Lessons I learned from working on U.S. Army bases to create effective bullying prevention
Well, the pages are turning, folks: bullying finally seems to be recognized as a wide-scale problem with horrific implications to our students’ learning and emotional health. Forty-nine states have passed anti-bullying policies, and an epidemic of so-called “bullying prevention programs” are flooding the publishing markets. But beware: Farrington and Ttofi’s meta-analysis of 600 bullying programs found that less than one quarter of them are effective in curbing peer cruelty. In fact, most bullying policies, procedures and programs do not reap the favorable outcomes. (Leading in low performance are those pre-made anti-bullying posters, t-shirt campaigns or one-time assemblies).
But don’t despair. Bullying is learned and can be unlearned. And there is good news: we are also learning what practices will reduce peer cruelty and create safer school climates. A surprising group-the U.S. Army-is implementing some of those very identified gold standards for their military kids and have created one of the best battle plans for reducing bullying.
S.O.S. Elements of Effective School Change ©Borba
S- Systemic Implementation: Effectiveness is curtailed if your bullying prevention policies apply merely to the fourth grade, the science department or the third school wing. Bullying prevention efforts must be adopted systemically throughout the system. Efforts should also be woven into curriculum and classroom practices and not “tacked on” as a “worksheet approach,” a cute assembly or posters hung on walls.
O- Ongoing, Sustained Efforts: Bullying prevention is about changing attitudes and behaviors of the stakeholders. That type of lasting change must begin with a clear understanding about bullying, what conditions increase and reduce it, and clarity as to which procedures curtail it. A one-time staff bullying prevention workshop or viewing a movie won’t. Ongoing training and education about bullying for all members of the school community (parents, staff and students) is crucial to success.
S- Stakeholders Involved on “Same Page”: Bullying prevention must involve all stakeholders including parents, students, teachers, bus drivers, secretaries, counselors, psychologists, SROs, trustees, librarians, educational aides, custodians, law enforcement, administrators, and even community members. Only when all the players are educated about your bully-prevention policies, programs and procedures will they be able to respond as well as join in your commitment to reduce peer cruelty.
While the three parts of S.O.S. Elements of Effective School Change may seem daunting, they are all necessary and doable. I’ve conducted hundreds of staff development trainings in bullying prevention in the U.S. as well as around the world, and the vast majority of those are the “one-time” shot approach (and I often wonder to what extent any real change ensued). And then a rather unlikely client-notably the U.S. Army and IM-COM Europe-hired me to create the optimum staff development model in bullying prevention, and then lead it. The end approach is one of the finest I’ve experienced in thirty decades. And the process supports evidence-based best practices as well as those three key S.O.S. Elements of Effective School Change. My hope is that you’ll be able to adapt the model for your organization.
Bullying Prevention in D.O.D. Schools on Our Bases
To help you grasp the complexity in the Army’s overall training concept, a bit of background is required. Over 40,000 U.S. troops are stationed on our overseas bases in Europe along with hundreds of their children who are educated in Department of Defense (DOD) schools. The list of our current European US Army bases I was to be involved with over the next included: Ansbach, Bamberg, Baumholder, Benelux (SHAPE), Garmisch, Grafenwohr, Heidelberg, Hohenfels, Kaiserslautern, Livorno, Schinnen, Schweinfurt, Stuffgart, Vicenza and Wisesbaden as well as the US Air Force installations of Alconbury, Lajes, Spandanlem/Bitfurg AF/Eifel, RAF Lakenheath, Moron, Aviano, Menwith Hill, Croughton and one US Navy base. (My first red-flag was the obvious “geographic handicap” in which I’d train stakeholders on five countries in 25 different locations. But the Army had an answer for that as well).
U.S. commanders and administrators alike wanted to ensure that their military children received their education in safe and bully-proofed schools. How the U.S. Army had me conduct the trainings was a masterpiece lead by an amazing woman and School Liaison Officer, Judi Patrick.
The Army and IM-COM Europe’s bullying prevention efforts began by spending a year developing an anti-bullying policy for the D.O.D. military schools in Europe. The policy was then rolled out, explained to each garrison and signed by military commanders in their respective garrisons. I then came on board to conduct trainings on those bases.
U.S. Army Bullying Prevention Model for D.O.D. Schools
Here is a summary of the Army’s three-year plan bullying prevention plan. (Note how the three S.O.S. elements are included).
STAGE 1: Training in Bullying Prevention
Following the creation and signing of the anti-bullying policy, I was flown to Europe (and Korea) for a total of five times to conduct specific bullying prevention to key stakeholders with the goal of creating a systemic and sustained approach.
- In March of 2012 I conducted initial bullying prevention training on select U.S. Army bases addressing parents, select counselors and administrators, Child and Youth Service advocates and met with several U.S. Commanders.
- I conducted several student focus groups about bullying to gather preliminary data on several U.S. bases in Germany and summarized that information.
- In June of 2012 I worked with ASACs Mental Health Counselors and Drug Prevention in a two-day bullying prevention and resilience building trainings in Mainz, Germany. (In addition, two weeks previously I had flown to our South Korea base and trained ASACs mental health counselors who work with our military youth in our Asian-Pacific bases: Japan, South Korea, Alaska and Hawaii).
STAGE 2: Training “6 Essential R’s to Reduce Bullying”
- I returned to Europe in September of 2012 and visited four bases in Germany and conducted a six-hour live training on my “6 Essential R’s to Reduce Bullying” which was broadcast live via tele-presence to 18 bases. Each base was instructed to have a Task Force Bullying Prevention team present representing their garrison and create a plan to implement based on the presentation. Team membership might include: administrators, teachers, counselors, psychologists, school liaison officers, child and youth service coordinators, chaplain, M.P.
- I instructed task force member to collect evidence-based data of bullying behaviors, conduct student focus groups and disseminate the information on bullying prevention to their school staff following my departure.
STAGE 3: Training “4 Crucial C’s to Create An Effective Bully-Prevention Culture” and Engaging Parents
- In March of 2013 I returned to Europe to bases in Germany, Brussels, England and Italy visiting schools, meeting counselors, administrators, commanders and school liaison officers and conducting parent trainings on progress.
- I conducted second six-hour training via tele-presence to the 18 Bullying Prevention Task Force Teams on content: “4 Crucial C’s to Change School Cultural Norms and Reduce Bullying.” I also shared specific strategies to mobilize student compassion to become active bystanders, engage parents in bullying prevention and help staff members maintain momentum in their efforts.
- Following sessions, each Bullying Task Force was to create and submit an action plan demonstrating the steps implemented in Stage One of the training.
There is no “silver bullet” to bullying prevention, but we do know that a sustained, systemic approach involving all stakeholders who implement proven practices based on data-driven evidence is our best hope. The U.S. Army (and IM-COM Europe and extraordinary staff led by Judi Patrick) model we created is one of the best approaches I’ve seen. Their efforts and commitment in bullying prevention are remarkable. I’m honored to be included on this team. I’ll be sharing more of this incredible experience. Meanwhile, may we learn from their approach.