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The Bully Problem

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Many countries are using a variety of interventions to curb bullying and other aggressive behavior in schools. Strategies range from increasing awareness and teacher supervision to zero-tolerance policy enforcement.

Do schools need to take a greater role in stopping bullying? Are anti-bullying strategies effective?

33 Comments

Pre-school children bite, early grade kids shove, and older children perform social or physical surgical strikes: at every age, adults need to teach children how to deal with conflict, envy and anger.

Schools de facto both teach a child knowledge and have them adapt to social behavioral standards ("sit," "be quite and listen," "read directions"...). How to handle conflict and aggression (both felt and received) is a key part of school curriculum.

Whether or not we actually design the curriculum, children ARE learning methods to handle anger and conflict as they attend school: they might not be constructive methods, they may even be harmful methods, but kids and teens pick up on what works and what doesn't and that's what they've learned.

So, yes, the schools need to take an enormous role in stopping bullying because, if they don't, they will be "teaching" it. They need to support a lawful environment by continually encouraging reporting behaviors that get out of hand, and they need to teach kids how to manage their negative impulses without demonizing them. Just as every 18 month old has attempted to punch, kick or bite their way to whatever they desire, every adolescent has tried to be socially manipulative in a way that crushes someone, somewhere.

Anti-bullying strategies need to take into account that this is another, important emotional developmental milestone and address it comprehensively.

Absolutely schools need to address all issues related to children of which bullying is only one. As we teach the WHOLE child not only must we insure academic success, but we must also teach (and model) good character in an effort to prepare our students to be responsible citizens.

Having first hand experience with children and bullying in schools as a public school educator, I authored a teachers resource guide that presents lesson ideas based on some of the most important components of character presented in Dr. Ernest Boyer's book, "The Basic School," written in l995. Drawing on Character, a Crayola Dream-Makers Teacher Resource Guide offers teachers 12 standards-based lesson ideas that support character development focused on hands-on learning through the arts. Lessons in this guide focus on honesty, respect, responsibility, compassion, self-discipline, perseverance and additional traits associated with good character. The lessons are tested by teachers and students and have been shown to be an effective approach when used in teaching the whole child in safe learning environment. This very popular teaching tool/resource may help teachers address character development issues with their students.

Schools have the primary responsibility to handle this problem, but in my opinion they handle it incorrectly. My son has been at both ends of the bully problem: both bully and bullied. And for him, it stems from his disability: he's bipolar. Either he is bullying because the school or his placement is not appreciating the difficulties he encounters with being there every day, and adapting to it, or he is being bullied because he is perceived by other children as having a disability. Either way, the zero tolerance, throw the book at 'em approach backfires completely. The kids who bully him resent him for getting them punished, and they retaliate against him. Punishing him just punishes him for his disability, and for not fitting into the school, rather than the school fitting him. For the bullies who pick on the disabled, or anyone who has differences, education is always the key. A multicultural education, beginning in the lower grades, should not only teach respect but appreciation for what different people have to offer. And the school itself is also responsible for finding out why a child acts out. Throwing the kid out of class might be just what he wants, leading to repeat offenses. Maybe a new approach or a new program is required. Whatever it is, it all boils down to the school, which has to change itself, before we expect the kids to change.

I agree w/the first two responses. Bullying prevention is key to a successful school that cares about its students. Not only does bullying impact the victim's social/emotional aspect, but there is a real impact on academics. School absences can result from bullying as well as declining grades. We have a job to make sure that every student feels safe at school and to stop unnecessary harassment of students.

An excellent film circulated in movie theatres all-too-briefly a few months ago called MEAN CREEK on the subject of bullying. When it appears in DVD format, it would be a great film to show in all schools to provoke conversation and allow the students to really feel what it's like.

Absolutely! When my children go to school, I want to know they are safe. They do not learn bullying at home....quite the contrary. Character programs are very effective here in ND, however they need to be enforced and children need to be reminded every step of the way. Last week's episode of "ER" (2/3/05) had me in tears to think that the death of a small boy who had a sock stuffed in his mouth and was beaten to death over a shirt he was wearing could be a reality somewhere in our country. Many times parents, teachers and administrators aren't even aware of what goes on in schools with regard to bullying. Not only do school personnel have a responsibility to do whatever they can to stop bullying, but also to educate the victims in defense mechanisms and to inform parents if there is a widespread problem in the school.

