As a classroom teacher, how does one attempt to proactively prevent bullying and cyberbullying?
With the addition of character education and the world focusing on bullying, teachers have their work cut out for them. Although character education should give students reason enough to not bully, teachers need to take a very proactive stance on reducing bullying in the classroom. (I say "reducing" because it is impossible to eliminate bullying from schools.)
As a high school teacher, Ihave found that the first days of school are the most important in setting the atmosphere of the classroom. I have one simple rule: everyone will show others, including me, respect. While I know that not everyone likes each other, or gets along, it does not matter in regards to respect. I am very tough regarding this rule. If I find that any student is being disrespectful, I will have a conversation with the student and remind them about the rule. If students believe that disrespect will not be tolerated, they are more likely to act with respect. Respect is one of the keys to reducing bullying. If respect is demanded, respect tends to be given. This is one way to be proactive about bullying.
Another thing to do is to meet students at the door. See how they are acting, determine their moods, and say hello. If students believe that you care, they are more likely to care as well. By standing at the door, you can gauge attitudes and moods. If you think that one student may be having a bad day, pull him or her aside and find out if there is anything you can do. Sometimes, this can change the entire mood of the student. In other cases, some students tend to act out against others when in a bad mood. In this case, remind the student to make good choices (even when he or she does not feel like it). This can reduce bullying in the classroom as well.
As for cyberbullying, most schools do not allow cell phones or access to the Internet (outside of academic needs). This said, students normally find a way to text, post to message boards, and check social media (even in the classroom). Laws prohibit schools from dealing with cyberbullying that takes place out of school. Unfortunately, many times, these instances tend to come in with the students the day after posting. It is under these circumstances where it becomes a problem in the school.
The best way to be proactive regarding cyberbullying is to talk with students about it (again in the first few days). While many are pretty sick and tired of hearing about it, it helps to stay on top of it. Tell the students that you will quit talking about it when they quit bullying. This tends to quiet them down.
Know as a teacher that you cannot do everything. You cannot prevent or foresee all (or even any) bullying. It is simply impossible. What you can do is be proactive, as stated, and do your best to talk to students about bullying.
Some great sites for bullying are StopBullying.gov, Pacer.org, and Bullying.org.
A great film to watch on bullying is the 2011 film Bully (directed by Lee Hirsch) and Bullied (from Teaching Tolerance).
A wonderful and moving interview (can be found on YouTube) talking about cyberbullying is The Megan Meier story. Her mother, Tina, has also begun an awareness program and travels the country speaking on bullying and cyberbullying.
Because students are highly adept at bullying without teachers seeing them, it is even more important for teachers to be aware of everything going on in their classrooms. One important aspect of this is to have very little "down time." It is usually during these down times that students have the opportunity to bully others. Also, be a presence in the hallways as much as possible. Also, teach students how to respectfully disagree with one another. Model respectful behavior by respecting your students even when they misbehave.