Ten counter-bullying absolutes

Ten counter-bullying absolutesDownload a printable version of this article (PDF 649KB)

  • Resist the things that sound right for the things that make a difference,
    when it comes to bullying.
  • Focus on a restorative ethos and culture.
  • Model great relationships with your school’s parents and carers.
  • Teach children the merits of citizenship.
  • Think deeply about what you communicate and how you communicate it.

Research-proven approaches and considerations are already achieving positive results in schools when it comes to school bullying prevention, school culture development, social outcomes of students and a welcoming school climate.

There’s a mountain of research about bullying but one study that I’d like to draw your attention to is profound because of its different approach. Education researchers at the University of London decided that instead of looking at the effectiveness of programs and approaches across the gamut of schools, they would go to schools already recording outstanding counter-bullying and school culture data and examine what they were doing. They found 1,378 of them.

“What if the kid you bullied at school, grew up, and turned out to be the only surgeon who could save your life.”
– Lynette Mather

It’s interesting to look at what they found, and what  they did not find – and to ponder the implications for  our own schools’ contexts.

Let’s count down their top ten strategies to find at number one the most common feature of these successful  schools:

  1. Peer mediation and listening skills – telling students what to do or say including the well-worn “Stop it. I don’t like it” can be counterproductive because this is exactly the motivation for bullying behaviour. Teaching a sound methodology for  resolving conflict and listening to others is far more  effective.
  2. Cooperative learning – overcoming instances of  bullying is about solving a problem with others. So it  makes real sense that creating an environment where  schools consistently teach students to learn and find  solutions together has such a positive impact.
  3. Quality and regular classroom circles – bullying  is all about power. Almost every classroom  configuration whether it is rows, horseshoes or  individual seats are distinguishable by a powerful  person, usually the teacher. This means we’re showing  the students exactly how to exert power over others!  Circles, on the other hand, don’t work because they  are somehow magical but because of the absence of  powerful positions. Regularly using circles for a variety  of purposes such as checking-in, checking-out, preparing, responding, and for learning is a great way to  remove power from our interactions.
  4. Improving the school environment – we all like  to take pride in place. Whether it is the pride that  comes with a clean house or whether it’s the great  look of a new playground in a school, the physical  location counts. School leaders shouldn’t feel ashamed  of spending funds on an attractive school environment as pride in place leads to behaviours that respect the norms and traditions of that place.
  5. Systems that support parent and carer involvement – even the most informal opportunities for parents and carers to gather, to understand your processes, to provide input and to experience your expertise build trust into the partnership between home and school. Having schools, parents and carers on the same page about important counter-bullying strategies really does make an enormous difference.
  6. School Association involvement – while the informal components in the sixth point make a difference, even more critical is a parent, carer, community body that formally endorses or ratifies the contemporary and proven approaches to countering bullying. These might not be the approaches that are suggested to families on current affairs programs, so it makes sense that having well-informed champions in the community is a positive move.
  7. Assemblies – assemblies are the one communicative device where a school leader speaks to each of the three cultural stakeholders in the school – parents and carers, students, and staff – in the same language about the school’s priorities and skills. The big message is not to speak about operational matters … but to show what we know about learning and about how we are shaping good citizenship qualities.
  8. Citizenship education – teaching young people about their place in the community, about rights and responsibilities and about the benefits of communicating and behaving in line with community standards in the context of a contemporary western democracy is worthwhile. It reinforces within children the notion that they are connected and that their choices have direct and indirect impacts on others.
  9. Adult modelling of positive relationships – our actions speak so loudly that our students can’t hear what we’re saying. This isn’t about the absence of conflict in the highly relational system that a school is, but rather the mature, consistent and compromise intended ways in which we model conflict resolution for our students.
  10. Developing a restorative ethos and culture – while I’ve long advocated for the restorative imperative in reducing bullying and building a strong, accountable culture around our schools, I think the most important word in this point is ethos. The Greek meaning of ethos is “everything we do and everything we say” leading us to think more about language and behaviour than about mission statements and rationales.

Most importantly, the actions that do not rate a mention on the list are approaches to bullying such as zero tolerance, bystander training, reactive strategies, student tribunals, direct sanctions and even buddy schemes, even though these are frequently used across many schools. It’s time for us to do what works.


University of London research.
Bibliography: Assets.publishing.service.gov.uk. (2019). [online]
Available at:

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