School Bullying and Teacher Professional Development
Bullying is known to be a widespread problem in schools and also in workplaces.It is not confined to the U.S.A.and across the globe researchers have been examining the behavior of both perpetrators and targets of bullying for several
Introduction to the study
There is no universally accepted definition of bullying, although several descriptions have certain common elements.
For example, Norwegian researcher Dan Olweus (1993) considers that bullying occurs when someone is exposed to negative actions, carried out by one or more people, repeatedly and over a period of time. Negative action may be described as harmful physical, verbal or other sorts of contact designed to intentionally inflict injury on another person. Bullying may be both overt and covert – for example, loud aggressive shouting in public places, or whispered threats and taunts in the classroom or workplace (Nishioka, Coe, Hanita and Sprague, 2011).
A number of academic studies have demonstrated the emotional damage that bullying causes, for example, Schroeder (2010) suggests that bullied students experience disruption in learning, and Dempsey and Storch (2008), link being a target of adolescent bullying to increases in levels of depression (as cited in Chambless, 2010). Extensive research has been conducted into bullying in schools, including studies by Olweus (1993), Winters (1997), Atlas and Pepler (1998), Brockenbrough (2001) and Natvig, et al. (2001), and these suggest that while certain anti-bullying interventions are deemed to be successful, for example, Olweus’ intervention program in schools in Norway and Sweden (Olweus 1993, pp 64-107), nevertheless further study is needed.
Organization under study
For this reason, conducting a study of teachers’ views on bullying and how they impact on classroom management could make a significant and relevant contribution to the development of effective anti-bullying programs. Conducting a study in middle schools in the Brentwood School District will supply relevant information and provide useful insights to aid further research.
Bullying causes high levels of distress among school students, disruption to their education and increased stress for teachers and school authorities; thus, there is an imperative to devise successful anti-bullying interventions (Olweus, 1993). Teachers are the ultimate authority in the classroom and they have responsibility for, and a duty to care for and protect, their students (Kendall, 2012). They may be the first adults to observe or become aware of bullying behavior at school, so it follows that teachers should have input into the creation of school anti-bullying programs in order to ensure the classroom environment, and the school as a whole, is safe for all students.
Conducting a study of teachers’ perspectives on bullying and their classroom management skills could make an important contribution to the creation of an appropriate, successful anti-bullying intervention. Olweus noted that to achieve this “adults at school and, to some degree, at home [need to] become aware of the extent of bully/victim problems in ‘their’ school; [and to] decide to engage themselves, with some degree of seriousness, in changing the situation” (Olweus, 1993, p66). Bradshaw et al., (2011) confirm that an examination of staff members’ interpretations of bullying is important and constitutes a significant advance in improving how these are understood. Wright (2003) provides teachers with strategies and guidelines to assist them to understand, and improve their skills to manage, the problem of bullying in school settings. Thus, teachers’ knowledge, experience and skills in dealing with students are highly likely to make a useful contribution to the creation of effective interventions.
This research proposal contains an overview of the subject literature, followed by an outline methodology. The research philosophy, approach and strategy are explored; data collection and analysis is outlined and access and ethical issues are considered. Ideas for sample questions, definitions of terms and research variables are contained in Appendix 1.
The literature on bullying is comprehensive and studies are now attempting to address why and how bullying occurs, and ultimately who is to blame. Bradshaw et al. (2011) suggest that teachers should fully comprehend a working definition of bullying and work with the Department of Education to carry out classroom procedures to deal with it.
Some researchers suggest that students themselves should not be labeled as a bully or victim, and instead it is the behavior that should be labeled bullying or victim behavior (Burzinski, 2012). Overt or direct bullying behavior involves observable behaviors that are usually conveyed by verbal and physical means. Normally direct bullying takes place face to face and involves relatively blatant attacks on a victim; additionally, children may use disruptive acts that are just as hurtful, but are more difficult to detect. Covert or indirect bullying includes actions such as spreading rumors to damage another child’s character, deliberately excluding others or encouraging other children to dislike another person. Such behavior may happen behind someone’s back, rather than face to face.
Porter (2009) states that the intention to harm physically/emotionally is an essential component of bullying behavior. For example, a friend teasing another friend good-naturedly is not classed as bullying, while a person deliberately teasing another in order to upset them is classed as bullying. Further, bullying can be defined as a ubiquitous aggression, frequently occurring in schools, which has specific features that distinguish it from other aggressive behaviors, namely, it is repetitive, and the victims of bullying have less access to power than the perpetrators. Cyber-bullying is increasing but verbal abuse is still more common (Childnet International, 2007).
