all possible steps should be taken to prevent retaliation. All interviews, regardless of whether they are with the victim, offender or witnesses, should follow local board adopted policy. The bullying prevention policy should be reviewed with all parties involved, as well as the investigation procedure. The investigator should be neutral of the incident. If the investigator is involved in the incident, a replacement investigator should conduct the investigation. (Oklahoma State Department of Education, 2020)
With administrative modeling and leading, school leaders signal that negative judgments and stigmatizing will not be supported or approved. The school community must accept cultural and religious traditions, habits, dress and hairstyles.
Below is an example for guidance in early childhood settings:
Creating a learning environment that respects diversity sets the scene for fostering children’s positive self-concept and attitudes. Such an environment assists children in developing positive ideas about themselves and others, creates the conditions under which children initiate conversations about differences, and provides the setting for introducing activities about differences and creating fair and inclusive communities. Environments that provide opportunities to explore cultural diversity include baskets, pillows, jewelry made from a variety of materials, puppets, rugs, wall hangings, eating and cooking utensils, recordings of music in many languages and other objects that reflect the world’s cultures. Children can explore diversity in family structure, gender roles, and abilities if their environment contains materials, such as dolls, books, dress-up clothes, puzzles, manipulatives, and dramatic play materials that depict a variety of family structures, gender roles, and people with a variety of disabilities. (Santora, 2012)
School practices should of course be appropriate for each grade level and not be relegated to awareness months and parties (See Paula Johnson’s article, “Culturally Sustaining Instruction Requires Culturally Sustaining Leadership” for more information, 2021). At the secondary level, codes of conduct, and dress codes in particular, should focus on safety not on subjective ideas of cultural “appropriateness” (Latham Sikes, 2020; Carreón-Sánchez & Schlanger, 2018).
Positive Physical Environment
It is important to post and disseminate the positive values, assets and gifts of each identified group. Principals should ban images and words that are hurtful to any group or religion. Online spaces are critical for administrators and teachers to monitor.
Principals should make sure school staff understand the school district’s policies for online communication, including social media, and procedures for responding to objectionable material posted by students and school employees.
School leaders must actively support cross-cultural acceptance and understanding. They can lead in identifying and sharing the assets, gifts and contributions of each identified group in classrooms and across the school. Students learn in class and in school the deeper values and assets of each group beyond food, dress and heroes. Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education published a Systemic Improvement Map, stating:
A welcoming, inclusive school culture is a critical component of an integrated, equitable school. Culture is a key vehicle for supporting integrated schools as students are more likely to succeed academically when they feel valued and have a sense of belonging within the school setting. In spite of this, many schools inadvertently create a culture that implicitly rewards white, middle-class norms, while marginalizing other backgrounds. Culturally inclusive practices, such as staff-wide equity training, values-based behavior management and advisories, can create a culture of belonging for students of all racial backgrounds, which in turn can lead to higher academic gains and lower disciplinary challenges throughout the school.” (HGSE, 2021)
School principals create safe and positive schools through setting clear policies, using effective and positive communication, modeling and expecting tolerance, being vigilant about safe physical and online environments, and supporting cross-cultural acceptance and understanding. Everyone benefits, especially the students.
Carreón-Sánchez, S., & Schlanger, P. (2018). Religion Equity and School Dress Codes. IDRA Newsletter.
Harvard Graduate School of Education. (2021). Systemic Improvement Map. Reimagining Integration: Diverse and Equitable Schools Project (RIDES). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University.
Johnson, P. (2021). Culturally Sustaining Instruction Requires Culturally Sustaining Leadership. IDRA Newsletter.
Latham Sikes, C. (2020). Racial and Gender Disparities in Dress Code Discipline Point to Need for New Approaches in Schools. IDRA Newsletter.
Oklahoma State Department of Education. (2020). Bullying Frequently Asked Questions, online resource.
Santora, L. (2012). How Can You Create a Learning Environment That Respects Diversity? New York: Anti-Defamation League.
Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is IDRA’s family engagement coordinator and directs IDRA Education CAFE work. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
School principals create safe and positive schools through setting clear policies, using effective and positive communication, modeling and expecting tolerance, being vigilant about safe physical and online environments, and supporting
cross-cultural acceptance and understanding.
Toolkit for addressing bullying in schools
Bullying and harassment are two forms of relational violence that can interrupt the establishment of safe spaces in schools and undermine students’ abilities to learn. This IDRA EAC-South Interrupting Bullying & Harassment in Schools online toolkit is designed to give educators and school leaders tools that they need to prevent bullying and harassment by fostering a positive school climate.
This free online toolkit includes three chapters, each with a video and supporting resources, infographics, articles & podcasts.
[©2021, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 2021 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]