New York State School Boards Association

Giving students the tools to break the cycle of bullying


On Board Online • November 1, 2010

By Jeffrey S. Handelman
Staff Writer

To successfully combat bullying, we must instill an ethic of doing the right thing, said educational consultant and author Barbara Coloroso, at her featured workshop, “The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander – Breaking the Cycle.”

“We do not need praise-dependent, reward-dependent kids,” Coloroso said at her Oct. 23 session at NYSSBA’s 91st Annual Convention and Trade Show. “We need to raise resistors and defenders who are taught to value our common humanity and overcome intolerance.”

Bullying typically involves an imbalance of power, intent to harm another and a threat of further aggression, she said.

Bullying is about turning people into “it,” much like the dehumanization that has taken place during history’s genocides, she said.  It involves utter contempt for another human being.  Acculturating students to serve as defenders and resistors rather than bystanders should be the goal of our education system, she said.

Those who are bullied have in common one thing – they have been targeted by a bully or a bunch of bullies because they are different in some way.  Coloroso described the three roles of individuals in the cycle of bullying: the bully, the bullied and, critically, the bystander.   Bystanders aid and abet bullies, either as active participants or idle witnesses.

What should school leaders do about it? There are three P’s, she said:

Policies: District policies should be clearly written, consistently enforced and broadly communicated.  It is essential to include a clear definition of bullying, as well as a statement of responsibility of those who witness bullying.

Procedures:  Students need to know a person in the school to whom they can safely report any bullying incidents. The district must provide procedures that outline the steps that will be taken to protect the targeted student and describe support for the targeted student and parents. 

Programs:  District programs should reinforce the policy and help create a safe, caring, welcoming environment for all students. 

Bullies have a sense of entitlement, feeling they have the liberty to exclude a victim for some reason.  It takes courage to stand up to bullies and injustices, often at personal cost to the defender, said Coloroso.  Much of the bullying that occurs in schools takes place without the knowledge of adults, making it important for students to become witnesses, stand up for their peers and take responsibility for their own behavior. 

Coloroso said students need to learn the difference between telling and tattling and the distinction between reporting and ratting.  She cited many examples of recent tragedies involving violence in schools that could have been prevented if students had only reported their suspicions to school authorities. 


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