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School Climate Key to Preventing Bullying

Photo: Research by Cixin Wang, an assistant UC Riverside professor, studies the affect of school climate on bullying behavior.

Research by Cixin Wang, an assistant UC Riverside professor, studies the affect of school climate on bullying behavior.

By Sean Nealon, Special to the Independent

To effectively prevent bullying schools need to understand positive school climate, use reliable measures to evaluate it and use effective prevention and intervention programs to improve it, a recent paper co-authored by a UC Riverside assistant professor found. Cixin Wang, an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education, co-authored the article, “The Critical Role of School Climate in Effective Bullying Prevention,” with Brandi Berry and Susan M. Swearer, both of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It was published in the journal “Theory Into Practice.” “Bullying is a very complex problem,” Wang said. “With this research, we’re really trying to provide school personnel with some proven steps to address the problem.” In recent years, there has been an increased interest in reducing bullying behavior by school personnel, parents and students. However, educators have remained challenged about how to assess the factors that cause bullying and select evidence-based prevention and intervention programs. Wang and her colleagues sought to address these issues by highlighting the importance of school climate in bullying prevention and reviewing school climate evaluations and intervention programs. They found that positive relationships among students and teachers, and negative attitudes toward inappropriate behavior such as bullying are key elements of a positive school climate. To create a positive school climate, school personnel need to promote and model appropriate attitudes and behaviors, such as caring, empathy, and appropriate interactions among and between teachers and students. To foster attitudes against bullying, in addition to promoting knowledge and awareness of bullying, teachers need to take reports of any bullying incident seriously and intervene consistently according to school rules instead of ignoring or minimizing bullying behavior. Adult behavior is also a critical foundation for a healthy school climate. Adults should refrain from bullying students and other adults at school. In addition, teachers need to incorporate school climate interventions into the curriculum and use teachable moments to openly discuss topics related to bullying, such as popularity, power and social ostracism. Finally, bullying is not only a behavior problem, but also a mental health problem. Research has shown that students involved in bullying experience more mental health difficulties and display higher levels of cognitive distortions. Thus, educators need to seek professional help from mental health practitioners for students involved in bullying and experiencing mental health difficulties.

Sean Nealon works for UC Riverside as a public information officer.

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