As someone who is studying to be a special educator, I believe that Ms. Gregory is doing her son a disservice by asserting that he bullies others "because of his disability". A common stigma of special ed. programs is that the students are allowed to "get away" with problem behaviors or are unable to control their anger due to a disabilty. Allowing the child to grow up thinking he can not and should not be expected to show respect for others due to a disbility is unfair, demeaning and possibly dangerous. That said, a zero tolerance policy often equals "zero common sense". Educators, specifically special educators, have a duty to teach and expect a respectful attitude from all students; one aspect of respect is respecting differences of opinion and special circumstances, as well as the limits of human self control. We've all made mistakes. Children should be taught self control daily through modeling, classroom management techniques, etc. but they should not be expected to be perfect and they should not be punished more harshly than an offense warrants.

My 2nd grade son was bullied by a group of 4 boys 3 years ago.

We didn't involve the school, but turned instead to a phenomenal book called GOOD FRIENDS ARE HARD TO FIND: HELP YOUR CHILD FIND, MAKE, AND KEEP FRIENDS by Fred Frankel, director of a social skills training program for children at UCLA.

The book was invaluable, as was help from our neighbor (who taught our son a physical & verbal mode of self-defense that allowed him to project confidence). Within just two or three weeks the bullying problem, which had gone on for months, was resolved.

All schools, pediatricians, and therapists should study Frankel's book.

"They need to support a lawful environment by continually encouraging reporting behaviors that get out of hand, and they need to teach kids how to manage their negative impulses without demonizing them"


If I can make comment more: in my experience this observation is typical of most schools' approach to bullying.

The focus is on the bully.

Of course bullies need to be reined in, but what Frankel makes clear, as do other experts on bullying, is that the victim needs help, too.

Not all children are bullied. Typically the victim has qualities that make him attractive to bullies. Frankel names two: the victim is obedient to other children, and cries easily when bullied, giving the bully a lot of 'bang for his buck.'

One first grade teacher even told me she could pick out the children, in her class, who would be bullied in 2nd grade.

No one seems to give much thought to this. One speaker who came to our school told the audience that victims typically have deficits in social skills. When I asked what parents and teachers could do to teach bully-deterrence skills to victims, he said he didn't know of anything.

That is ridiculous! This was a child psychologist promoting his anti-bullying program to local school districts, and his answer to 'what about the victim' is 'I don't know.'

After reading Frankel the very first thing I did was to tell my son to stop obeying other children, something he did constantly. Even younger children could give him a command and he would comply.

Telling a bullied child not to obey other children is an extremely simple step to take, easily communicated to a young child, and yet Fred Frankel seems to be the only expert on earth who is aware that victims typically obey other children, while non-victims typically do not.

Another thing. In my son's case, I knew all four of the children who were bullying him. They were basically good kids, from good families. The ringleader had a mom who was actively working on the bullying issue with her son and his two brothers, a fact I discovered when she, too, attended the lecture on bullying and revealed that she'd spent a fair amount of time in the principal's office dealing with the problem. She's a great gal, and I'm sure her boys will all grow up to be good guys who are intense competitors in their chosen line of work.

But for now they're a handful.

I don't think too many bullies are going to be, overnight, dissuaded from bullying just because an adult has told them to stop, or because a 'lawful environment' has been established in the school. Bullies never engage in bullying in front of adults anyway; bullying is done on the playground and on the bus, during 'kid time.' As far as I can tell, changing a bully's behavior is a reasonably long-term process.

But the victim needs help now.

It is essential for parents, schools, therapists--for all concerned--to think through what it is children who are never bullied are doing to keep themselves out of the victim category, and what the victims can do to learn those skills.

Frankel's book is the place to start.

Schools do need to address the education of the whole child. Considering, there are guns being brought into the schools at high school and even grade school levels. These children feel a show of toughness via either a gun or fists is acceptable. Educators, the school system, government and parents must work collaboratively to make bullying unacceptable. Classes or courses should teach children how to handle their anger and utilize it a more constructive manner.