During the last two decades researchers have focused on identifying the causes and results of bullying, however there are still significant gaps in the literature. While many studies have investigated students’ views of school bullying, only very few have looked at these issues from staff members’ perspectives (Bradshaw, Sawyer and O’Brennan, 2007; Juvonen, Nishina and Graham, 2008; Goldstein, Young and Boyd, 2008).
Newman-Carlson and Horne (2004) state that despite the existence of numerous commended programs in schools to confront the bullying problem, few empirical studies have evaluated or confirmed their effectiveness. Recording teachers’ views based on managing and monitoring behaviors in a classroom setting is therefore valuable in this context.
Pellegrini and Bartini (2002) posit that research provides counselors with useful guidelines for developing successful bullying assessment programs.
Dan Olweus’ Swedish study of “mobbing”, a term for bullying most prevalent in the Scandinavian countries, as reported in “Aggression in the schools: Bullies and whipping boys” (1978) was the first notable study of school bullying. Subsequently many other countries have undertaken research to try to understand the bullying phenomenon including Norway, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, Japan and the United States (Porter, 2009). These studies show the problem of bullying is prevalent on a national and worldwide level. Increasing reports of bullying and its consequences have encouraged more research studies.
Milsom and Gallo (2006) note that research demonstrates a tendency for bullying to reach its height in late childhood or early adolescence. This implies that taking steps for prevention and intervention in middle school is crucial. The findings from the National Education Association’s Nationwide Study of Bullying are that the views of bullying expressed by school staff members differ from those of students, who perceive that staff members do not respond adequately when told of bullying incidents (Bradshaw et al., 2011).
The Office of Civil Rights (OCR), a sub-department of the Department of Education, has decreed that individual schools are responsible for devising policies and programs to tackle bullying. Data held by the OCR seeks to help school officials to better understand that some acts of bullying may effectively violate the civil rights of the victim, and that this can have an influence on the way a bullying incident is reported.
Literature review summary
Bullying is not just a minor problem; the phenomenon has escalated in recent years to such an extent that community leaders, academic researchers, parents, school officials, teachers, and the media have recognized the need for prevention and intervention. The literature concludes that teachers and other school staff require training to acquire appropriate knowledge and skills to deal with the pervasiveness of bullying (Blosnich and Bossarte, 2011).
Teachers and students have different views about how teachers handle bullying incidents. Commonly, victims of bullying fail to report it to a teacher. This is because, according to those who do, while some teachers may help, others are indifferent or even contribute to making the bullying more serious. Contrary to this, the teachers’ view is that they intervene in bullying incidents; students do not feel this is accurate (Porter, 2009). This study seeks to explore teachers’ attitudes to and perspectives on the bullying problem and to gain insights into their understanding of it. Further, this study will look at the different methods teachers use to manage their classrooms and the role of training in developing these methods. Through analysis of the collected data, the study will examine the research question: does teacher training adequately equip teachers with effective techniques to tackle bullying in the classroomThe objective of this study is to use the evidence gathered to arrive at sound conclusions that will help inform future anti-bullying programs.
The majority of researchers agree that the most effective anti-bullying interventions are comprehensive (Espelage and Swearer, 2003), engaging adults and children at individual level, at classroom level and at whole-school level (Olweus, 1993, p64). There is a lack of research on how teachers understand bullying, and on the specific factors that influence their interventions and views (Mishna, Scarcello, Pepler and Wiener, 2005). This is a curious omission as teachers are in an important and influential position on the subject. If teachers feel respected and their point of view is valued, then intervention programs may be more effective. The planned research will adhere to a positivist philosophy, which holds that every rationally justifiable assertion is capable of logical or mathematical proof or can be scientifically verified and will examine teachers’ perspectives on bullying, and how they manage the phenomenon in their classrooms.
