​​How approaches can be designed

The broad strategies most likely to be effective in preventing and reducing bullying are outlined in What works?

Schools sometimes implement a number of approaches to ensure a comprehensive approach, so it is important the aims and designs of these various approaches are complementary.

Understanding how anti-bullying approaches can be designed for different purposes helps you to select the most suitable combination of approaches for your school and your goals.

Primary purpose: prevention or response
Scope: holistic or targeted
Structure: framework, strategy, resource or program
Perspective: individual, social or systemic
Pedagogical approach: constructivist or behavioural

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Primary purpose: prevention or response… or both

A key distinction is whether the primary purpose is preventing bullying from happening or responding to bullying after it has happened.

  • Prevention approaches involve proactive work to challenge cultural norms and social prejudices with the whole school community. They focus on establishing a positive school climate and a safe environment for everyone. Preventative work is ongoing and sustained, built into the school values and mission, and involves everyone in the school community. Whole-school frameworks are generally preventative approaches.
  • Response approaches involve positive ways to intervene to stop bullying once it has happened, supporting the students involved, repairing the harm and restoring relationships and the environment. Some approaches used in response to bullying also aim to prevent bullying from occurring again through the repair of relationships and improvement of understanding and knowledge.

A small number of approaches include both prevention and response strategies.

Scope: holistic or targeted

The design of an approach will depend on whether it is holistic or targeted.

Targeted approaches can be encompassed within holistic approaches to address additional specific issues identified by the school.

Features of holistic approaches include:

  • Involves the whole school community (staff, parents, students)
  • Sustained over the school year and over years
  • Aims to foster ongoing resilience across contexts
  • Focuses on positive and desirable behaviour
  • Usually incorporated within the curriculum.

Features of targeted approaches include:

  • ​Involves an individual student, student group, or group of staff
  • Usually one-off events
  • Response to bullying incidents in the school context
  • Explores the issue or behaviour to be changed
  • Often 'add-on' activities outside the curriculum.

Structure: framework, strategy, resource or program

In consultation with your school community, you will be able to decide the most appropriate combination of approaches for your school, considering the options of frameworks, strategies, resources or programs.

Frameworks are structured guides for planning, implementing activities and monitoring change. Frameworks do not provide the actual content or activities (strategies, resources or programs) but combine overall structural integrity with local flexibility. Some frameworks relevant to preventing bullying used in Australian schools are:

Strategies are practical actions (which can be holistic or targeted) by staff, and include:

  • Holding school events aimed at improving the overall school climate
  • Promoting positive relationships between staff and students
  • Increasing student participation and responsibility through leadership activities
  • Focusing on broad social issues, personal responsibility through the school's values and curriculum
  • Adopting a positive behaviour management approach across the whole school
  • Promoting student resilience through consistent positive feedback and positive experiences
  • Using key words and shared language across the school about behaviour and expectations
  • Enhancing and promoting the school's behaviour management policy and procedures
  • Setting up 'safe places' and 'friend zones'
  • Running student leader sessions for younger students
  • Participating in awareness raising campaigns
  • Training staff in recognising and responding appropriately to reports of bullying
  • Holding staff discussion groups to foster a shared understanding of preventing and responding to bullying
  • Teaching students a visual reminder for dealing with conflict, e.g. Five fingers for what to do.

Resources are materials or services which guide student learning or the development of staff skills and knowledge, and include:

  • Training packages for teachers on how to deal with bullying
  • Activity or tip sheets for students on specific strategies to respond to bullying
  • A stand-alone lesson on a specific topic related to bullying, e.g. how to be a safe and supportive bystander
  • Professional reading on critical leadership, pedagogy and inquiry approaches
  • Visiting speakers or performers who engage and inspire students
  • Facilitators who support the school through its processes of audit and change
  • Posters, display walls and other visual reminders about school values and promoting positive behaviour
  • Books, videos and other learning materials about dealing with bullying.

Programs are a plan of action or schedule of activities to be followed in order to accomplish a specified goal. Programs can be universal and/or targeted. A program manual or instructions will detail what work is to be done, by whom, when, and what strategies or resources will be used. Programs include:

  • A series of lessons that focus on understanding and preventing bullying
  • A series of lessons or activities that promote social and emotional learning
  • A series of activities which separately target all school community members – students, parents and carers, teachers, other staff and school administration
  • Focused series of activities over several years to extend and complement other student wellbeing and positive behaviour strategies already in place in your school.

Perspective: individual, social or systemic

Approaches to countering bullying differ in the underlying philosophical perspective they take on what bullying is, why it happens, and how it can be stopped.

Broadly speaking, there are three perspectives on bullying. A comprehensive approach to preventing and responding to bullying incorporates all three perspectives. Each of these focuses on different aspects of the bullying dynamic:

  • The individual perspective views bullying as an individual, psychological and behavioural problem.
  • The social-ecological perspective views bullying as an interpersonal relationship dynamic problem and the expression of the varying status and unequal power relations between individuals and groups (social) in that context (ecology).
  • The systemic perspective views bullying as a cultural and system-wide problem related to the power dynamics inherent in all institutions.

Read more about Perspectives on bullying.

Pedagogical approach: constructivist or behavioural

Approaches vary in their pedagogical approach. Two common pedagogical approaches are:

  • Constructivist learning promotes positive change through developing understanding of self and others, and through enhancing connectedness. They are learner-centred and highlight the importance of cultural context. Constructivist pedagogy involves exploring the individual, social and cultural factors underlying bullying. It involves teachers as well as students in the process of critical reflection and self-understanding. Approaches based on constructivist pedagogy are more appropriate to address broader and holistic goals.

  • Behavioural learning involves practical experience based on information provided to students. Approaches based on behavioural learning theory may be effective for teaching and practising specific skills, for example, how to respond if you are bullied. They often feature in approaches based on an individualist perspective of bullying. Approaches that are based on a behavioural approach are not likely to affect the social and structural factors that contribute to bullying.

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