For the next few weeks, the Principals’ Office will feature a middle-level blog series, focusing on issues that especially impact students at the middle level, but that are also significant to all K-8 leaders. The first issue is bullying. 

When Is It Teasing and When Is It Bullying?

If you lead a middle school that is similar to the one in which I am principal, you may often hear a student in your office say, “I was only teasing/kidding/playing!” Sometimes the statement may be true, but more often than not the student really has been participating in the age-old activity of bullying.

Parents defend their bullying child by saying that he or she could never bully, that the other child may be jealous, or they may say, “boys will be boys.” Some of these parents were bullies as children.

But, what exactly is bullying? Is it a one-time event? Is it only physical? Or can it include verbal and social actions?

At our school, we continue to deal with kids who are bullies and we are taking a schoolwide approach to attacking the problem. First, we advertise our “no tolerance of bullying” policy to our kids and parents. Second, our character education program (Schools of FISH!) is taught each day with emphasis on treatment of others. Third, we have initiated a video-vignette program called Stories of Us that graphically records a long-term bullying scenario. Our counselor shows clips of the progressively intense bully episode and then follows with classroom discussions. Finally, we come down aggressively on violators.

Despite our best intentions, we continue to have problems with bullies because some parents cannot tell us who is bullying their child, other parents will do anything to deflect the blame toward their child, and bullying works for bullies!

What are you doing with your students? I’d love to know. 

Mark Terry is principal of Eubanks Intermediate School in Southlake, Texas, and is the Middle-Level Foundation Member on NAESP’s Board of Directors.

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re: Middle-Level Series

5 years ago, one of the top mandates from the board and superintendent was that we institute an antibullying campaign. We are lucky to have a good counseing team and buy-in from staff. We have established a communication system for the students to report bullying and harassment. We also provide instruction to our incoming 6th grade students each year on the types of bullying and how to handle those situations. We provide follow-up with our 7th and 8th grade each year to review our stance on bullying and harassment. We survey our student body each year to measure the effectiveness of our program. We were fortunate to create a new counseling position- intervention counselor. The intervention counselor works with our kids during "peace tables", during suspensions, and is also our walk and talk counselor during the lunch hour(s). Like most schools in this day and age, bullying/harassment is a priority that we focus on each year as we plan for the upcoming year. One special point is that our focus really has been on the bystander. Our lead counselor does a wonderful job when he talks to the kids about how important the bystander is in the whole anti-bullying program.

re: Middle-Level Series


Thanks. Do you have parents who deny their student could be a bully? If so, how do you educate them?


re: Middle-Level Series

Depends on the situation. We always try to contact parents on the first instance of bullying, letting them know that we've discussed this with their student and if the pattern continues we will discipline according to our student handbook. This gives the parent a heads-up and an opportunity to talk to their student. The next time around it is easier to talk to the parent and work in the best interests of the students. We do have instances of bullying that even if the parent is in denial we plow through and conduct our discipline procedure. There are times it can be difficult, but a proactive approach has been our best tool.

re: Middle-Level Series

Parents will always be shocked when their child is the bully, at least the first time. Many resort to denial, it's easy and convenient.

My question is, what is your "zero tolerance policy"? My district has also instituted a similarly titled policy, but I have yet to see anything resembling zero tolerance from our administration. How do you let your students know that there really is zero tolerance?

re: Middle-Level Series

The fight against bullying clearly needs to be initiated at the primary grade levels as in the case with the Preschool to Fifth Grade setting in which I work.

Similar to Mark's program, we have a Board Policy, Character Initiative, Parent Outreach and a quick administrative response to reported cases. Beginning last year, we are also utilizing a Conflict Resolution Program coordinated through the New Jersey Bar Association.

The biggest hurdle I face is the fact that the bullying and/or name calling goes unreported by the students. I mention to parents that those who engage in this behavior are not doing it in class; nor, for the most part, do they do it overtly. Too many students, even on the K - 5 level keep these incidents to themselves. Many tell their parents, but they also fail to bring it to the school's attention. Then sadly, after their child perceives that they have been victimized for weeks or months, the parents complain that the school does nothing about it. We do respond immediately when its brought to our attention. I feel the two biggest reasons we don't hear about taunting or bullying early is that the student victim and their parents believe 1) its part of life, 2) it will just get worse if they report it or, 3) it will build character in their child to let them deal with it.

