Strategies for Successful Learning, Volume 6, Number 1, September 2012
Brought to you by Learning Disabilities Worldwide (LDW®) through the generosity of Saint Joseph's University.
Michael David Benhar, Ph.D.
Researchers have shown that students with learning, physical and emotional disabilities are more likely to be victims of bullying by their peers. Moreover, children with learning and emotional disabilities are not only more likely to be victimized, but may also engage in bullying themselves due to social skills deficits and poor impulse control (Cummings, Pepler, Mishna, & Craig, 2006). Therefore, it would be prudent to review some common practices schools implement to prevent bullying and suggest some additional steps to increase their effectiveness (Good, McIntosh, & Gietz, 2011).
Common Practices to Bullying Behavior in Schools
When school personnel identify school bullying as a problem, often a stand-alone anti-bullying program is implemented. This may entail energetic and engaging guest speakers expounding the detrimental effects bullying has on all involved. In addition, students are often taught to identify bullies and schools execute punitive measures when a student is caught bullying others. Peer support systems, conflict resolution, and working one-on-one with the identified bullies are often enacted as a way to handle the situation. Regrettably, these practices can exacerbate the bullying problem rather than solve it (Good et al., 2011).
One reason why the above actions may be fruitless is because anti-bullying programs may rely on increasing supervision, thereby identifying bullies and enacting punishing measures. These will increase the number of bullying incidents due to several reasons (Pepler, Craig, Ziegler, & Charach, 1994):
Bullies may receive increased attention by peers and higher status that counteract the punishing consequences.
Bullies may draw self-confidence from being labeled as a bully.
Punitive measures increase aggression rather than reducing them.
Anti-bullying programs are difficult to enact and sustain. They often place a greater burden on the already heavy workloads of teachers. Moreover, if teachers are not well versed in all of the intricacies of the anti-bullying program, they are less likely to be fully committed to it.
Often the current anti-bullying program is completely replaced several years later with a newer stand-alone anti-bullying program.
Anti-bullying programs are more reactive rather than proactive in prevention (Good et al., 2011).
Therefore, a school-wide, systems-level approach is much more warranted that incorporates the anti-bullying program into a wider preventive and proactive system. One such program is School-wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS), where the successful results stem from implementing empirically validated behavioral principles. The largest difference between stand-alone anti-bullying program and SWPBS is that the latter emphasizes proactive and preventive measures for addressing problematic behaviors instead of reactive measures that school systems commonly employ.
The main features of SWPBS consist of:
(a) “a prevention-focused continuum of support
(b) proactive instructional approaches to teaching and improving social behaviors
(c) conceptually sound and empirically-validated practices
(d) systems change to support effective practices
(e) data-based decision making (Sugai & Horner, 2002, p. 131)
(See SSL article Benhar, 2009, Vol 3(2) for a larger overview of SWPBS). Well designed experiments have consistently shown a reduction in behavioral problems and an increase in academic performance as compared with control schools without SWPBS implementation (Good et al., 2011). In order to effectively incorporate anti-bullying programs into the wider SWPBS, the focus needs to be on prevention and promoting prosocial behavior instead of focusing on punishment.
The Bully Prevention in Positive Behavior Support Program (BP-PBS)
BP-PBS was designed as a proactive and preventive program to decrease bullying behaviors while at the same time to teach victims, educators and staff appropriate responses to bullying. It is important to reiterate that BP-PBS is incorporated into the wider SWPBS system that emphasizes an on-going need for reviewing school-wide rules that are fundamental for this program to be effective (Good et al., 2011). In addition, a three-step response to bullying behavior is implemented: Stop, Walk, and Talk.
1) Stop – Students are supposed to implement a “stop signal” whenever they experience or witness bullying behavior that is first modeled by teachers. Students practice the stop signal and a discussion ensues giving specific examples of when it should be employed. Students are also instructed on what to do when someone else shows the stop signal: they need “…to stop what they are doing, take a deep breath, count to three, and then go on with their day” (Good et al., 2011, p. 51).
2) Walk – Sometimes the stop signal will not cease the bullying behavior so students are trained to walk away. This should reduce the reinforcement of provoking a response the bully receives from the victim, along with the attention and encouragement that bystanders provide. Once again, students are trained in how to walk away and examples are discussed in regard to when and how this is to be done.
3) Talk – The “talk” technique is only implemented when the student has tried to previously resolve the situation through the stop signal and walking away. The talk technique is implemented last so that students can increase their skills through their own direct behavior in a socially acceptable manner. Of course the teacher is given guidance of what to do and how to respond when a student uses the talk technique (Good et al., 2011).
Successful planning that promotes proactive rather than just reactive measures will ensure a safer environment. A recent study has provided much needed empirical evidence for BP-PBS in reducing both bullying behavior and the reinforcement that often accompanies such behavior, thereby improving school safety (Ross & Horner, 2009).
Cummings, J, G., Pepler, D. J. Mishna, F., & Craig. (2006). Understanding bullying: From
research to practice. Canadian Psychology, 48, 86-93.
Good, C. P., McIntosh, K., & Gietz, C. (2011). Integrating bullying prevention into schoolwide
positive behavior support. Teaching Exceptional Children, 44(1), 48-56.
Pepler, D. J., Craig, W. M., Ziegler, S., & Charach, A. (1994). An evaluation of an anti-bullying
intervention in Toronto schools. Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health, 13, 95-110.
Ross, S. W., & Horner, R. H. (2009). Bully prevention in positive behavior support. Journal of
Applied Behavior Analysis, 42, 747-759.
Sugai. G., & Horner, R. H. (2002). Introduction to the special series on positive behavior
support in schools. Journal of Emotional and Behavior Disorders, 3, 30-35.
Michael David Benhar, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Social Sciences Department at Suffolk County Community College. Dr. Michael David Benhar teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Developmental Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Exceptional Child, Classroom Management, and Assessment. He has co-authored a chapter on students with disabilities. In addition, he has worked as a school psychologist in a preschool for children with special needs. Contact Dr. Michael Benhar at firstname.lastname@example.org.