Applying the Latest Research to Prevent Bullying: Empowering Schools to Change Behavior & Attitudes
Bullying prevention is an important aspect of school safety. During this webinar, co-sponsored by NIJ and the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention, renowned bullying prevention researchers will share information schools can use to address bullying. This information will include helping teachers respond to bullying in the classroom and giving students who see bullying tools to take action to address it.
MARY JO GIOVACCHINI: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to today's webinar, "Applying the Latest Research to Prevent Bullying: Empowering Schools to Change Behavior and Attitudes" hosted by the National Institute of Justice. At this time, I'm going to go ahead and turn over the presentation to Mary.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Good afternoon, everyone. Let me also extend my welcome to the webinar today. My name is Mary Poulin Carlton. I work at the National Institute of Justice and I'm pleased that you've chosen to join us for this webinar that's co-sponsored by NIJ and its federal partners in bullying prevention.
Much of NIJ's recent investments in bullying research come from our Comprehensive School Safety Initiative and we're going to hear from two researchers this afternoon who have worked to help advance our understanding of what works to prevent and respond to bullying. They're going to deliver two presentations. I will help field a discussion with some questions between the two researchers at the end. Then everyone in the audience will have an opportunity to ask questions. Please feel free to keep track of those questions as we're proceeding and submit them and we will ask those questions of our panelists. Let me take just a few moments to briefly introduce each of our panelists and we will get started.
First presenting is Tracy Waasdorp who is a senior research scientist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. Followed by Tracy, we will have Amanda Nickerson who is professor and director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University of Buffalo. As I mentioned just a moment ago, I will be holding a discussion at the end of our session. I will be fielding some questions for myself and also those from Christina Weeter from the Kentucky Department of Education who unfortunately was not able to join us this afternoon. But I am pleased that we are ready to get started with the webinar and I would like to turn things over to Tracy to talk about her work. Tracy.
TRACY WAASDORP: My name is Tracy Waasdorp. I am a research scientist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, formerly the Violence Prevention Initiative and now the Center for Study and Prevention of Violence. I first just want to thank my co-developers of the program I'm going to be discussing today, Dr. Catherine Bradshaw and Dr. Elise Pas. This project was funded by the National Institute of Justice and it was awarded to University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins, and Sheppard Pratt. I want to also thank the developers of two of the programs that we use to adapt to create this bullying-focused program, the CCU and TeachLivE. I also want to thank our coaches who helped with the implementation of our first pilot. Just so we're all on the same page, why are we focusing on bullying?
First, the definition. Bullying is a form of aggression where the individual is repeatedly exposed to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons. It often occurs when there is a power or status difference. We know that bullying has far reaching mental health, behavioral, and academic impact for both the victim and the perpetrator. But we also know that it negatively impacts the bystanders, those who witness it, and the school
climate in general. In a study that looked at the differences between student and staff perceptions of bullying, 43% of students reported that they've witnessed adults watching bullying and doing nothing, whereas 97% of teachers say that they would have intervened. Sixty percent believe that adults at their school are not doing enough to prevent bullying, whereas the teachers felt that they have effective strategies for handling bullying. Finally, 61% believe that the teachers who tried to stop the bullying only made it worse, whereas only 7% of the teachers felt that they made it worse. So there's a high prevalence of bullying in schools.
We also know that students have more opportunity given they spend more time to experience bullying in the classroom. Teachers are in the frontlines of intervention, but we know that students rarely report bullying to teachers. In a sample of over 69,000 middle and high school youth, only 5.5% told an adult at school when they were the victim of bullying. Studies that look at bullying prevention programming found that consistent discipline, classroom management, class rules specifically related to bullying, and the training of teachers, are all aspects of effective programming. However, we know that teachers often struggle to detect and intervene with bullying. We found that non-response, delayed response, or ineffective responses worsen the situation. We did some focus groups prior to starting this study and we found that many of the students felt that teachers just don't care about bullying. And teachers reported that they had a lot of difficulty discriminating between typical peer conflict and bullying. Both students and teachers felt there wasn't enough time in the day to address the bullying, and the students interpret that lack of time that teachers have into not caring about bullying. These focus group findings help us decide what this program needed to focus on and how much time this program could take. We knew that teachers did not feel that they had the time to do it but we knew that students wanted to feel that adults cared. So we wanted to help teachers to focus on their relationships with their students. Students needed to know that while teachers may not have the time, they do care. We needed to open the communication between students and teachers regarding their peer relationships. Importantly, we needed to help teachers shift from simple behavioral responses to an SEL, or social emotional learning-focused response, to stop treating bullying as a disruptive behavior. It's not. Instead, validate the students' emotions, their experiences. Use modeling and take students' perspective which I'll get into.
We designed the Bullying Classroom Check-Up, the BCCU. This is a conceptual model where we have detection, responding, and bullying prevention all being supported through teacher-student relationships, positive behavior supports, and the classroom climate. We adapted the Classroom Check-Up, which is a coaching model, and the TeachLivE mixed-reality simulator to provide teachers with guided practice and feedback — all to focus on bullying. We also used Psychoeducational Component of the bullying bulletins. These were pieces of paper that we handed out to teacher that provided some additional information regarding bullying.
We first focused on detecting bullying. We wanted to educate teachers about bullying. They were allowed to practice detecting bullying in the simulator, which I will show you an example of what the simulator is in a little bit. We wanted to promote monitoring and data
based decision-making. We'd help teachers to develop their classroom management strategies such as active supervision and we really focus on fostering relationships and trust so students help teachers to know what's happening. Some examples that we would give teachers to help fostering the student relationship, through our coaching, we would tell them to give regular non-contingent positive interactions and show that they care. Let the students get to know you and you should get to know your students. Give the students a voice and get to know and share with families, not just when something's negative, when things are positive, too.
One of the things we had in our guide for teachers was to observe students and acknowledge when they might be having a bad day or problem and let students know you are there to help or talk. For preventing bullying, we had effective classroom management as a focus. We target positive behavioral supports that include a specific focus on social behaviors. Setting, teaching, and reinforcing expectations related to peer relationships in your classroom. So the focus is on building teacher and student relationships, as well as student and student relationships and to focus on making your instruction engaging and well-paced, taking note of higher risk times that bullying can occur. Some examples of prevention that we provide for the teachers is to set and display clear expectations regarding positive social behaviors. This should be done at the start of the year and strategically throughout, such as right after a school break.
To reinforce positive social interactions and model appropriate behavior, so we tell teachers to draw attention to positive peer behaviors occurring. Label the specific positive interaction. "I like what I just saw between Jessie and Sarah, even though it seemed you guys did not agree about that project. You worked it out respectfully." Or "I really like how you included Jake into your group. You guys are working together really well."
Next, we focus on responding to bullying using the social-emotional learning responses. We really included a strong focus on validating how the students feel, their emotions, their experiences, modeling appropriate responses, and putting yourself in their shoes. We wanted teachers to have open discussions with the whole class about bullying and about their expectations. But also have separate conversations individually with the perpetrator and the victim. We also wanted teachers to identify consequences for obvious bullying and implement those consequences very consistently. Some examples of responding that we worked with teachers on, so we gave them handouts on what they can choose to detect bullying in your classroom.