Yet, teachers should not shoulder the burden alone of disciplining children. Since children who are bullied become bulliers themselves as retaliation, we must stop this cycle and address those who bully. These children who bully may be crying out for attention or exhibit this behavior as a way of being accepted. Let's address what creates our bullies and stamp it out. Anger management courses and courses that help children examine the roots of their behavior is a start. Overall, our children learn from society and us so we must exhibit desirable behavior for them to become better people.

As a future educator, I feel injecting character education into our school systems as an uniform standard is one step in the right direction.

In response to Catherine:

I agree that the victim often needs help maturing emotionally. Children generally do: every child has a weakness that can be exploited by a clever bully until the child reacts. I guarantee you that if I could go into an elementary school playyard masquerading as a child but with my adult mind I could reduce ANY child to tears. It's a social skills differential, and I'm far, far better at manipulation than any 10 year old.

And this is an important point: children need to learn how to deal with maturation differences. This is THE socialization problem in middle school, as suddenly there are many more potential friends, and everyone is changing at a varying rate.

However, beyond this differential -- which can be addressed both by helping the bully deal with anger and helping the victim's emotional and social development (though I'll point out that this is extremely difficult to do DURING a period of time when someone is feeling downtrodden) -- kids are bullied for being simply *different*.

Other-race kids are bullied; children who are very tall/short/fat/thin are bullied. Children are bullied because their parents are gay or, when they're older, because they are. Children are bullied because they perform well in a school culture that values sports. Children are disdained because they're not very bright in a school that values academic achievement. Sensitive boys are bullied. Girls who won't do what is necessary to join the "clique" are persecuted.

So both these systemic problems need to be addressed: how to deal with variations in emotional and social maturity, and how to be unthreatened by the Other.

Oh, one more thing: Playground Politics, by Stanley Greenspan talks about emotional development in the 5-12 year old age range.

You might be interested in knowing that Peter Yarrow (of Peter Paul and Mary) has devoted the last five years of his life to the issue of bullying and the pervasive culture of ridicule, humiliation and violence. He has created an organization called Operation Respect to try to impact it.

Our approach is to help create climates of respect throughout the entire school so everyone has a stake in the way everyone treats everyone else all the time and in all places. The school develops an entire culture of respect, and it works.

Beyond the individual schools, however, we need to see education priorities, policies and practices that embrace educating the whole child - for the sake of academic performance as well as for the social and emotional health of our children.

The Education Week article “When It Comes to Bullying, There Are No Boundaries” (February 9, 2005) indicates remarkable success in several countries that have made it a priority. Unfortunately, it is not yet a priority throughout the United States, but there is growing recognition that something must be done.

Many organizations have created remarkable programs that are now available to schools. Operation Respect offers a powerful curriculum using music to reach the hearts as well as the minds of children. It is called “Don’t Laugh at Me”, and it is available for free to schools and teachers, thanks to the support of McGraw-Hill Companies. (www.operationrespect.org)

We believe, however, that the commitment of the entire culture and of each school to make a difference is the key to success, regardless of the specific program or programs that might be used.

ABSOLUTELY! Schools, not only elementary, but also secondary schools need to instruct and demonstrate effective nonviolent ways to handle students' emotions and peer conflicts. The media is also to blame how we as a society treat others. Children are constantly exposed to violent or sarcastic remarks on TV, as much as 20 times per day, and its acceptable. We have a responsibility to teach our children and youth that calling someone a name is just as harmful if not more than punching them. The name will be remembered throughout the child's life, the bruised arm will disappear. If children are not safe in school where they are supposed to be learning about being a responsible citizen, where will they be safe? My son has been bullied since third grade due to his "unusual tics" due to symptoms of ADHD and also because it's very hard for him to make friends, he doesn't understand the nonverbal social cues children his age give when they are annoyed or angry. We as educators and parents need to protect those children who get picked on and will ultimately fall behind if not drop out of school because of the bullying. Schools need to implement a zero tolerance policy and teach anger management and conflict-resolution strategies.

