Stepping Up and Stepping In to Prevent Bullying

October is Anti-Bullying Month, and I invited NEA member Rob Lundien, a school counselor at Park Hill South High School in Riverside, MO, to talk about bullying. Rob is active with the American School Counselors Association and the Missouri Association for College Admissions Counselors.

At the high school where I work, I’ve counseled students on both sides of the bullying equation: those who have been teased, ostracized, cyberbullied, and more, and also the students doing the bullying. In most cases, we can address the issues.

An important part of a counselor’s role is to create a safe environment where bullied students can be heard. Listening to these students allows us to better determine their social and emotional needs. We also work closely with students who are accused of bullying. This is important for several reasons. First, we want bullies to understand the impact that their actions and words have on others. Second, we want to ensure that bullies do not simply shift their abusive behaviors from one student to the next.

October is Anti-Bullying Month. As a teacher and counselor for the past 22 years, I believe this month is a great opportunity for educators to recommit to the crusade against bullying. Whatever our role, we must remind students that we are their allies and advocates.

We are here to protect them and keep them safe. We know that students with health, speech, or language impairments, learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and emotional and behavior disorders are especially susceptible to bullying. Around the nation, many schools are also seeing an increase in bullying directed at LGBTQ students, students of color, and immigrant students.

And contrary to what many of us may think, the impact of bullying persists even after school years are over. A study a few years ago found that people who were bullied as students are more likely to have anxiety disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts as adults.

No matter what our job titles are in the schools, we can pay closer attention to how students are interacting with each other. If we see something, we must do something, and NEA offers a wealth of resources to help. We must also teach and encourage our students who witness bullying behaviors, the bystanders, to take an active role in intervening and helping to stop these situations.

Many states have passed anti-bullying laws or created guidelines for districts. Missouri passed an anti-bullying law in 2016. But according to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), anti-bullying programs should include specific protections based on race, gender, ethnicity, actual or perceived sexual orientation, and gender identity/expression. Few anti-bullying policies combine all of these. Progress is being made to curtail bullying in school, but there’s always room for improvement.

The truth is, there is a lot of bullying going on in the “real world” outside of our schools. Just look at your Twitter feed, check Facebook, or tune in to the news. We’re hearing a lot of name-calling, insults, disparagement, and belittling. Students hear and see it, too.

They often take their cues about what is permissible from watching what adults get away with. Whether we are using our words to denigrate or uplift, students are listening closely. That is why hurtful, damaging words from people in positions of power, trust, and authority—our leaders—matter so much.

Even though I haven’t had any students specifically blame their bullying behaviors on a political leader or related authority figure, the reality is that we are all soaking up the discourse around us. It seeps into our everyday lives, and I believe it has some effect on how students treat each other.

Educators are of course key people in fostering a positive school climate and dealing with bullying, whatever form it takes. That’s why we work so hard to build relationships and connect with each of our students – we want to understand their worries and concerns. Whatever insights we gain allow us to help them through a crisis, as well as discover their passions and unlock their potential.

But I believe that everyone has a responsibility that’s just as important: to monitor our own words and actions.

What are we saying to and about each other? How do we behave when a driver cuts us off and then gives us a rude hand gesture? What’s our reaction to the person at the store who brings a cartload of groceries to the 14-items-or-less lane, inconveniencing everybody else? Are we yelling or cursing at the screen when someone on the opposite end of the political spectrum, whose opinions we disagree with, starts talking?

Is the bullying behavior we’re hearing and seeing in our everyday lives causing some of us to react with bully-like behaviors?

Since it is Anti-Bullying Month, I’m going to ask myself questions like that, and I challenge everyone to do the same. Let’s take a look at ourselves in the mirror, and let’s all pledge to be kind to one another and “Make America Nice Again.”