We also gave some information on ways in which to discuss bullying with the perpetrator after class or the victim, and we also talked about how to set consistent consequences for clear bullying behavior. Some of the things we would tell teachers to discuss would be to indicate you want to help and we'll discuss the situation with each student privately outside of the classroom time. Something like, "I did not see what happened here, but it looks like it's frustrating for both of you. I would really like to know more about what happened. Let's set up a meeting outside of class so I can talk separately to you both." Or if you see somebody that was saying something mean and then said, "Oh, I'm only kidding," you could say, "I know he said he was only kidding, but I would be hurt if someone said
something like that to me. While I don't know the whole situation, it did not seem respectful to me. I am here if you want to talk later." One of the things we found were teachers were saying they did not see the whole thing and we thought it was important that teachers recognize they did not see it and therefore they do want to help. They just don't know and they're open to finding out.
This is the Bullying Classroom Check-Up, the BCCU model. I'm not going to go into depths on each step, but briefly we had the coach do a motivational interview and introduced the bullying framework. The coach then observes the classroom and provides personalized feedbacks for the teacher. They have goals related specifically to the social interactions in the classroom and the teacher's social interactions with the children, and there's collaborative problem-solving and goal setting.
I want you to take note of step four, which is where we start doing the guided practice which is where they get to practice preventing, detection, and responding in the live simulator. That I'm going to show you now. This is a mixed-reality simulator. You can see here these are the characters that the teachers will see. On the right, you can see that it shows that if you move forward, the program actually acknowledges that and the kids will get closer and it actually is working in real time with what the teachers are experiencing.
So what is a simulator? It's mixed reality. There are scripted parts to it so we can make sure that the kids are in fact displaying bullying behaviors. It's a small classroom of these five students responding in real time. So while there is a script, if the teacher says something, those kids respond to specifically what that teacher says. It was developed as a tool for training pre-service teachers and the participants are, in our case the teachers, as well as sometimes peer teachers that sit in with them in the coaching session in the simulator, follow the session and learn throughout. You can see here, it's on a screen. Here we're showing people how this works. This is the five kids sitting in the classroom. And here you can see a teacher practicing. They have something on their face that gathers the sound and they can hear the kids. They can talk directly to the children. You can see some peer teachers in the background and they can all learn from each other through the experience.
We wanted to trial this BCCU and this was a teacher-randomized controlled trial with 80 middle school teachers in five schools. A brief summary of the results, we found that 100% of teachers agree that they should intervene with bullying but 86% of them felt that they could benefit from coaching to improve how they address bullying. The coached teachers were more likely to recognize that adults at the school are not doing enough to address bullying. We also found that the BCCU was very low burden and it only requires four hours of active teacher's time in order to go through the program. The results show that we had improved teachers’ reports of responding to, and improved the detection of, bullying. They were more likely to witness all forms of bullying, they were more likely to talk to other staff, refer to a guidance counselor, and intervene with both the perpetrator and the victim when they saw bullying. We had outside observers of each classroom and they were not more likely to tally aggressive behavior in the classroom, pre-to post-. So we found that it was in fact the teachers detecting the behavior.
Some take home concepts for our program is to focus on understanding the roles of bullying. All involved should be focused. We found that many teachers would just focus on the perpetrator and quickly say, "Hey so and so, stop that behavior," but no mention of the victim was made. They wanted the behavior to stop and that was the goal. We also found that no mention of bystanders was given. So we wanted to really reinforce that all people involved should be a focus for teachers and one of the big aha moments for teachers was to notice the victims and say something to the victims like, "I'm sorry you are hurt." Just a quick recognition of that models the appropriate behavior.
We also wanted to highlight the forms of aggression in bullying. So while the program is for bullying, we tell our teachers to focus on any forms of aggression that they see and that could lead to bullying. We also found that certain behaviors teachers would not even acknowledge as bullying and it would just be a behavioral infraction. In our simulator, we had every single teacher saw a child pull out a cellphone, post a picture, and clearly harm another child's reputation who was sitting right next to her. In every single case, the teacher would just ask the child to put the phone away and not one person mentioned the harm that that child just caused. So we really wanted to shift teachers' focus on it being behavioral and notice that there are many different roles that these children play. It's also important to recognize that sometimes, children are reactive and they are not necessarily the aggressor in that moment but they may look like it. So not knowing what happened, even though you might know that that child's usually the aggressor, not going in with that idea and saying you don't know what happened but you do want to know more for behaviors that are ambiguous.
We also found that when teachers hear about the more covert behaviors, such as leaving children out — excluding, they were more likely to notice them and recognize them as bullying. For example, I've had a teacher that said there was a child that used to come into the classroom and give gifts only to certain children in the classroom purposefully leaving out others, but it wasn't disruptive. That's the kind of behavior a teacher could model that it's not appropriate and why. It's also important for teachers to remember that social relationships are very important to children, so telling them to leave the problems outside the classroom so you can focus on the academics is extremely difficult for them. It's like when we have a bad day at work and we have to leave it at work, it's not that easy for children to do this. It's also important that we are positive bystanders as adults. That we know when a child's agitating us and how we should respond as well and it's also important to seek appropriate help when necessary. Refer the children to people that can help them if you don't feel that you can help. Do not wait until the problems escalate.
So how is the BCCU different? It's fully teacher-focused; it's not student-focused. It emphasizes classroom management as a large portion of it, as well as teacher social-emotional learning capacity. It balances the need to address bullying, as well as covering academic content simultaneously. We train teachers to respond to bullying, to prevent bullying, and detect bullying without increasing the burden on their time. And we provided guided practice using the mixed-reality simulation. This helps them learn these skills in an accelerated fashion and it helps promote the uptake. It's a pretty cool experience to go in
there and talk to these children and have them respond to you in real-time, and practice skills that you don't want to practice on real-life children in case you mess them up, especially in the instance of bullying. It also allows for building muscle memory. So, teachers can practice these things and it can become more instinctual to them so then they can do them in the classroom.
We had teachers after the intervention tell us that they actually felt, after their sessions, that they had a relationship with these five kids. The kids have personalities and all the scripts that are created go along with these children's personalities, so you do get to know them just like the teachers do their own children. Some future directions for the BCCU, we want to examine it with a larger 40-school trial, not randomizing by teachers but randomizing it per school level. And we want to focus on late-elementary school. Logistically, it's the same teacher the entire day. We also wanted to expand our Psychoeducational Component. We designed six PDs that the entire school will be able to receive the content of the program, not the entire program but much of the content. We're also going to be gathering student self-report data.
Recently in Pennsylvania, schools were seeking PDs and certification for bullying. In discussions with people, it turned out that schools have picked a program, a student-focused program for changing bullying, and when PDs were actually the desired program. But there are no evidence-based programs that are standalone PDs. So one of the things we'd like to do is to do a trial that actually assesses our PDs versus others so we could have an evidence-based PD for addressing bullying and certification for this.
And finally, the use of the TeachLivE technology could be expanded to assist bystanders to know how to intervene in bullying, or the victims of bullying how to respond to bullying situations. I, again, want to just bring up my co-collaborators for the program, Elise Pas and Catherine Bradshaw. These are two manuscripts related to the BCCU that are out there now. Recently, Catherine Bradshaw and I wrote a book that used a lot of these concepts discussing social-emotional learning approach to preventing bullying, and it's available on Amazon currently. I am going to pass on the presentation to Amanda Nickerson right now. Thank you.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Hi. Thank you so much, Tracy. Before we move on to Amanda, we got a couple clarifying questions that I would love to ask you now before we move to the second presentation.
