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Anti-Bullying Intervention for Teachers Shows Positive, Short-Term Outcomes

The Bullying Classroom Check-Up — an integrated coaching and mixed-reality simulator strategy — has potential for coaching teachers to detect and identify bullying in the classroom, but the effects were not sustained by the end of the second school year.
Date Published
November 13, 2020

Bullying is a common form of aggression experienced by school-aged children; it negatively impacts the victim as well as the person convicted of the crime, bystanders, and the overall school environment.[1] Because bullying often happens in the classroom, teachers are integral to bullying detection and prevention. However, research shows that teachers often have difficulty detecting and responding to this behavior.[2]

With funding from the National Institute of Justice, researchers from the University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins University, and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia developed and tested an integrated coaching and mixed-reality simulation strategy for teachers in urban Maryland middle schools called the Bullying Classroom Check-Up.[3] This anti-bullying strategy is uncommon in that it focuses on developing skills in teachers, not students.

Data from the school year during program implementation showed that teachers who used the Bullying Classroom Check-Up strategy were better at detecting and responding to bullying, but were not better at preventing bullying behavior compared to teachers who did not use the strategy. Program impact results were not sustained in the year following implementation.

The Bullying Classroom Check-Up Strategy

The Bullying Classroom Check-Up strategy incorporates two previously tested coaching interventions into a single, personalized bullying-prevention strategy for teachers:

  • Classroom Check-Up is a staged problem-solving process that begins with teachers and coaches conducting classroom observations of student behaviors. Next, a teacher works with a coach to identify two classroom improvement goals and design an implementation plan for achieving these goals.[4] For the Bullying Classroom Check-Up, the original Classroom Check-Up program was adapted to focus on bullying behaviors.
  • TeachLivE is a mixed-reality training simulator in which teachers can practice detecting, responding to, and preventing bullying behavior with simulated student avatars that react in real time.[5] Teachers using the Bullying Classroom Check-Up strategy were offered three TeachLivE sessions in the first year and one session in the second year of the study.

In addition, the coaches gave teachers a set of six tip sheets called Bullying Bulletins that reinforced the following themes: overview of bullying, detection of bullying, response to bullying, prevention of bullying, and starting the year off right. Altogether, teachers participating in the Bullying Classroom Check-Up strategy received four hours of training over four months.

Evaluation of the Strategy

The researchers used seven focus groups — three groups of teachers and four groups of students — to develop the Bullying Classroom Check-Up strategy and then pilot tested it with six teachers in one school. Feedback from the pilot study was used to further refine the intervention.

Following the pilot test, researchers conducted a small-scale randomized controlled trial to evaluate the Bullying Classroom Check-Up strategy’s efficacy; the trial included 78 teachers from five urban middle schools in Maryland during the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years. Half of the teachers were randomly assigned to the Bullying Classroom Check-Up and the other half were randomly assigned to the comparison group and did not receive the intervention.

All teachers self-reported on the prevalence of bullying in their classroom and how they responded to the behavior. The self-reported data were considered along with bullying behavior data collected by trained classroom observers. The researchers employed three coaches to conduct the Classroom Check-Up and TeachLivE sessions with the coached group of teachers.

Did the Strategy Work?

The study showed that by the end of the first school year of the intervention, coached teachers who used the Bullying Classroom Check-Up strategy were more likely to report that they could identify and respond to bullying behaviors compared to teachers who were not coached with the Bullying Classroom Check-Up. Teacher responses to bullying behaviors included:

  • Referring to a guidance counselor.
  • Intervening with the bully or victim.
  • Talking with other school staff or administrators.
  • Talking with the bully or victim’s parent.[6]

Classroom observer data from the end of the first year of the study also showed teachers coached with the Bullying Classroom Check-Up were better at detecting bullying in their classrooms, but were not better at preventing bullying behavior compared to teachers who were not coached with the Bullying Classroom Check-Up.

Data collected during the second year of the study indicated that the Bullying Classroom Check-Up’s impact was not sustained. In response, the researchers are developing more Bullying Classroom Check-Up programming and are considering other ways to increase the strategy’s impact and sustainability through planned activities, like booster sessions, which could be incorporated into a larger-scale efficacy trial.


About This Article

The research described in this article was funded by NIJ grant 2015-CK-BX-0008, awarded to the University of Virginia. This article is based on the grantee final report “Coaching Teachers in Detection and Intervention Related to Bullying” (2019), by Catherine Bradshaw, Elise Pas, and Tracy Waasdorp.

Date Published: November 13, 2020