Bullying from an Educator’s Perspective: A Conversation with Sharon Stevens of Cleveland Metro Schools

Sharon Stevens, Educator and Program Coordinator of the Responsible Sexual Behavior Department at Cleveland Metro Schools

Bullying, from elementary through high school, is a form of youth violence and is considered an adverse childhood experience (ACE). Educators and school staff are an integral part of a student’s life and are in a unique situation to prevent bullying and help a student who is being bullied. With that being said, what is the best way for an educator, parent or caregiver to address bullying? What are the biggest warning signs of a student being bullied? What are the best ways to enforce expectations around bullying behaviors?

These questions and more have been answered by Sharon Stevens, an educator with over 20 years of experience working at Cleveland Metro Schools in Ohio. For the last 17 years, Sharon has worked in health and prevention education. She also provides dating violence education to students and has enacted efforts to prevent the bullying of LGBTQ+ youth by helping schools create safe spaces for this student population.

Continue reading for more insights from our conversation with Sharon and how educators, parents, caregivers, and students can properly address and prevent bullying on and off school grounds.

What are some strategies educators can use to enforce expectations around bullying behavior?

“Be proactive. Educators should establish early on that bullying will not be tolerated in their classroom or school. This should include establishing class rules that address bullying behavior. Teachers and school staff should have a plan ready in the event that issues do arise, and they should know what their response should be in that moment. It’s also important to note that the reprimand or consequences for bullying should be clear, consistent, and appropriate to the student’s age and behavior.

All educators and staff within the school should be on the same page when it comes to the consequences for bullying behavior. It really is a community effort. This also includes the parents and caregivers of the students. They should also be aware of the school’s bullying prevention plans and policies.”

What are the biggest warning signs of a student who may be bullied?

“The biggest warning sign educators should be aware of are changes in a student’s behavior or attitude, such as declining grades. This is something you would probably notice very early on.

Sometimes, students who are being bullied are more isolated from their peers as well. If the bullying has become physical, some warning signs include bruises and scratches, especially during the times they are returning to the classroom from recess or lunch. Other behaviors that may indicate a student is being bullied include: getting into fights, showing a loss of interest in school and other activities, or just not wanting to come to school in general.”

Who is most at risk of being bullied and why?

“Children who experience bullying are often perceived as ‘different’ from their peers. They are usually isolated from the group. They may be new to a school, lack social skills, or have a disability. Sometimes the bullying is based on a child’s physical appearance, gender, or perceived sexual orientation. Unfortunately, there are a wide range of students that can be targeted for bullying.”

Who is more likely to engage in bullying behavior?

“Bullying happens at every age and every grade level, but research shows that bullying occurs most often during middle school. Middle school students are going through adolescence and are trying to discover their identity. Friends also become more important for this age group. Everyone wants to be part of the clique or group, and bullying can sometimes play into this. At this age, students just want to feel accepted, and they may play a part in bullying behavior to feel that acceptance from others.

While some kids a have a group or clique to support the bullying, other bullies are socially isolated.
Then there are those students who bully because they have been the victim of bullying. A student may also lash out through bullying if they are not supported at home, or they don’t have the best communication with their parents.”

What is the best course of action for an educator to take with both the student bullying and the student who has been targeted?

“You definitely want to intervene immediately. Don’t let the incident pass and come back to it later. Immediately address the students involved, both the bully and the victim. It’s important that both students know that bullying behavior is not tolerated, and that no one should ever be bullied.

You also need to address the needs of the bullied student. Find out what they need whether that be counseling or other resources. School counseling can be beneficial to both parties, getting the student who has been bullied the support they need and helping the student who has engaged in bullying acknowledge their inappropriate behavior. Depending on the situation, you may need to get help from your colleagues. The key is to step in quickly.”

How can parents, caregivers and other adults in a child’s formative community help prevent bullying?

“One thing that parents, caregivers and adults can do is model good behavior. We need to model the behavior we want to see in our children. By teaching and demonstrating tolerance, empathy, respect and acceptance of other’s differences, children will see that this is the proper way to behave and treat others.”

What can fellow students do to address bullying if they have witnessed a friend or peer being bullied?

“Students should not support or encourage the bully. Students should be kind and show empathy for the student being bullied. If the student who is being bullied is afraid or doesn’t feel comfortable going to their teacher or another adult, a witness can step in and inform someone of what happened. Ultimately, we do not want students to be bystanders, but be more of a supportive ally for their peers being bullied.”

What is the best way to address cyberbullying if it occurs?

“Victims of cyberbullying should block the messages, keep records of the incidents, and if necessary change their account information. Most importantly, victims need to speak up and tell a parent, teacher, or other trusted adult when cyberbullying occurs.

Just like we need school and classroom rules around in-school bullying, we need to have rules and conversations around cyberbullying as well. Students and parents need to be taught about digital safety. Parent and educators should teach children to be good digital citizens by educating them on what cyberbullying is and how it can be just as hurtful, if not more so, than in-school bullying.”

How can we encourage students to speak up when being bullied?

“Many students are too afraid or ashamed to speak up when being bullied. To encourage students to speak up, we must create safe and supportive school environments where students feel that the adults and peers in the school care about them. This will empower students to feel comfortable reporting bullying.

It all goes back to teaching respect and empathy, so that students understand just how harmful bullying is, and that it has no place in our schools or online.”

Learn more about bullying prevention for your district

For more strategies on bullying prevention, read this blog post outlining five prevention strategies districts and schools can implement to address this widespread issue. Or better yet, contact us or take an interactive demo of our violence and bullying prevention simulations for educators and school staff, parents and caregivers, and students.

See our products for bullying and violence prevention here or check out our Violence Prevention Suite for a community approach to upstream violence prevention.

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