Ever since in-person learning has returned, teachers and school staff alike have cited worsened student behavior as a major problem. This includes poor manners, increased bullying, and generally more destructive behavior. Tackling these issues individually has always been difficult, but how should districts approach solutions when they’re all on the rise? The key is to recognize how they’re all connected. There are commonalities between bullying and poor manners, and getting to the root of the problem will offer better long-term solutions over short-term disciplinary action like detention or silent recess. This is where a good anti-bullying policy comes into play.
For example, Cambria Heights Elementary implemented a new campaign called “S.O.A.R. to new Heights”. This campaign is based on proactive action to prevent bullying in the first place while also focusing on consistent discipline in the event of an incident. It’s a lesson-based, research-based, and result-driven anti-bullying policy designed to show students how their actions affect those around them.
S.O.A.R. stands for “Show kindness, Own your choices, Act responsibly, and Respect yourself and others”. Each letter in the acronym comes with a set of expected behaviors in a variety of different settings. For example, “Acting Responsibly” on the bus looks like sitting in your seat whenever the bus is moving, and “Respecting Yourself & Others” in the hallway would be moving to the side to tie your shoes. These expectations are taught to students to demonstrate what kind and respectful behavior looks like in action.
But what’s in it for the students? It can be difficult to get students to pay attention to such lessons. Because of that, students who demonstrate these behaviors in their day-to-day lives receive tickets that can be turned in for prizes. S.O.A.R also takes social-emotional research into account, encouraging teachers to give specific positive feedback to their students, such as “you did a great job including (name) at recess today” instead of generic “good job” comments. Research shows such recognition leads to overall improved behavior.
And teachers? Teachers are also rewarded for participating in the program. Their names are on all the tickets they hand out and are kept by the principal. Each month, the principal pulls a few teacher winners for their own prizes like gift certificates, school supplies, and more. The same goes for bus drivers and cafeteria workers!
All of this is great… but what happens when a student still isn’t cooperating? Unfortunately, this system is not foolproof. S.O.A.R categorizes misbehavior in two different ways: Teacher-On-Site-Managed and Office-Managed. The former is for minor offenses such as teasing, swearing, or talking back, while the latter is for more serious offenses like threats, harassment, and destruction of property. Teachers have a variety of intervention methods to choose from for minor offenses, like conferences with the student or re-teaching the expected behavior to them. Students who have three minor offenses will default to Office-Managed on their fourth offense regardless of its severity. Two Office-Managed offenses equated to a phone call home.
When a student has a minor offense, teachers fill out a form detailing what transpired and which intervention method they used. The form is then sent to the office so it’s officially on record.
Students respond best to positive reinforcement, which is at the core of S.O.A.R.. When students feel accepted, rewarded, and celebrated, they are more likely to repeat the behaviors that earned them that feeling in the first place, thereby abandoning their more reckless behaviors.
That’s great! But what about my district? S.O.A.R is a great starting model. Take a closer look at how Cambria Heights is navigating these changes and determine what works for your district and what doesn’t. Only you know the specific issues facing your district. However, there is a universal truth here– teaching students the direct effects of their actions before they act is an overall better approach than trying to get students to understand after the incident.
When thinking up your anti-bullying policy, take these into consideration:
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of your current anti-bullying policy?
- How does your district currently define bullying?
- Are marginalized students supported in your schools? How so?
- Which behaviors do you want to see more of? Which do you want to see less?
- What is your mission statement? What’s the end goal?
- How easy/difficult is it for students, teachers, and staff to report incidents?
- Is your current policy focused more on prevention or discipline?
- At what point does your current policy call for intervention? How could that be improved?
Reach out to your school community
It takes all of us to end bullying, from home to the classroom. Here are a few ideas for reaching out to your school community so we can all prevent bullying together.
- Host Family Tech Nights to educate families on best practices when it comes to technology and smartphones, and how they work into bullying after school
- Empower family volunteers to notice the signs of bullying and intervene as necessary at after school events and clubs
- Look around for comprehensive anti-bullying curricula and strategies to send home to families and forward to your staff
- Host an anti-bullying rally after school with games, food, prizes, and more–the catch is, all must attend an informational session on bullying prevention first!
- Connect with local officials, businesses, volunteer organizations, etc. to bring the anti-bullying message to the whole community
- Look to your state for anti-bullying inspiration. If your state does not have an anti-bullying initiative in place, take a look at what the state of Massachusetts recommends