TRACY WAASDORP: Okay.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: The first question that we got gets at understanding what bullying is. I know you touched on defining bullying at the outset. But could you explain a little bit more about what the difference is between a typical peer conflict and bullying?
TRACY WAASDORP: Yeah. I think one of the biggest defining features is that the power status and that it's a negative behavior that was done on purpose. I think that it's really important to recognize that. So, two friends of equal footing who are having a fight, that's a
conflict. Whereas when you have a child who literally cannot come up with a way to get out of that situation because of the person who's doing it power, that makes it bullying. So, if both people could come up with solutions to the problem, that's a conflict. Just to mention the repeated nature, I think in general you want the behavior to be repeated. Sometimes in the research world, they'll say two or more times a month. I think with cyberbullying, it becomes the intent to be repeated or it could be repeated. One text could be seen numerous times so that would be counting as repeated as well.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Okay. Thank you. And one more question, and this relates to the TeachLivE and thinking about teachers' behavior before participating with TeachLivE or the BCCU and afterwards. I'm wondering, can you give an example of common ways that teacher behavior has changed before and after participating in the program?
TRACY WAASDORP: Yeah, I think one of the most interesting things to see was children. We tell the teachers to just start teaching a lesson and we tell them to teach it on homophones for example. So, they start teaching their lesson and the first time they do it, the children are scripted to specifically show bullying behaviors, and oftentimes the teacher's like, "I just got to get through this content. That's what I was told to do." So, once we've raised the awareness, "Hey, did you notice these things? Can you detect them?" It starts raising the awareness that, "Okay, I should also see these things going on." Secondarily, the focus on the victims was something that was, as we were told from the teachers, they said an aha moment where they realized it made such a difference to focus on not just stopping the behavior but recognizing what the behavior is and helping out the children.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Okay. Great. Thank you so much.
TRACY WAASDORP: You’re welcome.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: With that, we will move to our second presenter, Amanda Nickerson. Amanda?
AMANDA NICKERSON: Okay. Thank you so much. I really appreciate Tracy's presentation. Although we're focusing on different topics here, as she's focusing on the teachers and the environment, I think there's quite a bit of overlap and I think you'll see points of connection as well. I'm going to be talking about Bystander Intervention in Bullying. We've definitely used that term "bystander" previously in the webinar, so I'm going to go into a little bit more depth about what that is and what we know about students that engage in this behavior, this so-called defending behavior. My goal is really to identify the roles of use that they have in so-called bullying interactions. So besides the victim and the perpetrator, what are the other roles that students may play? I'm going to talk about some of our work that's operationalizing what bystander intervention looks like in bullying. This may be familiar to some of you from back in your college days when you took a social psychology class because some of this has been around for a while and we're now just applying it to the field of bullying.
We'll also talk a bit about the individual and situational variables that predict this bystander intervention. Finally, I'll talk about some of our current and future ongoing work that's really getting more into implementing this and the implications of teaching this bystander intervention approach as part of a larger bullying prevention and intervention initiative.
Let's start by talking a bit about bullying roles. And this goes back to Dan Olweus in Norway, and then Christina Salmivalli in Finland has really told us a lot about the bullying dynamic and the roles that students can play in a bullying interaction. Roughly speaking, and prevalence rates definitely vary, about 20% to 30% of students, children, and adolescents, are involved in bullying, as either a perpetrator, a victim, or both. We've seen some declines over time in reported bullying victimization which is very good news. But it still is quite a prevalent problem. But that's not the whole story when we look at bullying.
We know that most of the time, when bullying occurs, there's other people that are seeing, hearing, witnessing what's going on, so we refer to them as bystanders. I think traditionally, a bystander is thought of as someone that's more apathetic and really isn't taking much of a role. But Christina Salmivalli and others have really pointed out that these bystanders, or witnesses, or observers, can engage in actions that either reinforce the bullying so are so-called assistants or reinforcers that are encouraging the bullying implicitly or explicitly saying that this is okay, laughing, getting involved physically. We also have outsiders which are those that don't report being aware of it, or involved, or they're just more likely to ignore when it happens. Then we've got a group of defenders. This is where my work has focused quite a bit in trying to better understand those youth that engage in a wide variety of behaviors to try to stop the bullying, either directly or indirectly. By indirectly, I mean reporting it to a trusted adult, or directly confronting the bully, and kind of collecting themselves with other peers that can intervene more safely, and importantly which I will touch on a bit more, is reaching out directly to the target and supporting them in some way.
Before I move on, it is really important to note that there is fluidity in these roles. Although some of our research has categorized students into these different roles, my colleague, Lyndsay Jenkins, at Florida State University has done some work in this area, finding that there's quite a bit of overlap. In more person-centered or latent class approaches, finding that students — a large proportion of them — are moderately involved in multiple roles. We also have the defenders that have also been victimized themselves. We also have individuals that are aggressive themselves and defend and are victimized and just high involvement across. I do think that that's important to point out, even though some of the research I'm going to be going over is looking at people that are more likely to defend. I think that dynamic is important to consider. Why are bystander reactions important? We know that those peers that are assisting in reinforcing that bullying sends the message to the perpetrator that this is reinforcing or it rewards them. It gives them power and attention, which we know is quite motivating for most perpetrators.
In contrast, if someone is defending or doing something to stop it or intervene, that's providing negative feedback to the perpetrator. There's also growing evidence that when there are peers that defend the target that it makes them feel less anxious and depressed.
So, it can be helpful from both the aspect of giving less attention to that perpetrator, but also reducing the negative impact of the bullying on the target if it does occur.
So, the magic question, why don't more bystanders intervene? Some of our classic observational research done by Wendy Craig and Deb Pepler and others in Canada have found that although peer bystanders are present more than 80% of the time in bullying episodes, they intervene less than 20% of the time. From Tracy's presentation, we know that students report that the same thing is happening with teachers, that there's a lot of witnessing, a lot of others being present, but not as much intervention. Some of the reasons for that are similar to what we know about the bystander effect from social psychology research from long ago. And some is a little bit more unique. But one thing we know is that if others are present and aren't doing anything, that we have this diffusion of responsibility. This idea, "Well, if no one else is doing anything, then why should I be the one to do that?" There's other people that could take an active role and they're not.
Another very pertinent one when we speak to youth about this is fear of retaliation. If you are the one that intervenes, that's quite a risk. Then you could then become the next target. Unfortunately, we do know that this does happen from time to time. Another concept that comes into play is pluralistic ignorance. The idea that, again, if other people around us are seeing and hearing this and they're not doing anything, then they must think that it's okay. I'll talk in a bit about some of the current work we're doing in trying to shift those beliefs and social norms and attitudes of youth. Then last, unfortunately, one of the things we also find is some blaming of the victim and this kind of just-world hypothesis. The idea that if this is happening, if someone's being bullied, well, they must have got what was coming to them. Maybe people view this child as annoying and say, "Well maybe this will teach them a lesson." This is a phenomenon that we see and hear from youth.
As I said, one of my real interests is in what we know about this group of defenders. And, again, it's not this homogeneous group, but of people whose peers and themselves say, "I'm more likely to defend than others." What do we know about them? First is that they generally have a pretty high social status. So, they are fairly secure in their social network. They may be more popular, well-regarded by their peer group, kind of puts them in a position where they could take this risk whereas peers that are more rejected or perhaps more isolated may not have that social status to be able to intervene. We also know that social skills are important, but not all of them and not all of them in the same way. For instance, some of the works that we've done has found that assertion, that social skill of being able to stand up and interject is important. Interestingly, we found an inverse relationship between cooperation and defending. In other words, those who report being less cooperative, are more likely to defend. It wasn't what we expected at first. But in thinking more about it, it made a lot of sense because, again, there is some amount of risk and some amount of standing up to people that is going to disrupt being more cooperative and complacent, if you will.
