Bullying Prevention HRSA Best Practices

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The Welcoming Schools approach is comprehensive and has tools to engage parents, administrators, educators, staff and students. While Welcoming Schools is not solely a bullying prevention program, the guide consistently focuses on improving the social environment of schools, making it a useful stand-alone tool as well as a supplement to other research-based bullying prevention programs. The Welcoming Schools model mirrors the best practices in bullying prevention and intervention identified by the Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) This document lists HRSA’s best practices and ways that Welcoming Schools provides tools for schools to implement those strategies.

1) Focus on the social environment of the school.

To reduce bullying, it is important to change the climate of the school and the social norms with regard to bullying. This requires the efforts of everyone in the school environment – teachers, administrators, counselors, other non-teaching staff (such as bus drivers, nurses, school resource officers, custodians, cafeteria workers, and school librarians), parents, and students.

All of the Professional Development and Family Education activities in the guide are designed to build an inclusive community and increase the capacity of adults to create a more welcoming environment. Relevant components in the guide are:

2) Assess bullying at your school.

Intuitively adults are not always very good at estimating the nature and extent of bullying at their school. Frequently we are quite surprised by the amount of bullying that students experience, the types of bullying that are most common, or the "hot spots" where bullying happens. As a result, it is often quite useful to assess bullying by administering an anonymous questionnaire to students about bullying.

Welcoming Schools includes surveys that can be filled out by adults in the school as well as by students in the upper elementary school grades. When there are disparities between adult and student perspectives, adults are often moved to action. For survey information see:

3) Garner staff and parent support for bullying prevention.

Bullying prevention should not be the sole responsibility of an administrator, counselor, teacher or any single individual at a school. To be most effective, bullying prevention efforts require buy-in from the majority of the staff and from parents.

Staff and parent involvement are critical to the Welcoming Schools approach. Schools are encouraged to develop teams of Welcoming Schools leaders: educators who provided direction and education for their peers. The Welcoming Schools approach also fosters parent involvement through Welcoming Schools Task Forces as well as parent events. For more information related to staff and parent buy-in, see:

4) Coordinate and Integrate Prevention Efforts

Bullying prevention efforts seem to work best if they are coordinated by a representative group from the school. This coordinating team (which might include an administrator, a teacher from each grade, a member of the non-teaching staff, a school counselor or other school-based mental health professional, a school nurse, and a parent) should meet regularly to digest data from the school survey described in Strategy 2; plan bullying prevention rules, policies, and activities; motivate staff, students, and parents; and ensure that the efforts continue over time.

An advisory group comprised of representatives from the groups identified above is a key component to successful implementation of Welcoming Schools. These are the people who can best identify strategies for doing community outreach and tailoring Welcoming Schools to community needs. This type of group can be developed specifically for the purpose of implementing Welcoming Schools, or can be derived from an existing committee. For more information about setting up a Welcoming Schools Advisory group see:

  • Creating Welcoming Schools: Getting Started
  • Developing a School Climate Task Force

5) Provide Training in Bullying Prevention and Response for School Staff

All administrators, faculty and staff at a school should be trained in bullying prevention and intervention. In-service training can help staff members to better understand the nature of bullying and its effects, how to respond if they observe bullying, and how to work with others at the school to help prevent bullying.

Adults in the school community generally welcome professional development that makes them partners to prevent bullying. When bullying is related to the composition of a child’s family, such as same-sex parents, grandparent headed families, or immigrant parents, adults sometimes need tools to not only interrupt the bullying behavior, but to provide education to counter stereotypes and bias. Tools in the Welcoming Schools that help staff and educators address these issues are:

6) Establish and enforce school rules and policies related to bullying.

Although many school behavior codes implicitly forbid bullying, many codes do not use the term or make explicit our expectations for student behavior. It is important to make clear that the school not only expects students not to bully, but that it also expects them to be good citizens, not passive bystanders, if they are aware of bullying or students who appear troubled, possibly from bullying. Developing simple, clear rules about bullying can help to ensure that students are aware of adults’ expectations that they refrain from bullying and help students who are bullied. School rules and policies should be posted and discussed with students and parents. Appropriate positive and negative consequences also should be developed for following or not following the school's rules.

Links to states’ anti-bullying statues can be found on the Stopbullying.gov website: http://www.stopbullying.gov/laws/index.html

Relevant materials in Welcoming Schools include:

7) Increase adult supervision in hot spots where bullying occurs.

Bullying tends to thrive in locations where adults are not present or are not vigilant. Once school personnel have identified hot spots for bullying from the student questionnaires, look for creative ways to increase adults’ presence in these locations.

Students are most likely to be able to identify the “hot spots” for adults.
A lesson plan in the Welcoming Schools Guide has students identify these hot spots and the student survey helps identify ways in which students are targeted. These resources can be found at:

8) Intervene consistently and appropriately in bullying situations.

All staff should be able to intervene effectively on the spot to stop bullying (i.e., in the 12 minutes that one frequently has to deal with bullying). Designated staff should also hold sensitive follow-up meetings with children who are bullied and (separately) with children who bully. Staff should involve parents of affected students whenever possible.

In order to successfully intervene, adults need to recognize student language that is sometimes at the root of bullying: For example, when students are targeted because they are not acting in traditionally feminine or masculine ways or when students are put down because they live with a grandparent, two dads, or in foster care. Welcoming Schools provides tools to intervene when these comments are made. Resources in Welcoming Schools include:

9) Focus some class time on bullying prevention.

It is important that bullying prevention programs include a classroom component. Teachers (with the support of administrators) should set aside 20-30 minutes each week (or every other week) to discuss bullying and peer relations with students. These meetings help teachers to keep their fingers on the pulse of students' concerns, allow time for candid discussions about bullying and the harm that it can cause, and provide tools for students to address bullying problems. Anti-bullying themes and messages also can be incorporated throughout the school curriculum.

All of the lesson plans in Welcoming Schools are key components of comprehensive bullying prevention. Some specifically address bullying behaviors and the role of bystanders, allies and targets and others address respect across differences.

10) Continue these efforts over time.

There should be no "end date" for bullying prevention activities. Bullying prevention should be woven into the entire school environment.

As new students, families, and educators cycle into a school community it is critical that professional development, family activities and lesson plans continue to be implemented every year. Research shows that changing a school culture takes time and short-term interventions do not have a lasting affect. The contents of Welcoming Schools have been designed so that they can be used proactively over time.