10 Responses to “Stepping Up and Stepping In to Prevent Bullying”

  1. Jonathan Smith

    An excellent commentary until Ms. Garcia had to interject politics:

    “Even though I haven’t had any students specifically blame their bullying behaviors on a political leader or related authority figure, the reality is that we are all soaking up the discourse around us. It seeps into our everyday lives, and I believe it has some effect on how students treat each other.”

    I wonder which “political leader or related authority figure” she has in mind?

    • Jonathan Smith

      Incidentally, further along in the article, you find a hint as to who this “political” leader actually is:

      Let’s take a look at ourselves in the mirror, and let’s all pledge to be kind to one another and “Make America Nice Again.”

      • Tyler Coleman

        Brilliant detective work.
        Being cognizant of toxic political colloquy hardly erodes at the author’s point; if anything, it enhances our need to be aware of the discourse that students observe and mirror. You can take it personally, or you can model appropriate personal conduct for your students to replicate.

    • Carol

      The speaker in the article is Rob Lundien as mentioned in the preface. Politics was listed as one of many influences that we all face, and no specific persons were referenced or attacked. Mentioning the fact that “name-calling, insults, disparagement, and belittling” are happening in our world is to increase awareness and I see this happening on all sides of every spectrum, not just politics. I think the challenge to evaluate our own reactions is worthy of note, and I thought of some classroom situations that happened today which I could have handled differently to discourage bullying in the future. This evaluation will make be better in the future.

    • Maureen

      As for “injecting politics”, everything is political! The food we eat, the way we get back and forth to work and such, the air we breathe, the health and security of our communities. And yeah, we have a president that does not care about decorum or conventions related to the office and so, if the show fits.

  2. anthony

    So what…what’s more sad is that we can’t even call out this social climate for what it is, which is hateful, divisive and “bully-like”… “interjecting politics”? Really? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that we’ve never been so divided as a nation, regardless of which side of the isle you’re sitting on!

  3. Janet Smith

    I absolutely agree that the way parents and family members response verbally and action-wise toward political statements, their child’s school, teacher, or coach, has a huge impact on their child. A child first and most important teacher is their parent(s) or guardian. We influence them and their opinions and choices throughout their lives. We need to be careful and let our children and students form their own opinions as they grown up in today’s crazy society, and not pass judgement so easily on others! This world can be cruel and unforgiving enough and raising resentful and judgement citizens, even if that is not the intention, will only create more sadness!

  4. Someone

    “Around the nation, many schools are also seeing an increase in bullying directed at LGBTQ students, students of color, and immigrant students.”

    A pretty broad statement, with no references to back it up. Unfortunately leftists commonly cite their made up idea as facts and when called on it fall back on thinking because the outcome they believe in is beyond question, anything that get s them there is OK, including lying. This article purports to be about bullying in school, throws out some uncited “facts”, and then proceeds to tie this jumble to national political climate and road rage. Pretty sloppy thinking over all. No one supports bullying, and the convoluted garbage being spouted by the leftist unions as “scholarship” is frightening. The currenct leftist belief is that regardless of bullying and aggressive/ violent behavior is school being OBVIOUSLY bad, rather that punish or remove the bully we should instead look inward to his society at you the teacher/counselor/ etc actually triggered the bad behavior. Leftist drivel.


    The reality is that we need to define exactly what bullying is to both the bully-er and those who feel they are bullied. Often the person who feels bullied is actually participating in the exchange, not understanding that bullying is something that can be avoided by simply not engaging. Of course that is sometimes unavoidable, and they need to also understand when it needs additional help to stop it. And obviously the bully needs to understand that inciting fear is something that is the opposite of the environment we seek in schools. They also often do not realize that it’s not about name calling or physically assaulting, but about the fear it always intends to create. We have given a lot of well meaning advice over the years from ignore it, to stand up to them, or give it back to them, and while those may deal with the outward problem, these tactics do not address the root causes. Fear is at the root, and teaching young people to be bold and courageous, but also to look out for those who are not as strong is more important than ever. It is the bystander that is the key player here who the author fails to truly address. We will always have victims and bullies. But more often than not, we also have bystanders who pick a side. And let’s face it, we do currently have an awful set of examples promoted by both the Left and the Right. As a society we are so busy defending our side we fail to defend civility and logical thought. Yet we can blame politicians or leaders or we can point out how they are not acting correctly and why and their purpose. This is, ironically the perfect opportunity to teach how not to act, and how adults can behave badly too, so to decide ahead of time how we will act as humans, large or small, to create the world we want out of what we currently have.