Empathy, again and again, has been closely correlated to defending. I've conducted a meta-analysis of the relationship between empathy and defending or bystander
intervention and found a moderate correlation of about .31 to .33 depending on the way that we were looking at studies. But the message is not all positive. We also have some emerging research that is showing that those that are more likely to defend are also more likely to have internalizing problems, such as depression and anxiety. It's, as of now, unclear, I believe, whether or not it's that depression and anxiety that's helping to feed that defending as in this is making me anxious and depressed. And therefore, I'm going to intervene, or if it's once someone intervenes, that that could then lead them to have more internalizing problems. Or it quite possibly may be a bidirectional relationship.
We do have some evidence that defenders do have an increased likelihood of being victimized. Going back to that fear of retaliation, there definitely is something to that. And I think we've got to be really careful in educating our students about that as well as our teachers. Tracy did a fabulous job of talking about how we need our teachers to really be empathic and intervene and see and hear things and send the message that they are the adults in the environment and they do care. Sometimes when I talk about bystander intervention, I get the question of, "Well, how can you expect the peers to do it when adults don't do it?” and “Don't we need to care about how others respond?" My answer to that would be, “absolutely.” But this is just giving the skills to our youth that hopefully they'll be able to use in the present and in later life. I just want to make a note that the context, the peer group influence, and relationships really matter in defending. In some situations, someone's going to be more likely to defend if it's a close friend of theirs that this is happening to. We see that again and again, but need to do more research on that.
So, what is this process of bystander intervention? Thinking towards intervention and how to teach this, I was really passionate about breaking it down into sequential steps that we could really teach to students. And again, looking to the social psychology literature from Latane and Darley back in the '70s who found this bystander effect. They identified a five-step process that people need to go through in emergency situations in order to provide help. The steps, according to Latane and Darley, were, first, we had to notice that there was a problem or an event or an emergency. Next, that event needed to be interpreted as an emergency that required help. Third and, importantly, we needed to assume responsibility for helping. So, kind of getting over that pluralistic ignorance or diffusion of responsibility to say, “Yes, it is my right and responsibility to do this.” People have to know what to do or how to help and then finally act to provide the help.
Some of our earlier work in this area took this five-step model and applied it to bullying and sexual harassment. So my colleagues and I developed a measure that was really trying to operationalize this five-step model and apply it. In this particular study with 562 high school students, we were applying it to bullying and sexual harassment. The noticing were things like, “I'm aware that bullying and sexual harassment happened at my school, I've seen this happen.” Interpreting it is that, “This can hurt someone's feelings. This is hurtful and damaging.” Taking responsibility were questions like, “If I'm not the one doing the bullying harassment, it's still my responsibility to try to stop it?” Knowing how to help is “I have the skills to be able to support a student who's being bullied or harassed.” And then acting is I would say do something to a student who's acting mean or disrespectful to a more vulnerable student.
We did confirmatory factor analysis and then also structural equation modeling to see how well this — a five-factor model — held up and how well the steps held together. It did show that through confirmatory factor analysis that this five-factor structure worked, if you will, that our sub-skills were internally consistent. In our work after that original study, we've done more with measurement equivalence and validating this measure in middle school populations and late-elementary school populations as well. You will notice, if you can see the small numbers there in the structural equation modeling that with each successive step, the correlations get higher and I'll talk about that a little bit more when I talk about some of our intervention work. I think that unlike the Latane and Darley model with emergencies where the noticing is a specific event that you would notice that someone had fallen down or were hurt in some way, that we were looking more globally at whether or not bullying and sexual harassment were issues. I think that has something to do with why that's not holding together quite as well as some of the other steps. We and others, notably my colleague Lyndsay Jenkins who I've mentioned at Florida State University, have done a series of studies to look at what predicts in contrast to our previous work on what predicts defending, how can we really look at each of these five steps and see what may predict that?
Interestingly, and as I said before that noticing step seems to be a little bit unique, we found that victimized youth and also those with lower social status were actually more likely to notice the bullying. Again, we had hypothesized that that wouldn't be the case, that those that were kind of higher in social status and less likely to be rejected would notice it happening more since it was the first step. But in reflecting on this, it actually makes a lot of sense that someone that has experienced this personally is going to be more likely to notice it happening. In terms of interpreting it as a problem, we found, as expected, that victimized boys were more likely to interpret bullying as an emergency or a problematic situation. Very interestingly, we found the opposite for girls. So in other words, girls that were less likely to be victimized were more likely to interpret it as a problem and I have some hypothesis about this and maybe in the question and answer we can talk more about this and I'd be interested since Tracy's done quite a bit of work in relational aggression too, to hear her thoughts.
In terms of empathy, we found that boys in particular that lacked affective empathy were less likely to interpret bullying as a problem or an emergency. Empathy for boys also predicted having them see it as it's their responsibility to intervene. Boys that had more empathy were more likely to see it as their responsibility, those with less were less likely to see it as their responsibility. In terms of knowing what to do, another very interesting gender finding in that girls who ignored bullying responded as we expected. They also said, "I don't know as much about how to intervene, therefore I'm ignoring it." We found the opposite for boys in that boys who ignored bullying reported that they actually knew more about how to intervene, than boys that didn't ignore. We're interpreting that in part to think that the boys may have some of these skills, but there's other social forces that play that are inhibiting them from wanting to intervene.
Then finally, in the actions, boys with less affective empathy were less likely to intervene, and as I mentioned previously, those -with internalizing problems, we've actually found that that can inhibit youth from intervening even if they have the skills to do so. The work on internalizing problems and defending still needs a lot more development to really understand what's going on there.
So is bystander intervention effective? We do know from early observational studies that when bystanders intervene, it stops the victimization about half of the time. Some people think that's pretty good, some people think, "Ooh, that's a 50/50 chance." That that's not that great. We also know that bystander intervention and defending behavior decreases the frequency of bullying in classrooms, and it's associated with a higher reported sense of safety among students. In a meta-analysis of bystander intervention programs, interestingly, and in contrast to what we know about bullying prevention more generally, these bystander intervention programs were more effective at the high school level with an effect size of .43 versus with younger students at the elementary age where the effect size was .14.
I'm going to talk just briefly about some current work and obviously recognize the National Institute of Justice for their support of this and the principal investigator of this study, Dr. Richard Gilman. For disclosure, I am a consultant on this grant, but I am not the principal investigator. What we're doing with this work is identifying and training third, sixth, and ninth grade student brokers. How we identify these brokers is through peer ratings and nominations and what we're doing is really looking for students who have relationships to other peers that aren't related to each other. So they have more diffused kind of social connections and groups. The reason we're targeting them is that we think that they're more likely to take the skills that they're taught and diffuse them throughout a wider network. Each year, there's about 25 to 30 students per each of these grades that get bystander intervention training and full disclosure, they do get that from me. That involves really teaching and practicing those five steps of the bystander intervention model and we do it through videos and role-plays and discussions. We talk about what bullying is and how it's differentiated from conflict and other sorts of relational issues.
