Preventing bullying in schools

Bullying can seem like a teacher’s greatest challenge, but it isn’t their challenge alone. The whole school community plays a role in building an inclusive environment where all students feel safe.

Students sit at table with workbooks concentrating

According to a campaign by the Australian Government, Bullying. No Way!, a whole-school approach is a great way to tackle and prevent bullying. Encouraging the involvement of students, families and staff can foster an environment that promotes wellbeing and the community spirit required to tackle bullying and prevent it happening in Australian schools.

What is a ‘whole-school’ approach?

A whole-school approach to bullying prevention involves every member of the school community. From staff and teachers, to students, parents and extended family members, everyone has a role to play in preventing bullying. By equipping everyone with the skills and framework to identify and manage bullying behaviour, schools can create a supportive and positive environment where bullying has no place.

Why is a whole-school approach important?

A whole-school approach recognises that the effects of bullying extend beyond the people directly involved. When not actively stamped out, bullying behaviour becomes part of the culture of a school and can have a lasting negative impact on the wider community.

Everyone plays a part in the culture of a school community, so everyone is responsible for ensuring that this culture is supportive, positive and doesn’t accept bullying. By working as a whole school community, it’s possible to ensure that everyone knows what is expected of them and feels invested in the culture of the school. Building a strong sense of community among all members of the school creates an atmosphere of inclusion and acceptance where everyone can feel supported and positive about their role.

How can we implement a whole-school approach?

Bullying is a complex issue, requiring strategies specific to your school’s situation and long-term goals. There are practical steps you can take to improve your classroom environment so that every student feels welcomed and included.

1. Have clear policies that are accessible and understood by the whole school community

Most schools will have a bullying policy built into their school rules and procedures. It's important that these rules and procedures are available to students, families and staff at all times. You could have a copy on your school website that can be easily referred to and visually display rules and expectations in your classroom. It’s important that everyone sees the bullying policy not as a token rubber stamp, but as a framework to be used daily to guide interventions and prevention strategies.

2. Build teachers’ confidence in dealing with bullying incidents

To effectively intervene in, and ultimately prevent, incidents of bullying, teachers need opportunities to practice their intervention skills and to be exposed to positive prevention messages. Sharing best practice, and implementing procedures for responding safely to a bullying situation, increases teachers’ awareness of, and confidence in dealing with, bullying incidents in the classroom in a positive way.

3. Build a positive school environment

It can seem like an overwhelming challenge to build a positive school environment. Every individual within every part of the school has an important role to play in creating a positive school environment. Model positive behaviours in your dealings with staff and students, and encourage conversations about what a positive school environment looks like. Some examples that might work are:

  • Build meaningful relationships with the parents and families of your students and welcome their input and advice.

  • Celebrate the achievements of all your students – whether their success relates to their academic or sporting performance or interpersonal relationships.

  • Set boundaries that allow anyone who enters your classroom to understand what is expected of them, and why.

  • Create traditions or rituals that build healthy relationships among your students and with you. This could be as simple as encouraging all students to greet each other at the start of each lesson, and taking a minute for a mindfulness or gratitude exercise to start the class off with positive intentions.

4. Role model respectful communication

Teachers can be fantastic role models for positive communication. Take some time to think about what kind of communicator you are and what kind of behaviour you wish to exhibit for your students. Build a framework for yourself that clearly outlines what’s important to you, and follow this in your interactions in the classroom and with other staff.

5. Communicate with the school community

You don’t have to try and do this all on your own. Preventing bullying and minimising its negative effects is the responsibility of every member of your school community. Discuss your concerns and plans with your colleagues, invite parents into your classroom and welcome their input, and open up lines of communication with your students. Talking about bullying is a great way to move towards preventing it and ending the secrecy and stigma that often accompanies it.

What can I do now?