There have been many international media stories concerning high-profile events linked to behavioral problems in schools, such as the Columbine school murders in 1999 and the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, both incidents in which angry teenagers killed and injured fellow students on school premises. Subsequent investigations often reveal an element of revenge for bullying on the part of the perpetrators of such crimes. Then there are other incidents where students have died or committed suicide as a result of being bullied. Neil Marr and Tim Field coined the word ‘bullycide’ to describe these tragic deaths in their book Bullycide: Death at Playtime (2001) and the “bullyonline” website has a Bullycide memorial page listing the names and circumstances of many young people who have died in the UK and elsewhere as a result of bullying. Such events provide a focus on the seriousness of bullying and the extent of the problem, highlighting the enormity of the emotional and physical devastation that the victims, and their families, experience. The planned approach for the research is to conduct a quantitative survey of teachers, collecting data and converting it into numerical form in order to make statistical calculations and draw valid conclusions. This will contribute knowledge that will enable improved strategies for classroom management across all schools, which could have a substantial effect on the frequency and severity of school bullying, and may prevent incidents escalating to such extremes.
The Brentwood School district includes four middle schools – North, South, East and West – which have a total of about 150 teachers. With permission from the school administration and the Institutional Review Board (IRB), the research strategy is to conduct a survey of teachers’ views across these four schools. The researcher will use self-administered questionnaires to gather data, to analyze it across a number of constituent elements and to draw conclusions from the findings. Although a longitudinal study may deliver more detailed results, this would be time-consuming and onerous for participants as well as the researcher. As a research tool, a survey is cost effective, takes a relatively short amount of time to answer, and is more convenient and less stressful for the participants (Creswell, 2009).
This study focuses on the attitudes and perceptions of teachers in regard to bullying and classroom management. Both male and female teachers will be recruited from the four middle schools in Brentwood, NY. All teachers will be invited to take part and the target is to achieve a 55% response rate, which is deemed to be sufficient for making sound judgments (Van Bennekom, 2011). School principals will be asked for permission to approach the teachers for this study and also asked to ensure the questionnaires are placed in the mailbox of the teachers, in each school listed.
Having obtained permission from the director of special programs via an introductory letter explaining the reason behind and the importance of the survey, the questionnaires and accompanying stamped, self-addressed envelopes will be placed in the teachers’ mailboxes. Participants will also receive a letter explaining the research, assuring them that responses will remain confidential and asking them to confirm their consent.
No financial compensation will be provided for participation in the study; however, respondents will be able to receive a copy of the survey findings. Teachers will be asked to return the questionnaires within a two-week period in the envelopes provided. On completion of all the returned questionnaires, the data analysis will commence. The data will be stored in the office of the researcher in a locked cabinet.
A good survey design permits a clear and rigorous assessment process via a logical model (Babbie, 1990). The questionnaire for the survey will be designed to measure the attitudes of teachers concerning bullying; a series of questions will allow responses across a Likert scale ranging from 1 (disagree strongly) to 7 (agree strongly). Other questions will cover demographic information, such as age, gender, racial and ethnic background and length of time teaching in this district, as well as a series of questions about teachers’ experiences of observing and dealing with bullying in the classroom, and their perceptions of self-efficacy. A text analysis using a free online lexical analysis tool will be carried out on information contributed in these areas.
Bandura (1994) defines perceived self-efficacy as the beliefs people hold concerning their capacity to produce certain levels of accomplishment that are known to “exercise influence over events that affect their lives” (Bandura, 1994, p. 71). Thus, self-efficacy beliefs govern how people think, feel, behave and motivate themselves. Bandura’s instrument teacher self-efficacy scale will be used to measure responses in which teachers are assessing their own self-efficacy.
Teachers will be asked to complete and return questionnaires within two weeks. This should give them sufficient time, without pressure on them, although a prompt may be provided closer to the deadline. The research will undertake coding and analysis of the returned questionnaires using a computer program specifically made for data analysis (SPSS). See Appendix 1 for sample questions, definitions of terms and research variables.
As long as permission is obtained as planned, there are unlikely to be major access issues. The use of a postal questionnaire means that the geographic location of the participating schools can be overcome. For people with disabilities, additional steps can be taken to make the survey accessible. For example, large-print versions of the questionnaire could be issued for any participants with sight impairment. The two-week period during which forms can be returned is considered to be sufficient time to allow busy teachers to complete the form.
Reliability, validity, and generalizability
The range of questions asked allows for a correlation between several factors (see Appendix 1), including levels of teacher training, effectiveness of the schools’ anti-bullying programs and policies, and levels of teacher confidence in dealing with bullying behavior. Data on social and ethnic backgrounds is also being collected, in order to underline any specific trends that may emerge concerning how bullying is viewed in different parts of the district, for example, or by teachers of a specific age and background. A T-test can be used to assess whether the means of the different groups of teachers are statistically different from each other.