I did want to emphasize that the multiple options for intervening is really important, so I'm not going to read all those. But as I mentioned before that we want people to have safe, effective options for intervening, in a way that's going to work with the social skills that they have and within their context. These individuals, these students met twice a month with their counselor and peers, and went through the bully-proofing curriculum, and also did sort of more of outreach and advocacy around bystander intervention, so, kind of training other students and having campaigns and things like that. Our preliminary findings are that a year after, so this is actually the following school year after these students were trained, that the students in the intervention condition compared to students who didn't receive the intervention. We used ANCOVA analysis with these so we could control for their baseline scores in each of these five steps of bystander intervention.
We found that they actually didn't differ significantly in noticing and interpreting bullying as a problem. Again, I just want to highlight that the noticing is really saying bullying is a
problem in this school so that may be part of why we didn't find that. We did find that they had significantly higher self-reported scores of accepting responsibility, knowing what to do, and acting to intervene. We also have some more objective data in terms of the reported incidents. And here, we're looking at bullying as well as inappropriate and cruel teasing, and we're seeing across three years, the baseline year, the intervention year one, and intervention year two. We'll see that the reports of inappropriate and cruel teasing really reduced dramatically. The bullying did as well, particularly after that first intervention year and then it really seemed to level off at year two. I just want to also mention some of the other current works that I'm doing is through a recently awarded grant through the Institute of Education Sciences. It's a development and innovation grant. My team and I are working on developing and testing an intervention that combines a social norms campaign approach. Going back to what it is that we believe about other students, their attitudes towards bullying, their attitudes towards bystander intervention, and trying to shift the needle and getting more students to see that others care about this issue as well. We're combining that so the first year's really focusing on the social norms campaign development and testing, and the second year is focusing on the bystander intervention training of select students in high school. For the third year of the grant, we will combine the intervention because really the social norms campaign and bystander intervention training should go hand in hand.
I just have an example here of what a typical social norms campaign message might look like. I do just want to note that we still have quite a bit of ways to go in terms of understanding explicitly which bystander interventions are most effective in different situations. Given someone's relationship with a perpetrator, a target, other bystanders, what are the best strategies that they can use? What about if it's bullying versus sexual harassment? Is that different? Also of course things like cyberbullying, what does that really look like and what are the most safe and effective ways to intervene? I just want to thank you so much for your interest and everyone listening who is making a difference and I'm going to hand it back over to Mary who is going to facilitate our question-and-answer session.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Great. Thank you so much, Amanda. I think we've had two really interesting presentations tackling bullying from two different perspectives. One looking at teachers, how can we work with teachers to respond to bullying, and the other looking at a role that students may be able to play. I think it's really helpful to think about those two different perspectives. I want to kick off our discussion with a question or two for each of our presenters to consider. Before I do that, I want to say thanks to everyone who's submitting questions. Please continue to do that. After I've had a chance to build a couple of questions, we're going to move on to questions from the audience. Again, please feel free to continue saying those in the Q&A.
Tracy and Amanda, so each of these approaches seem like that they'd be particularly helpful in addressing bullying behavior, from these different perspectives, again, looking at the teachers, looking at the students. I'm wondering if you have any recommendations for school folks, school administrators, school districts about what you've learned from your research and how to integrate that work into a more comprehensive approach to bullying
prevention and intervention. Schools that are doing bullying prevention and intervention, how could they add on to what they're doing now or replace, given your work and have a comprehensive top-line approach to preventing and addressing bullying behavior?
AMANDA NICKERSON: This is Amanda. I'll go ahead and start with that. I think it's a great question and I think both Tracy and I would agree that neither of these approaches is intended to be the be-all and end-all. We do know that bullying prevention is an ongoing effort that takes comprehensive approaches that having a clear policy that folks are trained in and having appropriate responses when bullying happens, integrating more school-wide social-emotional learning, positive behavior interventions and supports, partnering with parents. Those are all critical components that through legislation and through best practice over time, I think more and more schools are implementing. I think as we progress in the field, we learn more and more, so we find that policies can be very effective or can be ineffective and I think Tracy's work really shows how the schools pretty much all have policies, but if what's happening in the day-to-day and the adult response is not reflective of that policy. Then that's where we really need more training and PD.
Similarly, there was a relatively recent meta-analysis by David Yeager and colleagues that was showing that our more typical bullying prevention approaches were not effective and even detrimental at the high school level. A lot of the thinking was that we weren't really harnessing the power of the peers and where adolescents are in terms of their development in wanting to be more involved and having a say. I think the work that Tracy and I are both doing are kind of advancing the field and filling in some gaps where we know that there have been some missed opportunities, if you will.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Thank you, Amanda. Tracy…
TRACY WAASDORP: I'll just add to that briefly that we have found that in a perfect world, you would want a universal program that has curricula from Pre-K all the way to high school, to be implemented with perfect fidelity and as it fully intended. However, that often is not the case because schools have many competing demands and social-emotional is sometimes secondary to academic, which does make sense. However, we found that having champions in the school who really rally behind focusing on social-emotional health of the students really makes an impact and the more champions you have, the more impactful that will be. I want to just mention a study that found that sometimes it can take up to three years before impacts on all the different forms of bullying are found. So it's important for schools not to fall prey to the next new fad, the next new program, and possibly have continuity in your programming across the years to try and really shift that change because change can be slow.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Thank you. So Tracy, you started getting at something that I was thinking as a follow-up question to this comprehensive approach, and that is if schools want to move towards more comprehensive, effective approaches to bullying, I'm thinking about how intensive the resources might need to be, or support that schools might need to have to move to a more comprehensive, effective approach. You talked about two issues that I wanted to spend a little bit more time on or perhaps add to, and
that is it can take a lot of time for change. You talked about three years to get a strong implementation. And you also talked about having a champion at the school. I'm wondering both Tracy and Amanda, what kind of support or knowledge or research do you think that schools need to put in place or need to have access to and to really move to the direction that we want them to go, given what we know now.
TRACY WAASDORP: Like I said, I think that if schools have a focus on — a priority — on social-emotional health of the students, that's going to be the first key. I think as schools are already moving in the direction of using evidence-based programs, that's going to be very important. But just merely buying the program is not enough and I think that I've seen that many times in the schools where they purchase a program and then it's used piecemeal or it's picked up half. I think that if schools would prioritize the social-emotional health for the teachers, and something that I think it was mentioned from between us prior to this, but about pre-service teachers, so there's not a lot of focus on pre-service teachers and their ability to do these sort of behaviors. But if we could start there, if we could start having pre-service teachers learn how to handle social-emotional skills and improve their social-emotional skills, I think that that would be a good start as well.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Okay. Thank you. Amanda, did you want to add anything?
AMANDA NICKERSON: I think that was a great answer. Just ditto.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Okay. Great. Glad to hear it. We're on the same page. We're starting to see some questions that are coming in that are similar to questions that we were thinking about as you all were presenting, so I'm going to start asking a couple of those questions. The first question gets at the issue of cyberbullying. One of the things that we know is that students today often interact frequently on social media. I'm wondering the extent to which you're able to talk about the work and the research that you've all been doing and how applicable it might be to cyberbullying.
