The Four R’s of Understanding Bullying

September, 2016, Volume 40, Issue 1

Kids who are bullied are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, health complaints, and decreased academic achievement, according to In October—National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month—educators would do well to take a look at how they are addressing and preventing bullying at their school, and how to carry those efforts throughout the school year.


One of the main challenges in addressing school bullying is getting a clear picture of the problem. In “Data Driven Bullying Prevention,” author James Dillon argues that “when principals, teachers, students, and parents communicate better, they develop a shared and accurate understanding of what the school needs.” He goes on to share the four R’s of how to accurately measure, and properly deal with bullying at school:

1. Relate. The most effective way to obtain accurate data is to connect the adult/staff world with the student world. When adults become trustworthy, the lines of communication with students become clear and information can flow more easily in both directions. This closes the gap between adult perception and student experience.

2. Redefine. When bullying is redefined as words or actions that conflict with shared values of respect and principles for how people should treat each other, it can point toward a higher standard of behavior for every person in the school. These positive social norms will ultimately exert greater influence over behavior than rules and laws.

This redefinition from rule violation to behavior inconsistent with a social norm can result in staff being attentive to how students treat one another and not just attuned to more overt, dramatic rule violations.

3. Reframe. Reframing grows naturally out of redefining. Staff and students can be affirmed and asked to work toward positive, aspirational goals, rather than just meet the low expectations of stopping a negative behavior. Reframing therefore changes perceptions, relationships, identities, responsibilities, and the school environment itself. If students feel a greater sense of ownership and responsibility for how people are treated in their school, they are more likely to show active disapproval instead of tacit acceptance of bullying.

4. Retool. Retooling means rethinking and redesigning the school’s approach to achieving a high standard for how people treat one another. It requires developing a process to involve staff, students, and parents in articulating and communicating these values and principles.


Read the full article, “Data Driven Bullying Prevention,” from the March/April 2016 issue of Principal magazine.

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