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8 No-Prep Methods to Reduce Classroom Bullying: By Beth Morrow

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on October 13, 2014

With the continual crush of standards and tests in our classrooms, it’s tempting to bypass the more creative and less structured social activities that don’t end up on a bubble sheet. 

The irony is that those feel-good moments are the only opportunity many students have to get to know each other in a socially positive environment as people, not competitors. Bullying is often the result of one person seeking power or attention--or both--from someone lacking confidence in their own social self-worth. The danger is that in eliminating deliberate social skill-building activities, students do not have exposure to or experience in building their own self-worth.  By cutting out these confidence-building moments, it’s as though we are expecting fewer bullying behaviors by eliminating the very tools that can help improve the situation.

We frequently claim we need more time to improve classroom climate but more time is not a prerequisite. Here are eight no/low-prep ways to infuse our classrooms with the behaviors we most want to see from our students.


Model everything: words, actions, thoughts, reactions

Many students who struggle with appropriate social behaviors come from situations where positive relationships don’t exist. How can we expect them to replicate good social skills if they don’t see how they work? The instantaneous nature of visual and auditory feedback when modeling is far quicker to process and store than is a lengthy explanation about ‘being a nice person’.


Be verbally explicit

One interesting experiment I tried with a class of notorious tough guys was to explain to them why their behaviors upset me. I realize this can’t happen with every class, but this group was receptive when I talked in a low tone and from a point of fact, not a point of emotion. It took about three weeks for them to realize I wouldn’t scold them at every off-task behavior, and they responded in-kind. It was one of the most memorable teaching experiences of my career.


Be human

Part of the reason I believe that class ended so well was because I became human when I stated why they upset me. While it took them a little longer to develop the proper behavior, my verbal commentary made the connection between their actions and my reaction--a facet I believe none of them had previously considered.


Take time to make connections

When people close to you notice you’re having a bad day, they try to help by lending an ear. Not only do many students lack these relationships in their own personal environments, they often don’t know how to verbalize hurt. And when anger builds, a lack of knowledge often shows up as bullying others to get a twisted sense of self-importance. Something as simple as a touch on the shoulder and a genuine greeting can build a bridge where none has existed.


Praise loudly, condemn quietly

It’s the opposite of our natural reaction, but it makes a difference. When students hear verbal antagonism, even for altruistic reasons like missing homework and disruptive behavior, it seems acceptable for them to mimic.


Show (and find ways for others to show) you appreciate them as individuals

My brother was born during the first week of my second grade year, and my jealousy spilled into school. Mrs. Stull took notice and wrote me notes each week. Just a sentence or two reminded me of what a good person I was. Fourth grade was socially awkward, and one of our teachers that year had us write a kind paragraph each week in a classmate’s friendship book. I still have the letters and friendship book. Neither of them took more than a few minutes to create, but their impact has lasted upwards of three decades.


Open the floor for discussing tough issues

As with all difficult subjects, consider the maturity of your students before launching into a discussion. Try having students submit anonymous observations and experiences with bullying and allow the class to talk through a solution. Allowing students to counsel their peers (with guidance) on tough issues makes a far greater impact than does a standard classroom lecture.


Build them up honestly

One of the nastiest ways a bully inflicts pain is through being a ‘friend’ to an unsuspecting victim, then using their relationship to humiliate them. Students notice everything--especially when they’re being patronized. If you want to build trust, your words and actions must be transparent and true. It isn’t necessary to fill them with flowery compliments. One kind and honest observation is worth a page of gratuitous babble.


While we can’t know what makes every bully tick, we can help our students build their own positive foundations to better prepare them when the going gets tough. Creating emotionally strong and socially prepared students can be done in short periods of time, but the self-confidence you build may well last a lifetime.


Beth Morrow is an education blogger and columnist who teaches middle school ESL/reading teacher for Columbus City Schools in Columbus, OH. Visit her blog at, where she shares anecdotes and advice from the classroom, or connect on Twitter @BethFMorrow.

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