TRACY WAASDORP: …Us in particular, with cyberbullying, we found that there's a very small proportion of children who only experience bullying in the cyberworld. It's often a case if their experiencing in the cyberworld, they're experiencing it outside of that world. So, programming that addresses bullying in person will also impact cyber. I think that there are different nuanced relationships that are different. I know, for example, there's probably likely more bystanders in a cyber situation than there are in a regular in-person situation. So, I'm interested to hear what Amanda thinks about how bystander research and cyberbullying would shift, but I know that if we can help children deal with this — gain the social-emotional skills, have adults around them understand the social-emotional skills, and use them themselves, that should help with their use of the cybertechnology to do this, given that overlap with the forms.
AMANDA NICKERSON: Yeah. I would agree with that, that the research is pretty clear that cyberbullying overlaps with many other forms of bullying and so at the core, some of the skills that are needed are very similar. Having said that, we do know that there are certainly nuances and some specific skills that may be needed both for cyberbullying
prevention more generally and then also for bystander intervention in the cyberworld. So teaching skills about digital citizenship and appropriate use of technology. It is a different world, people will post things that they wouldn't say in person. So, I think a lot of our work and our scenarios in terms of the bystander intervention realm, we always bring in cyberbullying examples. If we don't, the kids or the counselors will.
One of the things that I found most interesting in this is really just focusing on the noticing and interpreting it as a problem. For instance, this idea of roasting online where people will kind of throw insults back and forth to each other meant to be in jest. But when so many people are seeing it and then it may hit a sore spot for someone, when does that cross the line to being more of a bullying situation? I would say the other thing with bystander intervention online is that at least traditionally we've kind of advised that people don't get involved in posting online because that can kind of spiral a situation and particularly if the motive of the person engaging in the cyberbullying is more to they're flaming or trolling or really trying to instigate and get a response that sometimes intervening to do something just escalates it. I think that we don't know all the answers yet about how that bystander intervention may look different in the cyberworld, but I definitely think that there are some differences in that in terms of how public that sort of intervention is and still kind of going back to some of that need for face-to-face if possible.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Great, thank you so much. And this is another question for both of you, but also it gets on a few that were here from a number of viewers submitting the questions. And this gets at the issue of stakeholders or other folks who may play a role in response to bullying prevention. We know that bullying often occurs outside the classroom like in the cyberbullying situation or places where there are less adult supervision. So, I'm wondering beyond students and teachers as stakeholders and responders to bullying prevention, are there ways that we can think about engaging parents or perhaps others in doing this work? And have you all done any research on either with the classroom checkup or with the bystander training that may allow us to give us advice to some of these other stakeholders who might be interested in preventing or responding to bullying?
AMANDA NICKERSON: Yeah, I mean, we haven't done any explicit research on parent involvement in terms of bystander intervention. We have certainly done research on parenting practices and parental responses to bullying and coping strategies. I think that a very real issue that we faced in our work, and I know we're not alone with other schools, is the best way to get that information to parents. I've done a lot of parent sessions and things like that where they're fairly, poorly attended and the parents that come are either those that really probably could've been doing the training themselves or their kids have been victimized and they really are kind of looking for more individualized help with that. So I don't mean to be negative about it at all and we certainly know from our meta-analyses that parent involvement is critical, but doing that on the preventive end, I think is pretty challenging and that a lot of it has, kind of, come down to trying to communicate this information to parents either through letting them know what's happening with their child or through newsletters or online or things like that.
TRACY WAASDORP: And I know, for our work, we are actually starting to ramp up our focus on that. We have a post-op currently that's looking at parents' involvement with programming, because I've seen in my own experience as well as in experiences in the schools that when you have the involved parents that can really make a difference in terms of changing that climate outside of the school. I just read recently the text messaging research that's been doing for students. And I think that we need to start thinking outside the box about ways to reach parents. I know, for me, as a busy parent, reading a quick text message would be a lot easier than the 25 emails I get a minute. So there could be other avenues that we could use technology to improve parents, even understanding what their children are learning in the school about SEL. I think I don't even get a lot of information about that, unless it's 7:00 p.m. on a Tuesday night, I think that it would be nice to get it throughout my child's experience to learn about what they're learning for social-emotional, and then allow me to implement that at home as well.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Thank you. A question from one of our audience members relates to the issue of bullying prevention and intervention and issues related to school climate and culture. I'm wondering if either of you can speak to this issue of impacts of the work that you've done or that you know from other researchers on how bullying intervention and bullying prevention efforts may help address issues related to school climate and culture.
AMANDA NICKERSON: I know we've both done work in this space and school climate, we know, is so important, almost goes hand in hand with some of these efforts. We know both that bullying prevention programs can help to improve the school climate and that a more positive school climate is associated with reduced bullying and victimization.
We did a study recently, and it wasn't an intervention study. I should be clear about this, but we were looking at student perceptions of their teachers' use of social-emotional learning techniques, and found that the more the students perceive that their teachers were using this technique that related to reduced bullying overall in the schools and also personal victimization. But that was mediated or happening through their own social-emotional learning skills. In another study that we've done that's actually looking at a child sexual abuse prevention using the Second Step Child Protection Unit, we found that teacher outcomes in terms of increased competence use in this area were mediated through their perceptions of school climate. It was when those teachers that got the intervention, in turn, had more positive perceptions of the school climate which then it kind of produced the positive outcomes for them. I think we have more and more evidence of just how important school climate is both in terms of an outcome and really a correlate of reduced bullying victimization and other problems in school.
TRACY WAASDORP: I just want to add something that even someone had mentioned in the Q&A chat, which is the principal in the schools. It puts a lot of pressure on them. But we have found that in order for any of this stuff to get off the ground, at all, if you have a principal who's on board and really promoting this shift in culture, this shift in climate, and this importance of social-emotional health, you can start seeing change. But without that person being on board it is very difficult. It is more difficult to get the ball rolling and to get
teachers to even have the time to focus on it. So I would say if you're going to try to even start to impact climate I think there's a really important role of the principal in all of that.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Thank you. I'm looking at some of the questions that we've got looking at the bystander programming and defenders, and I think this is a question trying to get at, as an individual in the school, how would one know in a particular situation that the stepping in, the bystander defending behavior is effective? I think I'm understanding this question correctly and they're wondering if the defending behavior, the bystanding behavior is effective. Could one readily see a shift in the balance of power between this bullying perpetrator and the bullying victim? Is that something that you've looked at, Amanda?
AMANDA NICKERSON: That sounds like a little bit more of the work that our colleagues in Canada have done which is becoming a bit dated now but they actually did observational studies of looking at this bystander intervention and then the immediate response. So did that stop the bullying? We unfortunately have not been doing that work. Although bullying is common, it's a relatively low base rate behavior so doing that kind of observational study would be quite laborious but important.
But from the perspective of a school staff member, a teacher who may be observing, then yes, I think you can look at how those bystanders are responding and what the reaction is. There's supposedly immediate reaction. "Does it stop it in the moment? But what we're really more concerned with is long-term. Does that sort of change the behavior, change the dynamic that's happening? Certainly checking in with the target, checking in with the peer group to see and monitor whether or not there has been change is another alternative to just observing and seeing how that changes in the moment.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Thank you. I have another question that we've got. And it really I think also gets at this issue of climate and culture in the school and who's doing the bullying at school. Much of what we've talked about this afternoon relates the students engaging in bullying behavior or negative behavior. But I'm wondering if you're able to speak to how schools might address bullying when it's others at the school who might be engaging in bullying or bullying-like behavior, or either of the approaches that you all presented this afternoon effective at addressing others besides students who might be doing things that we don't want them to be doing at school that are bullying-like.
