When it comes to empowering bystanders, simply telling students to “tell an adult” is not enough. They need ideas on how to handle a variety of situations. Sometimes bystanders don’t come forward because they don’t have the confidence that adults will respond. In some environments, kids feel like reporting the problem will only make it worse rather than better.
Therefore at school, a good anti-bullying policy must be in place before bystanders can be expected to report a bullying situation. If your school doesn’t have an anti-bullying policy, then develop one for your classroom. It’s important for all kids to know that bullying behavior is unacceptable. Once you have a policy in place, here are some ways to empower bystanders in your classroom.
Send the message that bullying is a serious matter and will not be tolerated.
Be sure everyone is aware of the specific disciplinary measures for bullying.
Provide kids with the names of teachers and staff that they can talk to about the bullying they witness in case you are not available.
Have your class perform a skit involving bullying. This activity will help them learn to recognize bullying and see some positive ways to respond.
Start a conversation after the skit to allow kids to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas.
Help students find ways to reach out to targets of bullying and isolated peers. Sometimes having just one friend can keep a target from feeling alone.
Assure students that reporting bullying is safe and that their names will be protected.
Give them the option of speaking about the bullying in general terms without mentioning names. For example, when they report bullying it might be easier to make general statements like, “You might want to watch what happens in the main hall after school.”
Be approachable when it comes to bullying. Kids tend to form strong relationships with their teachers. As a result, you are the person they will feel most comfortable talking with. Going to the principal or a counselor may feel too extreme when they only witness the bullying and don’t actually experience it.
Be available and open to conversations about bullying and don’t confuse “reporting” with “tattling.”
Watch your tone and your attitude when a child reports bullying. Avoid being condescending or acting annoyed. You want kids to have confidence that you will handle the situation.
Use encouraging statements when a bystander reports bullying. Say something like, “Thanks for telling me. It took a lot of courage to talk to me about this. I will make sure the situation is addressed.”
Respond to bullying quickly and consistently when it is reported. Never ignore bullying and don’t expect kids to “work it out.”
Keep the bystander’s name out of the discussion when talking with the bully. You need to protect your bystanders from possible retaliation by the bully. If you don’t protect your bystanders, no one will feel safe in reporting bullying behavior.