21 Mar Anatomy of School Bullying

March 21, 2017

By: Stephen Merrill
Source: Edutopia

Hallways and stairwells are bullying hot spots, according to a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). In the 2014–15 academic year, students between the ages of 12 and 18 reported nearly twice as many bullying incidents in transitional areas between classes—where they spend a fraction of their time—as in other school areas like cafeterias or playgrounds.

About 5 percent of students faced overtly physical forms of bullying, reporting that they had been “pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on.” Students reported higher levels of verbal and relational bullying, disclosing that they have been “made fun of, called names, or insulted” (13 percent) or were the “subject of rumors” (12 percent). The numbers suggest that digital bullying, which seemed to herald a dangerous new era of harassment when it first appeared, has not developed as predicted. While bullied girls reported online harassment (15.9 percent) at more than twice the rate boys did, they still encountered far more harassment in school environments than digital ones. Only 6.1 percent of bullied boys reported online incidents.

But it’s the location data that jumps off the page of the report. While the playground is typically considered the epicenter of bullying, it’s the more transitional spaces—the fast-moving, highly social hallways and stairwells—that dominate the landscape of student harassment. Almost 42 percent of students who were bullied reported incidents in hallways or stairwells, a number that was similar for both boys (41.8 percent) and girls (41.6 percent). A much smaller percentage of bullied students reported incidents outside on school grounds (19.3 percent), in a bathroom or locker room (9.4 percent), in the school cafeteria (22.2 percent), or on a school bus (10 percent).

Discouragingly, almost 34 percent of bullied students reported incidents in the classroom, a fact that deserves deeper consideration. As a former teacher, I think back to the transitional moments within a class, as students arrived, settled in, transitioned between activities, and then exited. Those situations are chaotic and difficult to manage well—and feel like a possible explanation for this unexpected finding.

Modern thinking on bullying acknowledges the complexity of the problem, and has shifted responsibility away from teachers and administrators, emphasizing instead the positive effects of broader networks and school-wide cultural transformations. According to Edutopia contributor Anne O’Brien, it’s critical to develop a clear code of conduct, to empower “teachers and especially students to help enforce it,” and to socialize the message through activities like all-school assemblies and “art contests highlighting school values.” And a broader look at what Edutopia contributors have written on the topic over the course of years reveals a clear theme: the importance of establishing a web of allies, including administrators, students, teachers, parents, and even unaffiliated citizens. This more holistic, school-and-environs approach is best summed up in our recent blog post “Successful Community Efforts to Prevent Bullying.” It takes a village.

Whatever model of bullying prevention a school adopts—however diverse the coalition summoned to take a stand against bullying—it makes sense to be mindful that hallways and stairwells, taken together, are nearly twice as likely to be the source of the problem as the cafeteria, playground, or buses and bathrooms. Supervision and vigilance in those fluid spaces between classes is likely to benefit vulnerable students disproportionately.

The full report—which, I should warn you, begins with a very detailed description of the statistical models and assumptions used—can be found here. To see critical resources on bullying prevention, take a look at our Bullying Prevention topic page or visit our resource roundup.

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