To answer Mr. Teach, I suggest that Zero Tolerance should be defined in your Board Policy, just as Bullying should be defined.

I was thrilled recently to have a mother report that her son brought home some money from school and when she challenged him on it, he reported that another boy had given it to him. She brought it to my attention and asked me to check with the other student on why and how this occurred, wanting to make sure her child did not pressure anyone into offering money.

re: Middle-Level Series

Teaching positive behavior is one -proactive way of addressing bullying. The non-profit organization TrueSuccess Inc has character resources for 5th thru 8th grade students ----true stories about respect, responsibility, compassion, etc. You might want to check the web-site at

re: Middle-Level Series

Great question, Mr. Teach. Zero tolerance is not spelled out in our board policy. We take that view at our school. We define zero tolerance with students as, 'this school will respond aggressively to instances of bullying.' Practically speaking, many of the issues mentioned by other responders hinder our ability to take the actions we'd like. I appreciate the comments by Glenn as we have trouble with parents waiting until the situation is untenable or I hear about instances on my end-of-year survey. We begin our bullying video series the week after Thanksgiving. I'll let you know how it goes.

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We also struggle with bullying, even though we have a well-developed social skills curriculum and disciplinary system in place. I agree with Glenn Clark that my biggest hurdle is unreported incidents. My second greatest hurdle is reports in which the student and parents refuse to name the bully for fear of retaliation.

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We have an adopted curriculum at our school that was implemented 5 years ago. It's called Bullyproofing Your School. It has great tips for training that is available for community, staff and students. The main idea of the program is to take a stand for what is right. It also covers bully, bystander and victim and there are strategies to use to prevent becoming the bully, victim or bystander. I think that the nail was hit on the head when it was mentioned that training has to begin in the primary grades. Since we have implemented this curriculum, many of my intermediate grade have already been trained and therefore are finding it easier to use the strategies that are in place to squelch the bullying. I don't think, however, that you can stop bully 100% because not all students feel comfortable telling about it. Hopefully they will confide in someone they trust and that may be outside of the school's juristiction and the person they confide in will in turn come to us.

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Thanks for the suggestion. My counselor is a member of our district 'bully prevention' task force. I'll pass along the suggested material.

I too think that any educational program needs to start young. We receive kids in 5th grade who are already quite adept in the art of bullying. This will be a topic of our 'feeder school' meetings.

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The greatest obstacle I face is dealing with the situation that has no adult witness. I cannot and will not suspend a student or implement serious disciplinary measures unless I have credible evidence of an incident. All too often, the incidents occur when adults aren't present or when someone has his or her eyes turned and I have no way to verify that the person reporting the incident isn't just trying to set up another student. It can be difficult to deter bullying when your students have learned how to hide the actions.

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I know what you mean. Sometimes just asking questions of the reported bully leads to surprising information. But, it is time intensive. My best results usually are a result of multiple, consistent reports pertaining to a reported bully. It eventually catches up with him/her.

We just began our use of 'Stories of Us' and are receiving good feedback from kids. However, about five parents think it is too 'rough' and we have given those kids alternate assignments. Out of 680 kids, that is a great response.

re: Middle-Level Series

I'm a Principal of a rural Middle School on the Navajo Nation. My dilemma is convincing my staff to work together to teach appropriate behavior and create an environment that fosters caring and belonging. Although we do have bullies to deal with, most of our kids are simply behaving in ways they see adults behave. Talking tough, making threats and giving attitude are behaviors they see every day in movies, on TV and at home. No one seems to be contradicting these negative images and talking to kids about positive behavior. My teachers call for bullies and trash talkers to be kicked out or banished from school...but school is all they have. How can I manage to keep my school safe and keep troubled kids in school...any ideas?