School Climate & Safety Opinion

Bullying Threatens Academic Achievement and Healthy Children

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — October 12, 2014 4 min read
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October is National Bullying Prevention Month, intended to call attention to bullying and educate the public on ways to understand what it is and reduce its occurrence. The definition of bullying from StopBullying.gov is:

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

Because October is National Bullying Prevention Month, posters go up and assemblies are scheduled, guest speakers come to PTA meetings, and awareness is heightened. But, schools across the country are always engaged in educating teachers, students, and parents about the characteristics, dangers, and prevention of bullying, every day, not just in October. Bullies, bystanders and victims are all a part of the awareness campaign.

21st Century Learning Behaviors
As schools develop their identities as 21st century learning environments, certain learning behaviors must be developed. Learning on one’s own, sharing learning, and learning with others are essential in the modern model of schools and workplaces. That places a greater demand on educators to develop positive social behaviors, stronger communication skills, and respect for others within the student population. Certainly, in this environment there is no bullying. Without the focused attention to building these social skills, learning environments can not be the safe places for risk taking and creative thought that are needed in the learning paths for today’s students.

Schools and classrooms must be positive, respectful, safe environments, not only because that is social convention, but because it is required for learning to occur. Collaboration and sharing are part of the 21st century classroom. Teachers are not only expected to teach information and skills that get measured by tests. They are expected to develop behaviors in their students that contribute to the students’ ability to perform as learners. Even more importantly, those are the behaviors that contribute to the quality of learning that will accompany learners throughout their lives. That is a high calling. Teachers teach more than subjects so why don’t we measure that? The external measures based on tests will no doubt continue. But, if schools focus on the development of learning behaviors that require mutual respect and the ability to work well with others, and measured that progress while the other tests measure academic achievement, perhaps a balance could be struck. Academic achievement is seasoned with the rest of the work done in schools.

No matter the external measures, on a local level, what is measured and how it is measured might offer an encouraging perspective. Schools could:

  1. Identify those learning behaviors required in classrooms across the school and select one to foster each month. Adding one to the other as the year progresses.
  2. Develop a method for acknowledging teachers who are daily models of those skills and who make sure to incorporate them in the classroom.
  3. Sustain the bullying prevention efforts highlighted in October as a year round program that presents alternative behaviors and conflict resolution techniques that will serve students’ as they learn how to navigate the landscape of a society in which bullies exist.

Against the Tide
Outside of schools, as well as within, people with different opinions tend to polarize into opposing groups. It is seen in politics and in in the news. Getting along with people who have a different view than we do is not modeled well for our students outside of classrooms. Teachers are expected to teach against the tide, in this respect, to model and expect behaviors that we do not see around us. Confronting and educating about bullying can open a path to developing these key learning behaviors. No matter what else happens, the likelihood of academic achievement test results rising is doubtful if the environment is rife with bullying.

Bullying is Harmful
Bullying is a very destructive act that can destroy the learning environment for the bully, the bullied, and the witnesses to bullying. While signs on the wall, the reporting systems in place, the discussions in classrooms, assemblies, and offices remain throughout the year, it is also important to honor and teach how to understand opposing thoughts, beliefs, and opinions, how to listen to each other and develop capacity for empathy and compassion. It is important for the future workforce and they are sitting in classrooms right now. Much research exists to show the physical and psychological effects of bullying as well. The health of children and their success are interrelated; bullying is harmful to both.

Yes, there is cause to eliminate bullying to support academic success but there is a fundamental societal reason to teach children how to interact responsibly with one another. There is a reason for children to develop compassion for one who is different from them. The child who is disabled, the one who is of a different race, the one who is gay, the one who is poor, the one who is smart...all these children make up the fabric of America. They are our riches; together, they keep us whole and thriving.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.