KU News Release

August 29, 2012
Contact: Mike Krings, KU News Service, 785-864-8860

Researcher creating certification program in bullying prevention for educators

Robert Harrington

More Information

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas professor is creating a program to help educators prevent and respond appropriately to bullying, based on school-based research that has won international acclaim.

Robert Harrington, professor of psychology and research in education, has studied and taught many facets of personality, behavior and bullying in its many forms for years, and he teaches one of the Midwest’s only courses in bullying prevention and intervention to higher education students at KU. While Harrington is already imparting the lessons to future teachers, he plans to take the lessons to those already working in schools. He is creating a certificate program to help teachers, counselors, school psychologists, social workers, administrators and others create bullying plans and policies. The program will be available online for educators across the state.

“Where we begin with bullying is, you have to have a policy,” Harrington said. “It shows everyone — kids, teachers, parents, administrators — you won’t tolerate it. And it helps the school. If a parent or attorney challenges you, the first thing they’ll ask is, ‘What’s your policy?’”

The idea of a bullying policy is relatively new to many states and schools. Many still consider bullying as just a part of growing up and something kids simply have to deal with. That should not be the case, Harrington said, and is a problem adults, parents and teachers all must confront. While bullying can happen to anyone in any number of settings, schools are ideally equipped to help prevent it and educate young people, teachers and parents about the ramifications it can have.

Harrington’s work starts by helping schools recognize the many forms of bullying. It goes beyond simple name-calling, pushing and shoving. There is cyber, racial, sexual, LGBTQ, verbal, physical, hazing, relational, extortion and emotional bullying, among others.

“Most schools have a very limited version of what they’re going to call bullying, mostly including only verbal and physical bullying,” Harrington said. “If the policy does not recognize a form of bullying it is likely that students may not report it and teachers will do nothing about it.”

Thirty-three states currently have statewide policies regarding school bullying. In Kansas, each school district adopts its own. Harrington recently authored a study in which he analyzed the policies from across the state. He requested the policy of every district in the state and received responses from about half. His research team analyzed each and scored them for strengths and deficiencies.

Among the findings:
• Many schools felt their anti-bullying responsibility is limited to the school day and events
• Most only included students in their policy, not teachers, parents or administrators
• Almost none included language on what to do when bullying becomes a crime or involved any sort of partnership with community law enforcement
• Very few involved training for teachers or parents on how to appropriately handle incidents of bullying
• None included language on when parents should be notified of bullying incidents
• A majority of the policies did not have a plan to teach students how to properly respond to bullying
• Very few included plans for social skill development for students such as anger management techniques, problem solving, conflict resolution or how to make friends
• Most policies did not include a mechanism on evaluating the effectiveness of the school’s approach to bullying or attempt to improve the overall school climate

Harrington presented the findings at the Irish International Conference on Education in Dublin earlier this year. The research won the best paper award at the conference and has been accepted for publication in Literacy Information and Computer Education Journal. He will also present the findings as the keynote address at the fall meeting of the Kansas Association of School Psychologists.

While the research shows many schools have room to improve in their approach to bullying, Harrington said he has also found that schools are often very effective at doing so when presented with strategies and knowledge on appropriate approaches to curbing bullying. When students are made aware of their rights and know how to respond properly, they often do. Kansas, for example, recently implemented a new hotline, 1-800-CHILDREN, that students or bystanders can use to anonymously report incidents. Teachers and administrators are busy with their work of educating students, but when shown proper responses, they can make a difference.

“Many teachers are simply frustrated and don’t know what to do,” Harrington said. “It doesn’t have to be an extra lesson in manners or social skills. Students, teachers, school administrators and parents can all do well when presented with good information on how to prevent bullying and deal with it when it happens. Everyone wants to be effective.”

The certificate program will show teachers and schools methods to curb bullying such as problem-solving conflict resolution, anger control, social skills training, relaxation, tolerance training and other techniques. It also shows schools that suspension, the traditional punishment, is not effective. Harrington said suspension gets rid of the problem temporarily, but students return only to bully again. What they learn is that they need to avoid being caught next time, and they extort the victim not to report again.

“Sending kids to suspension is like putting a student with a reading disability in time out until he learns to read better,” Harrington said. “It does not work. These students need to learn new replacement skills that counter their bullying tendencies.”

In addition to the class he teaches to graduate students and the upcoming certificate program, Harrington teaches a course to teachers and school counselors on bullying prevention and intervention. He is also authoring a training module on how to create a schoolwide bullying prevention and intervention plan.

Preventing bullying is key, Harrington said, not only to help students avoid situations that can lead to violence, depression, suicide and truancy but to help educators as well. Behavior management challenges and not receiving parental and administrative support in their efforts is the No. 1 reason teachers give when they leave the field.

Harrington will soon expand his research and collaborate with Carol Daniels of Emporia State University to study how teachers, including college professors, can be bullied by their students.

“Anyone can be a bully, and anyone can be bullied,” Harrington said. “Classroom management at the college level is a burgeoning new area for study that needs exploration by universities and by college faculty.”

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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