Dr. Ken Seeley,
President of the National Center for School Engagement.
Dr. Ken Seeley, President of the National Center for School Engagement (NCSE), presented findings from OJJDP-funded research on the impact of bullying on school engagement, attendance, and achievement in a federal panel discussion at the sixth Annual Bullying Prevention Association Conference on November 1618, 2009, in Pittsburgh, PA.
Dr. Seeley and his colleagues undertook three studies. The first, a quantitative study, surveyed 1,000 students in the fall and the spring of their 6th-grade year. Two sets of questions were asked: one set examined whether the students were engaged in school (behaviorally, cognitively, and emotionally), and a second set whether students were subject to actions by their peers that fall within the definition of bullying. Using structural equation modeling, the data collected were analyzed to determine the connections, if any, between being victimized, being engaged in school, and the outcomes reflected in school records of attendance and achievement (measured by grade point average).
In addition, two qualitative studies explored instructional, interpersonal, and structural factors at school that affect the connection between victimization and school attendance, and teachers' experiences in attempting to ameliorate the impact of school victimization.
Researchers learned that being bullied may not be a direct cause of truancy or low school achievement. If, however, bullying results in the victim becoming less engaged in school, that victim is more likely to cease attending and achieving; if the victim can remain or become engaged in school, his or her attendance and achievement are less likely to be affected. The power of victimization to distance students from learning can be overcome through strategies to create positive learning environments that produce academic achievement.
Dr. Seeley and his colleagues made the following recommendations:
- Focus on engagement. Schools and their leadership should redouble their efforts to reach each child through a heightened focus on schools' primary educational missionto create the conditions for learning for all students and thereby help the bullied children in their midst become productive adults.
- Model caring behavior. Teachers and administrators need to be trained in how to model appropriate caring in the school community; this training should be incorporated into teacher and principal licensure programs and continuing professional development curriculums.
- Offer mentoring programs. Mentorship of specific students should be made part of the job description of every adult working in the school setting. Students should be given opportunities to mentor and lead other studentsin the classroom, in cooperative learning situations, and/or as part of service learning programs.
- Provide opportunities for community service in and out of school. Schools should take the initiative to involve students in community service both in and out of school as an integral part of building school community and counteracting the isolation and pain of bullying.
- Re-examine the transitions in the school structure. Schools should explore the possibility of eliminating, or at least facilitating, the transition from elementary to middle school, and middle school to high school. Options might include the creation of K8 schools and the development of transition programs with a broad range of services.
- Start addressing bullying early. Schools should direct resources toward recognizing and intervening in bullying in the early grades. Teachers and administrators should be trained to recognize the difference between bullying and playful banter.
- Resist the temptation of "bullying-in-a-box." Schools should avoid narrow, "quick-fix" antibullying programs, and instead focus on sincerely engaging students in the real work of school by providing them with challenging work to do, by giving them adults who support them and model caring behavior, and by pointing the way to the future possibilities of productive adulthood.