Research supports the link between being bullied and several short- and long-term consequences, ranging from internalizing the pain (e.g., depression, suicide) to externalizing the pain (e.g., becoming increasingly hostile, school shootings). We can no longer turn a blind eye to rejection/bullying. There is strong evidence that the pain doesn't go away.
I agree that it is necessary to focus on the early prevention of rejection. Tolerance and acceptance are the key values we have to promote if we hope to end rejection in our schools!
All parties must be involved - especially students who need to recognize their importance in becoming active bystanders in effort to create a healthy social climate where ALL students feel comfortable attending school.
We often put social issues aside due to great pressure placed on schools to succeed on standardized tests. Standardized testing will never see greater results than when students feel safe in a peaceful environment which allows them to focus fully on curriculum.
A peaceful, accepting school is a successful school!

As the parent of a child who has and is being bullied, the schools are not doing enough to prevent/cure it. It is my son who, as the victim, is the one called into the principal's office and given a respect plan, whereas the bully gets away with his/her behavior. The bully very rarely gets called to the front office, most times it is the victim.

Another fact most of you seem to be missing is that teachers also can be bullies. My son's first grade teacher was one. She belittled any child that didn't fit her "perfect" child criteria. My son, unfortunately, was not perfect and thus subject to her ridicule daily. Three weeks into the school year, she labeled him as "problem" and he could do nothing right. At that point she stopped giving him all but the basic instruction and he entered 2nd grade at a 1.1 grade level! Thank goodness that his 2nd grade teacher was a gem and by Christmas he was up to the level of the rest of the children in his class. He has since been diagnosed with ADHD and due to my interference and insistence at school, he is now getting the help and support he needs to combat the bullying.

So let's get the blinders off our eyes and camp out at school board meetings, PTO meetings, principal's offices to get this behavior out of our schools!

The Federal Department of Education under the Safe and Drug Free School program has considered bullying as a right of passage for the past decade. Now with all the violence, threats, intimitation and harrassement across the country in our public and private schools they are now seeking solutions.

Now they want schools to fix this huge problem which causes over 16,000 students every not to come to school because of fear.

You cannot fix this enourmous problem until every teacher, school staff member and school administration knows the four types of bullies that exist on our school campuses. They must know the RED FLAG warning signs in order to intervenve and clearly understand on how to help the victims.

We need to quit using the word bully as an excuse,
whoever allowed bullying as a rite of passage needs to be trained on the serious effects that our children have to live with every day. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has placed all family Doctors on notice in observing signs of threats, intimitation and harrassement that children might encounter in our schools.The four types of bullies are:
1. Physical
2. Verbal
3. Social
4. High-Tech

Which of the four occured at Columbine which caused us to change how we deal with major Emergencies?

Training and knowledge will help prevent incident from unfolding. But, someone has to have the courage to make it happen.


To start with we could teach and talk about "The Golden Rule" (Many of our children are not familiar with this rule) Goal setting, Cause and effect,"being in the momemt",etc. Jack Canfield's new book talks about answering the question, "Are you 100% responsible for your life?" This question requires a yes or no answer. He also talks about the concept of
Event + Response= Outcome. We need to model and talk and repeat these concepts for ourselves and our children and our childrens chilren!

Overall I found this article to be very poorly written and missing an opportunity to really explore and discuss the root causes of bullying. Instead it focused on age old “counseling techniques”, teacher and administration “reaction” and some interesting but probably meaningless statistics. There was only one minor reference to human nature and absolutely no references to parenting or societal issues. Again, we miss the point by looking at and reacting to symptoms in stead of recognizing the causes and attempting to fix the problem. This is not to say that schools are trying hard nad some things work. They do, and teachers and administraters should be commended to taking on the issue. But let's quite burying our head in the sand and recognize that home life and society are the problems here with bullying being the result. Get back to teaching responsibility, compassion, religion, ethics and core values in the home along with understanding consequences and delivering them to the bully. Watch the stats change then!

Unfortunately, bullying cannot be tackled on the homefront. Bullying is a social phenomenon that occurs in social settings such as schools. Bullying, and any other behavioral issues, must be handled at the time and place where the infraction occurs. Too many teachers and administrators want to blame it on the upbringing that children are receiving these days so that they are excused from acting. When you choose not to intervene, but to turn your cheek on even one individual occurence, you perpetuate the cycle. Behavior modification, including bullying, is achieved when intervention is immediate, fair, and consistent. Parents are not in the right place at the right time to provide that intervention. The burden is squarely on the shoulders of schools. Parents can only play a secondary role.

Please read Gabarino and DeLara's book "And Words CAN hurt forever" for specific things parents, educators and administrators can do to help this problem.
Can we help the group of children who are sensitive to bullying?

