The Best Way to Prevent Bullying in Catholic Elementary Schools

By Simonds, Sj, EdD Thomas A | Momentum, November/December 2014 | Go to article overview

The Best Way to Prevent Bullying in Catholic Elementary Schools


Simonds, Sj, EdD Thomas A, Momentum


Imagine you are sitting with one of your students right now. 'Ihe student is emotional and is telling you about a bullying incident that has just occurred. What is the best way for you to respond?

If you have been in this situation, you know both the hurtful effects of bullying and the challenges educators face in addressing this behavior, frying to resolve even a small handful of bullying incidents can prove to be very difficult. So rather than focusing on single incidents or a few students, we need to look more broadly at the culture of the school in which this behavior is occurring. Teachers, parents and administrators certainly have an important role to play in bullying prevention, but the key to an effective bullying prevention program is to change the hearts and minds of our students.

Merrell, Gueldner, Ross, and Isava (2008) systematically reviewed 16 research reports that described a variety of bullying prevention programs. The researchers found that the bullying prevention programs had limited effectiveness in reducing bullying in schools. So it is my contention that we must take a fresh new approach to how we address bullying in Catholic schools. We need to work with our students to change the culture of our Catholic schools.

Creating School Cultures in which Bullying Does Not Occur

Changing culture requires changing the hearts and minds of individual people. In the first part of this series on bullying, I discussed the best way to accomplish this type of change in schools is to use a multilayered schoolwide approach rather than a single strategy or initiatives only implemented in a single classroom.

Perhaps the goal of changing the hearts and minds of students in a Catholic school seems too lofty. However, when you reflect on the purpose of a Catholic school, it is clear that we are in the business of changing people, both in how they think and how they act (Cook & Simonds, 2011). So I want to share with you a new strategy to change the hearts and minds of stakeholders in schools, especially in regards to how students relate to one another.

Jesus is our master teacher, so it makes sense for us to begin by asking Jesus: How should we relate to one another? Jesus replies, "Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults-unless, of course, you want the same treatment (Luke 6:37; The Message translation)." This translation of Jesus' words in the Gospel of Luke reminds us of Jesus' Golden Rule and speaks directly to the issue of bullying.

If we begin with the teachings of Jesus as the foundation stone for our program to change the culture of a school, then it is clear that we need to find a way to help our stakeholders live by the teachings of Jesus. In other words, we have to engage in the education of not only the mind but also the heart, so that the culture of the school changes to become a place where the teachings of Jesus are not only taught, but also practiced (Cook & Simonds, 2011; Palmer, 2003).

In order to create a school culture based on Jesus' teachings, we need to develop a student formation program. The checklist provided can be used to develop such a program.

In the workbook I authored, School Violence Prevention Workbook: Stopping Harassment and Hazing, I describe a number of programs and some strategies that could be used to prevent bullying in schools and teach students important life skills. My principal thesis in this workbook is that the best programs are those that are developed by the stakeholders in local schools. All the stakeholders in our Catholic schools have some level of awareness regarding bullying, some ideas about the social skills students need when they graduate and the talents necessary to develop an effective student formation program. What is required is some guidance in how to go about developing a student formation program. Therefore, I propose that you and interested persons in your school community use the checklist to find the pieces you need to develop an effective student formation program for your school. …

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