The results will be representative of the district, and may be held to be valid for a large number of middle schools elsewhere in the USA.
Bullying causes stress and Blosnich and Bossarte (2011) propose that school bullying, as a form of low-level violent behavior that has been associated with negative outcomes for both physical and mental health, continues to be a serious public health issue. People dealing with bullying also suffer stress, and it will be important when conducting this research to ask questions in such a way as to elicit general information from teachers, rather than ask them to recall specific bullying incidents, which may be upsetting and uncomfortable. The same applies to questions of self-efficacy – being asked to judge their own competence in terms of classroom management is a delicate subject area and must be handled with care.
Due to time constraints, and the ways in which schools function, it is not feasible or practicable to observe how anti-bullying programs within schools work at first hand. The study is thus limited to an analysis of data gathered via a survey of teachers’ views on the bullying situations in their classes; how they feel about the programs used in their schools; and their self-perceptions of their own confidence levels in dealing with bullying behavior. This data will be specific to teachers and will not reflect the views of students other than as perceived by teachers. The participating schools and teachers, and the information extrapolated from the resulting data, may not necessarily be typical of how all teachers in all schools view bullying.
Bullying is acknowledged as a widespread problem and the need for further research has been voiced consistently by academics in the field. This dissertation proposal offers the opportunity to design a new study focused on teachers’ views and attitudes. Its findings will inform current knowledge about interventions designed to mitigate school bullying, and may provide substantial new information that can be used to improve current policies, programs and the scope of teacher training.
An agreed definition of bullying would ensure that stakeholders have a shared understanding of the issue. Important questions to be considered are:
What is the individual teacher’s definition of bullyingThis may indicate how the teacher approaches bullying in the classroom. A definition will be offered and individuals will be asked to score the extent to which they agree or disagree using a Likert scale.
How does the teacher perceive the anti-bullying program that is in place in the schoolThis may indicate how bullying situations are approached across the whole school.
Has the teacher had any training on bullying preventionThis may indicate if the teacher will properly implement the program.
How does the teacher perceive the target of bullying and the bullyThe words used to describe the individuals will be counted as part of the text analysis.
Is the teacher competent and/or confident in handling bullying situationsExamining the age and gender differences of teachers, in the context of the extent of their anti-bullying training, could provide useful information on whether these factors influence approaches to dealing with bullying.
These are the key questions that will be addressed during the development of the study.
Bullying– behavior perpetrated by one or more students (the bullies) who single out a child (the target or victim) with an intention to harm that child. Bullying actions may include making threats, attacking someone physically or verbally, spreading rumors and deliberately excluding someone from a group.
Teachers’ training– any training acquired as part of obtaining teaching credentials, including training about bullying; any additional anti-bullying training received within the current school. Training may include in school seminars and lectures; knowledge and information obtained through the Internet; workshops given by the school or any outside sources; continuing education credits (CEUs); any extra reading, or individual personal knowledge, or certifications, (there should be written documentation by the organization that gave the class or workshop).
Teachers’ understanding– teacher’s understanding and interpretation of bullying and anti-bullying terms according to the definitions used by the New York State Board of Education.
Increased reporting– as measured by the teachers’ incident reports (counting increases in the report logs).
Effective classroom management– decrease of bullying behavior as perceived by the teacher; evidence of the positive cooperation of students formerly involved in classroom aggression toward other students; increase in student work production.
Fewer episodes– evidence of decrease in student involvement in name-calling, shoving, pushing, teasing, etc; evidence of decrease in classroom disruptions.
Student trust– evidence that students feel more confident about telling the teacher of any uncomfortable circumstances; evidence that teacher is helping students gain access to needed services i.e., guidance counselor referrals; evidence that the teacher will discreetly attend to the bullying within the classroom and observe the victim and the bully, deflating any pending incidents.
Confiding– evidence that the student trusts the teacher to help the student; increased disclosure of any problems they may be having concerning bullying or similar incidents within the school perimeter.
The independent variables are:
2. Teacher understanding;
3. Increased reporting by teachers;
4. Effective classroom management.
The dependent variables are:
1. Increase in reported bullying incidents throughout the school;
2. Fewer episodes of classroom bullying;
3. Student trust level;
4. Confiding in the teacher.
Students’ levels of trust and the extent to which they confide in the teacher can be measured by counting the teachers’ reports of students coming to them to give an account of bullying incidents, demonstrating the extent to which the students trust the teachers to help them.
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