One message that I used over and over when dealing with bullies, victims, and parents was that, "yes, names do hurt more than sticks and bones" The hurt is hidden and never stops. I agree whole heartedly with the idea of telling students not to obey over students. I also believe that behind every bully is an adult bully who has unknowingly paved the way with displays of disrespect and antagonism of others' feelings or positions. Often this is a result of their own feelings of being disenfranchised or feelings of not meeting expectations, theirs or someone else's. This is a major problem in every school in the country and I suspect, beyond our borders. Unfortunately, schools do not have a lot of resources or the knowledge to affect the kind of changes needed to stop bullying. Having adults who are able to connect with students and who are able to serve as good role models is a start. Unfortunately, that is not on the list of requirements for "highly skilled" teachers as required by NCLB.

The Bully Free Classroom by Beane and the No Bullying text are wonderful tools to start. One thing I have learned is that the entire school must support the idea and expect the same response of every student. It also means everyone must understand the signs and how each gender demonstrates bullying. Females are the worst, with their sneaky gossip, whispering, ignoring another student, etc. The work available deals primarily with middle and high school youth. I have always felt that the teaching must begin at the younger elementary ages. The students are taught and develop the knoiwledge base every year in a life skills class. Boys being boys is not the answer. It's part of the problem. We need action not more talk.

I thought we did not have much of a bullying problem, but increasingly, I am becoming aware that our bullies are "quiet". Everytime you walk by his desk, he calls you "gay" or "stupid" or "idiot". Girls who write notes telling other girls not to play with some child are bullies. A child blurted out to me yesterday, "Why did you put me in a class where everyone but the teacher hates me?" He is wounded. I want to address this, and I appreciate all of your comments. I believe it is epidemic in my school, and I have a great school with supportive families and few disciplinary incidents.

I agree. Schools should "take care of bullies". However parents must take back their place in the child's life. Teachers can not do it all.
I teach life skills and sometimes I am frustrated with what I get. ... Yes supportive families count.

My daughter was bullied from 1st grade until 3rd grade. Every year, I had conversations with the teachers about the problems she was encountering. The teachers tried to help, however children are very sneaky and the teachers couldn't possibly see every instance. I also believe that the teachers in their own way didn’t fully comprehend how bad it really was. I didn’t fully comprehend how bad it was until the end of last year.

In first grade, she wasn't in "the club" (the only girl in 1st grade not in the club) so she couldn't play with the other girls. In second grade one of her classmates put her hands on my daughter's throat in the cafeteria because my daughter didn't purchase the snack that this other girl wanted her to (it was her money!). My daughter still didn't have anyone to play with at recess (she still wasn't in the club). In third grade the bullying got worse. Not only were children taking her snack money and other change she had (including my niece!), we received harassing messages on our answering machine. The first messages ended with the statement that "(name) is having sex with boys". The second messages (from different girls) were full of profanity (mother @#%ing #$#@....use your imagination). These were 8 and 9 year old girls! I ended up having to calling the police to make a report (in addition to getting caller id) before this stopped. These girls not only lived in my neighborhood (I never positively identified them, however I know who they were) they were in my Girl Scout troop! I finally had enough and decided that I couldn’t passively sit by and trust that the school was going to look out for my daughter. We were going to be redistricted the next year; I called the new school and explained the situation to the principal. The ringleaders were also going to the new school, so I arranged for my daughter to be placed with a teacher who would be sensitive to her specific needs and not to have the other girls in her classroom. I also arranged for her to meet with the Guidance Counselor in order to work on her socialization skills and self esteem.

We had some minor set backs early this year (with boys pushing her around) however after speaking to her and encouraging her to open up to her Guidance Counselor she is doing much better. She is finally making friends! She has been invited to sleepovers and the other day 2 girls from the neighborhood came to get her!

When I tried to educate the other children on proper behavior I had no success. We only succeeded when we decided to work with my daughter and how she is presenting herself. She is much more motivated to work on her socialization skills and self esteem. Her new confidence is what ended the bullying. Sure there are still isolated instances, however she now knows how to handle the situation in a more constructive manner and the situation quickly diffuses.