AMANDA NICKERSON: Tracy, do you want to take that one?
TRACY WAASDORP: Yeah. I'm just thinking of how to frame it because I feel like, wow, we have not tested that. I think that if we are so focused on teaching our children social-emotional skills, realizing that this is a newish phenomenon that none of us really received. I think it would be helpful for teachers to get the same training on how to navigate their own stress and how to improve their own classroom management so these behaviors don't occur, so they're not likely to be reactful towards students. And I know in the book that Dr. Bradshaw and I just wrote, part of it is about questioning your own biases as a teacher and a staff member, and how these things can impact your belief in
how you're going to intervene if you yourself was a victim, if you yourself was a perpetrator, how that's going to impact how you're going to perceive bullying in your classroom. I think that kind of questioning and reflection is necessary, and I think if we could get some evidence-based PDs out there that help teachers to do this, and help school staff — even staff members that are on the playground or on the recess and in school busses — to also be trained in these behaviors, they'll learn how to handle the stress. They'll learn how to handle conflict in a way that we're trying to train our children, but we have not been testing that yet.
AMANDA NICKERSON: I would say that just anecdotally when I do professional development around these topics, I would say one of the most frequent questions that I get after I give the definition of bullying — because we use the CDC definition that stopbullying.gov uses as well that talks about bullying being something that takes place between peers and in childhood and adolescence — but I always get questions about can there be bullying in adulthood and more and more people are focusing on the behavior of teachers, administrators, other public figures, and in our society and, what's being modeled. A couple of approaches, I think, like Tracy said, there's starting to be more work in recognizing, sort of, teachers' stress and wellness and coping on the one hand, so how they're coping with things and how they are modeling behavior. But from another perspective, that really also becomes a human resource issue if a teacher is either the victim of that or certainly the perpetrator towards students then that's not how they should be behaving as a professional within their role.
In my experience, human resources is really the way to go and intervene with those kinds of issues with teachers. Of course we want to be preventive and I'm hopeful that a lot of this professional development work and even looking at the social-emotional competencies and stress management of teachers will start to have an effect as well but when it comes down to it, that's behavior that really needs to have some consequences behind it as well. I will also just add that some of the legislation, at least in New York state, also protects students under that law, our Dignity for All Students Act against bullying, harassment, and intimidation both from peers as well as from school staff members.
TRACY WAASDORP: I just want to put out there that there is some work about anonymous reporting and I think that in this instance when it could be a teacher and they might have power over you, or it's your boss, there should be an avenue to which you feel safe reporting it. Whether it be anonymous or privately, I think that schools should have that capability open for those students to be able to report bullying and bullying by teachers or other peers anonymously.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Great. Thank you. Both of you have shared in your work some information on at least preliminary outcomes that you've seen over short periods of time. Amanda, for example, I think you talked about kind of the next school year. We got a question that is focused on potential long-term impacts of the work. They're wondering if, for example, with the bystander research, is there any evidence that you're aware about it from your work or the works that others have used to support that students who are
bystanders may become adults who are bystanders. Is that something that we can answer now or is that a research question that we might have to consider in the future?
AMANDA NICKERSON: You know, that's a great question. I would say that from what I know, that's something that would have to be answered in the future. There's definitely people that have been doing some great work on long-term outcomes for perpetrators and most of the work has been done on victims or targets, but then also on perpetrators. But looking at those different participant roles and how that translates into adulthood outcomes and behaviors, I am not aware of any of that work at this time, but sounds exciting and something I'd like to certainly look at in the longer term.
TRACY WAASDORP: Yeah, I agree with her answer. I think while there is a little bit of research, longitudinally, on bullying, I think getting funding for such research is often difficult. Following people over time is difficult, so all of these things are impediments to that, so then you often get retrospective research, which is not inherently bad, it's just not the same as following people across time. But I'm hoping that with the focus in the public health concern for bullying and related behaviors, we do get some more longitudinal data on this.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Great. Thank you. We've got a number of questions that get at the issue of what populations of students these two programs may be effective with or what they've been tested on, sort of wondering about for both the classroom check-up and for the bystander intervention. Can you speak to the extent to which they might work with urban or if it's rural population, public schools, special needs, kids of different ages? Are there things that you have learned in these two programs or perhaps generally about bullying prevention or intervention that we might need to think differently, to intervene differently with those populations or are there some universal things that we can say about these particular interventions that may be effective regardless of who is the recipient of the services?
TRACY WAASDORP: Our research for the BCC was done in urban and urban fringe schools. So if that answers that question directly. But indirectly, I know a lot of my other work done at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia focuses on urban schools as well. Programs that are tailored to their specific needs, we have found great success with that and a lot of focus on reactive aggression and relational aggression within these environments has proven to be very effective. We've also found that in our environment, in particular, and possibly outside, there's a strong focus on perpetrators for us and they are often thought of as having poor social skills or no social skills. The truth is that we found that ours do have, in fact, a lot of leadership capabilities. So we couldn't just stamp out the perpetrators' behaviors without giving them another way to use that, quote, unquote, "skill" that they have.
We’ve found that replacing their leadership for positive leadership has been — and this has also been found in Canada. There was some research with some colleagues up there. They found the same thing that by improving pro-social leadership. I think that that might be the universal and that if we can replace these negative behaviors for people that
are perpetrators with something positive and positive leadership, that might be one route. But in terms of specific focus, I think that we have found that our schools know what issues they need to be addressed and I think that many of the programs do address the overarching same issues and I think that the adaptations that occur have been found to be helpful for programming effectiveness.
AMANDA NICKERSON: Yeah, and I would just add for bystander intervention, although we're seeing effects across the grade levels — third, sixth, and ninth grade — that the ninth graders, which may not be surprising, actually have higher skills in this area to start with. So they also end with higher skills, which is a little bit interesting, because some of the previous work has actually found that younger students are more likely to defend. But as I mentioned from the meta-analytic findings, when we go to do interventions, they seem to be more effective at the high school level. I've started thinking about at the elementary and early middle school level that focusing on some of the more foundational social-emotional skills may be within a positive behavioral intervention and support framework may be the way to go. Whereas when we get more into adolescence, teaching more specific skills about what to do when you encounter certain situations.
A lot of the bystander intervention work has actually been applied in colleges and universities in training students to identify and prevent sexual assault. So what are the risky situations at the college and university level? When I work with adolescents, I'll often talk to them about this may be something that you're exposed to if you go on to a college and university setting as well. This is the worst way to say it and I don't say it to them, but like a more adult sort of intervention, if you will.
Most of our work has been done thus far in suburban and rural settings. But I will say that similar to what Tracy was alluding to, I think one of the challenges that we've run into — I would say particularly in our rural settings but also when I've done just more the supplied work rather than the actual research studies in urban schools — is the responses that people want to use in bullying situations are often aggressive. I'll often hear from kids, "Well, my parents told me this as well that if this is happening to me or I see this happening to a peer, then the best way to approach it is to be physically aggressive or else. These other strategies aren’t going to work." So I will say that I think that continues to be fairly prevalent at least in the work that we've done with youth and something that is a challenge to counter but particularly, perhaps in our more urban and rural settings.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Thank you. Okay. I have a question here that relates to the bystander training and I'm trying to make sure that I understand it. I think that this person is asking a question also reflecting on the BCCU and looking at the coaching that came there. This question is asking about the extent in which there is coaching support to the students who receive the bystander intervention training. I think it's trying to get at this question of how to help students apply what they might be learning. So I'm wondering if, Amanda, can you speak a little bit more in-depth about what the training might look like and how students might learn to apply that training?
