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Building a Positive Classroom Culture: Ways to Lessen the Impact of Bullying

October 1, 2021
Author: Lara Smith
The Anti-Bullying Movement is in full swing in the US. All 50 states, Washington D.C., and all US territories have anti-bullying legislation.

The movement started in earnest in response to the Columbine High School shooting. At Columbine, two shooters killed 13 people before taking their own lives, in response to the alleged bullying they had endured.

The first Anti-Bullying Law passed in Georgia in 1999. It defined bullying at the state level, requiring school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies for grades six through 12 and requiring student codes of conduct to include these policies.

How Common is Bullying?
According to federal statistics about bullying in the United States:

* About 1 in 5 students ages 12-18 experienced bullying
* 19% of students in grades 9–12 report being bullied on school property
* An estimated 14.9% of high school students were electronically bullied.

And, while there are rules and laws that protect victims, only approximately 46% of students 12-18 who are bullied tell an adult at school about the bullying.

Immediate Effects of Bullying
Just as bullying can take many forms, so can the effects of bullying:

* Mental Health Effects – Being bullied puts victims at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, emotional distress, aggression, self-harming behavior, and thoughts of suicide. The majority of bully-victims do not become suicidal, but compounded with other risk factors this can be a serious concern.

* Physical Health Effects – Obvious physical effects of bullying are physical trauma from a physical attack. The less obvious physical manifestations of bullying can include sleep disorders, stomach aches, headaches, bedwetting, and chronic pain.

* Academic Impacts – Victims of bullying have a higher rate of truancy and drop-out than students who are not bullied, and tend to have lower academic achievement. Victims of bullying show lower grades and standardized test scores, starting as early as kindergarten.

Long-Term Impacts of Bullying


Studies have been conducted on the effects of bullying on adults who were victims of “chronic bullying”, or bullying that takes place over months or years. These victims are consistently at higher risk for common somatic problems, like chronic colds, headaches, and sleeping problems. They are also more likely to engage in self-harm behaviors like smoking, among other mental health and wellness challenges they face. Effects of childhood bullying can be seen well into adulthood, with impacts on financial stability, career prospects, and physical health.

What We Can Do:

As educators, we need to both prevent bullying and lessen its impact when it does happen. The best way to start is by creating a positive classroom climate.

A positive classroom climate is one that invites collaboration, supports honesty, and demands respect in the class setting. This environment leads to fewer opportunities for bullying to take place and supports victims and bystanders in coming forward when it does happen.

Here are four ways to build a positive classroom climate:

1. Use Consistent Classroom Management Tools – The rules and expectations must be clear, consistent, and fair.

Group Agreements are a simple, yet effective, tool. Students participate in shaping the ground rules for behavior and are all held accountable by both the teacher and their peers. Everyone knows what is expected of them and what will not be tolerated.

2. Build Positive Relationships – Get to know your students so you can see changes, seek out input from even the quietest ones, and make time for one-on-one meetings to get to know them.

If time is limited, student surveys or letters can be a great way to foster communication and understanding between teachers and students.

3. Encourage Positive Relationships Among Students – Through ice breakers, team building, and group work, students should become a cohort supporting each other and leveraging each other’s strengths.

These should start with low-stakes activities and build up to more challenging group interactions once students feel comfortable with one another.

4. Have an Open Door Policy – If a student is being bullied, make sure they know you are there to help even outside of class time.

Building a positive classroom culture does not eliminate bullying, especially not outside of the classroom in places like the schoolyard, on the bus, online, etc. An open-door policy can make you a resource to keep students safe and protected even when you are not with them.

Why it Matters:
Behind every bullying statistic and prevention program is a story of a child who was bullied. Some of them are dreadful with life and death consequences, like Columbine. Every bullying experience goes on to shape the people in it.

By taking some intentional steps to create a strong, positive culture in our classrooms, we may be able to stop bullying before it happens and create a different story for everyone involved.

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