In July, Illinois Congressmen John Shimkus (R) and Dan Davis (D) proposed an amendment to the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act with H.R. 4776 to add bullying and harassment education and prevention and training to this Act. No additional monies were requested yet there are over 20 congressmen from across the U.S. who are supportive of this bill because of the statistics on the consequences. In an effort to work with this amendment effort, we have been researching and the Blueprint program in Colorado has some really salient features to their program that appear to us to be very workable solutions to some of the issues. Here is also a good article showing that bullying is being reduced and some of the ways that this is effectively being done. http://www.oecdobserver.org/news/
My hope is that we all find a way to resolve this problem and understand that where we encounter this is in the school over other spots. When it happens at school, we all end up needing to address the issue - school is a part of our community.

The United States Department of Justice and the National Association of School Psychologists estimate that 160,000 children miss school each day because of fear. Every seven minutes bullying happens on elementary school playgrounds. Children tell us, and research confirms, that when they report bullying, most of the time, adults don't help them. Consequently, children are left feeling helpless, afraid and "on their own." A published research-based full curriculum (developed by a group of school psychologists and social workers in the Cherry Creek School District outside of Denver, Colorado) addresses the need to deal with bullying problems by creating a more positive school climate. The focus of the PreK through middle school Bully Proofing Your School programs is mobilizing the "caring majority"- the 85% of students who are neither bullies nor victims. This approach has been shown to be highly effective in reducing bullying and in supporting victims of bullying. As Lisa Pescara-Kovach said until all students feel safe at school so that they can give their full attention to the curriculum, we will continue to see negative impact on test scores- and, may I add, we will continue to see long lasting psychological scars.

Absolutely, bullying occurs anywhere children gather - and one of these places are schools. If children do not feel safe, they cannot focus on learning and growing to reach their full potential. Please visit www.goodtouchbadtouch.com for information about an effective violence and bully prevention curriculum for preK through middle school - that can help improve school climate, by encouraging discussions about the sensitive problem of abuse and bullying.

In reference to the comment made by Carol Gillen/parent placing the responsibility of the "bully" on the school. Having raised three children, I can assure you that if the school called me one time to say my child was being a bully, it would also be the last time. Parents are responsible for their children's actions. How can you hold the school accountable? While I agree that character education should be taught to all students, parents should not shift the blame of their child's behavior to the school. As far a correcting the situation within the context (when it happens), I agree. The parent should be called, come to the school, and address the issue. Now how often do you think this will happen? I am responsible for my children and if their behavior is inappropriate, I will take steps to correct it. The school and the families are responsible for their education. I work together with the school to make sure my children get the best education possible.

In a broad perspective bullying can be related to values and too often bullies are admired and encouraged to hurt others by other students as is observed during a winter fight where other students offer to "hold the coat" of pugalistic students.

How students perceive the bully has to change in order for values and resulting behaviors to change. We had a celebrate learning contest in our school that rewarded classes who earned a hundred bonus points for hard work and goodbehavior with a class party. Students learned that their behavior impacted on their group and could earn and lose points for their class. If a student had a fight or exhibited physical aggressiveness, we had a "shredding." The supervisor in charge of the grade went to the classroom and said that a student in that class had broken one of our most important rules and thereby hurt everyone in their community. The teacher was asked how many points the class had toward their celebration and ask the teacher to hand over the points and then tore them up over the trash can. We eliminated bullying because the children applied peer pressure to the aggressor. We also eliminated fighting. It was wonderful!

In a broad perspective bullying can be related to values and too often bullies are admired and encouraged to hurt others by other students as is observed during a winter fight where other students offer to "hold the coat" of pugalistic students.

How students perceive the bully has to change in order for values and resulting behaviors to change. We had a celebrate learning contest in our school that rewarded classes who earned a hundred bonus points for hard work and goodbehavior with a class party. Students learned that their behavior impacted on their group and could earn and lose points for their class. If a student had a fight or exhibited physical aggressiveness, we had a "shredding." The supervisor in charge of the grade went to the classroom and said that a student in that class had broken one of our most important rules and thereby hurt everyone in their community. The teacher was asked how many points the class had toward their celebration and ask the teacher to hand over the points and then tore them up over the trash can. We eliminated bullying because the children applied peer pressure to the aggressor. We also eliminated fighting. It was wonderful!

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