AMANDA NICKERSON: The training is currently about a five-hour training. With the NIJ grant, again, these peer brokers or lighthouse students, as they call them as well, also meet twice a month as a group and with a counselor and directly apply these skills to situations and how are we going to get this information out to others, and have you used these skills. As I mentioned, they also use a more curricular approach to that as well, which also emphasizes the role of the bystander but looks at it also more cohesively for what to do if you're a victim.
I do think that a future direction for us, and I'm sure this is going to come out with our development and innovation grant because we know that sort of a one-time training is only going to be so helpful. We give coaching in the role-plays certainly during the training, but the more that that can be integrated throughout the daily experience and with check-ins and seeing how it's been applied to situations and having students problem-solve that and practice that, we know that that would lead to the most effective outcome. I think that that needs to be taken into account more.
TRACY WAASDORP: Sounds like maybe some TeachLivE training for them would help.
AMANDA NICKERSON: Yes. We actually use TeachLivE training. We don't have it anymore, but I used it with my graduate students here. TRACY WAASDORP: It was adapted for that purpose. AMANDA NICKERSON: I think it would be a great way to use that simulated reality with students.
TRACY WAASDORP: Yeah.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Great. So more crossover than perhaps we thought at the outset. We've gotten a number of questions related to definitions of bullying or understanding bullying or recognizing bullying, and I'm wondering if you can speak to the issue of how important you think it is for students and teachers and others to recognize something explicitly as bullying? Or is it just enough to recognize something as inappropriate behavior, something that we don't want folks to engage in?
TRACY WAASDORP: Well, I can speak for our intervention. I think I mentioned this. We actually train our teachers to address all problems before they escalate. Because in order for it to become bullying, it's repeated. So the key is to stop it before it's repeated. Then you have to be attuned to everything, if you will. But I think the key thing is to understand when there's conflict and how children are handling conflict, and I think that we all deal with conflict, and we have to learn how to deal with conflict, and that is an appropriate part of childhood. I think that that fine line between when it is not appropriate anymore needs to be clear and I think that that's where you see the children who cannot come up with a solution to fix the problem. That's not necessarily the full definition of bullying, but that power differential is going to be a key piece to look out for.
AMANDA NICKERSON: Yeah, I agree. It is important that we understand and recognize bullying as a distinct form of aggressive behavior versus a conflict or something else. We
as researchers spend a lot of time talking about the definition, debating about the definition. Actually, I've said this before, I think we're sometimes doing a disservice, though, to teachers in schools and parents by focusing too much on the repetition and even on the imbalance of power, because as Tracy said, we want to stop it before it would escalate into that.
I'll often hear from parents that they've contacted schools and the schools will say, "Well, that's not bullying because bullying needs to be repeated." And I say to the schools, "Okay, I understand that you know that definition and that's wonderful, but think about how that sounds to a parent. To them, that sounds very dismissive. So, a better approach would be “Tell me what's happening and how we can problem-solve to work on that." So then it does become more, "How do we work on this relationship? How can we partner and problem-solve?" versus "When does it cross the line into, 'This is bullying. We have to report. We have to do our investigation,'" which often, unfortunately, leads to a little bit more of a purely disciplinary or punitive response in my experience. Although it is important that people understand bullying and how it is distinct. If we're boxing everything up so neatly into, “Well, this is something that we pay attention to, and this is not,” then I think we're really missing the boat and perhaps not contributing to that positive school climate that's so important that we want.
TRACY WAASDORP: I've also noticed the bit of an exhaustion with the term, "Everyone's bullying me, it's always bullying." I think people start shutting us out.
AMANDA NICKERSON: Yeah.
TRACY WAASDORP: I've noticed that too, where they're just sick of hearing the term and that's unfortunate because it's mean behavior, whatever you want to call it, in terms of the school needs to stop that kind of behavior.
AMANDA NICKERSON: Yeah.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Thank you, both of you. I think we've had a lot of questions coming in this afternoon. I think we've tackled themes of pretty much all of the questions that have come in. I’d like to give each of you sort of a moment to kind of reflect on our conversation today and think is there a message that you may perhaps want to reemphasize or close out with this afternoon about your work to address bullying or what is the most important takeaway that schools might think to apply? Amanda or Tracy, whoever might want to start first, what--something you might want to emphasize or the most important takeaway message for folks this afternoon?
TRACY WAASDORP: Gosh. To summarize all of that, for me, it's really just that focus on this behavior being important and for all people, all adults in particular, to really focus on their own behavior, as well as how they have a strong influence on what's going on around them, not just teaching them. I know that there's a lot on their shoulders. Even as a parent, I know there's a lot on my shoulders, and I need to make that a priority, how my child acts.
I think that if nothing else is taken away, it's that this problem is important and it's important for all of us.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Thank you.
AMANDA NICKERSON: Yeah. I would say that a theme that has run across for me in both of the presentations and that I'm also looking at some of these great comments from participants is that taking this as an ongoing coaching and teaching approach for everyone involved — for the teachers, for the bystanders, for the perpetrators, the targets, and we've talked some about the parents, too — I think really recognizes this is an important issue. It's not an easy issue. If it were an easy issue to identify and do something about, then we would have already done it and we wouldn't be here today. I'm seeing a lot of comments that are talking more about the coaching and the helping teachers with self-care. SEL counselors having more of that coaching approach at every level, and I think that's where we have a lot of promise. Again, consequences and discipline are important and needed in some respects, but this is not an issue that we're going to just kind of punish our way out of, so that continual attention to the relationship and to the skills for all involved is just critical.
TRACY WAASDORP: Yeah, I definitely am glad you said that. I think that the coaching aspect of both of our interventions has been really key and I know that we've adapted our programs here and talk to be coaching as well because we've realized that merely giving them the box to do is not enough, and so I agree, I think that that's really key.
MARY POULIN CARLTON: Great. Thank you, both of you. My understanding and thinking about how to apply what you all have learned from your bullying prevention and intervention studies has certainly grown this afternoon. I'm thinking about how what you've learned is really fitting in our larger portfolio of research and looking at bullying, so we have a number of other bullying studies at NIJ where we're trying to understand what is most effective, what are the best practices, how can this be applied in a school setting, and how is that work helpful, not just that preventing or reducing bullying at a school, but understanding some of these bigger invocations that this work may have on school climate, on school culture, and ensuring that our schools are a safe place to be, a place that students want to be for learning.
The contributions that this bullying prevention and intervention work can play to improving school safety, I think is really important work, and so I really appreciate your conversations and your contributions to this research and helping to think about how schools can apply this work and perhaps shift what they're doing a little bit to do things a little bit differently in a way that might be more successful for their school setting. I thank both of you for participating. The presentations this afternoon have been recorded, and if you have colleagues in your offices or others that you come into contact with that want to access this afternoon's webinar, it should be available in a couple of weeks on the NIJ website. So I encourage you to come back and look for that shortly, and also to continue to be on the lookout for subsequent information that comes out from NIJ about what we're learning
about to prevent and reduce bullying, and about other school safety issues. So, thank you, both of you, and to everyone on the phone. AMANDA NICKERSON: Thank you. TRACY WAASDORP: Thank you.
Opinions or points of view expressed in these recordings represent those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any commercial products and manufacturers discussed in these recordings are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.
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