  6. Deborah Olsen

    A very positive, encouraging, short article. I appreciate that it doesn’t go on and on, as teachers are busy people! Thank you for the reminders and enlightenment.
    I remember that when I was young, and growing up in a single-parent family of a mom and four girls, with no male influences anywhere, except seeing men at church with their families on Sundays, or maybe friend’s dads in their homes once in a while. I never saw any sports on TV in my home as a child. My mom never discussed or expressed any interest whatsoever in any sports with us girls, although we went to parks and the beach often enough. We mostly thought that balls were for tossing around to each other when there was nothing else interesting to do. And our balls were always of the very soft and colorful and light-weight grocery-store-in-the-bin variety. This was also during a time when the popularity of girl’s organized sports teams were definitely in their infancy. All of this lack of exposure to ball sports caused PE time in elementary school to be a difficult time for me during grades 2 – 6. I didn’t know the rules of ball games, (I always wondered about the “education” part of physical education, because all our teachers at Wakeham Elem in Garden Grove, CA, would just take us out to the playground and say, “Play”.) and I wasn’t taught the rules or how to play by any of my teachers. I couldn’t begin to understand the passion and urgency that the boys posessed about sports, being so overly concerned (in my mind, at least!) about which team won the game that must have only lasted all of 20 minutes or so! Yet, if our team lost, the boys would promptly and verbally slander and criticize a few of the girls, including myself. I was flabbergasted at their rudeness! I was also way too shy and properly polite to defend myself! All we did know is that we had tried our best, without even understanding all the rules and our efforts were not even appreciated! (One time I even tried to run a home run in second grade during kick-ball when somehow I kicked the ball way out into the field in my 70s dress and girl-shoes! Imagine my disappointment when, after coming into home plate, after trying to run around the bases at my personal fastest-ever, that I was told that it was too bad that I didn’t touch all the bases! (You mean you’re supposed to touch those things with your shoes?….oh!) I remember a few of the boys ACTUALLY giving me sympathetic looks, as I must have finally proven to them that I really WAS trying my best at this silly game!) But the boy’s usual criticisms paled in comparison to my disappointment in my teachers while I was in those grades, who heard the boys saying hurtful things, yet allowed it to happen and did and said nothing about the boys’ rudeness. My point is that teachers often allow bullying to happen, at least back then, in the 70s. That is why this article’s title got my attention. When I became a teacher, I vowed that I would never stand by and do or say nothing as another student verbally or emotionally or physically bullied another! I cannot even imagine, as a professional person, just watching that happen to children, and saying nothing about it! Also, when she would allow boys in our class to be the ‘captains’ of teams, which meant that they got to pick who was on their team. …Yes, of course, myself and a few other girls who didn’t know the rules, or just didn’t like the game, as well as a few boys, always had to undergo the public, peer humiliation of always being picked last! I really used to hate that part! The unresponsive, permissive teacher would just stand there and watch every time! Many years later, as soon as I taught 4th grade, I vowed that I would never let kids pick their own team-mates!! What’s the benefit to the captain, anyway, compared to the obvious humiliation to the other kids of always being picked last or next to last??! So, YES, teachers can definitely add to the bullying atmosphere of a school! OR they can choose to help to put a stop to it and make it unpopular to engage in bullying and TEACH the students not to do so! Yes, we DO need to watch ourselves, as teachers, and parents.


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