This 7-part series will cover the history of bullying legislation and anti-bullying efforts within the state of Colorado beginning with the first definition of bullying by the Legislature in 2001.
Where is the Work Being Done?
Though the law established a state grant program for anti-bullying initiatives beginning in November 2011, as of this writing, no such office or program has been established. This is not to be taken as a lack of movement within the state toward responding to and preventing bullying. A number of state and national organizations have taken up the cause of keeping Colorado’s students safe in our schools and online.
Perhaps the most visible in Colorado is the work of the Colorado Legacy Foundation. In April of 2011, as 11-1254 was moving through the Legislature, the Legacy Foundation convened a Statewide Bullying Prevention Summit with the intent of learning from the experiences of efforts around the state and setting a way forward for eliminating bullying in Colorado schools. From that summit emerged “A Statewide Blueprint for Bullying Prevention.” This document draws from national and local findings from previous efforts and attempts to pull them all together toward a strategic vision.
Primarily, the document takes its framework from the 2011 “Best Practices in Bullying Prevention,” from the U.S. Departments of Education and Health And Human Services. The framework takes as its core tenets the following ten strategies:
- Commit to provide leadership to create and sustain a positive, respectful school climate.
- Form or identify an existing team to coordinate bullying prevention efforts.
- Regularly assess and monitor school climate including the nature of bullying and effectiveness of bullying prevention efforts.
- Garner staff, parent, and community support and build partnerships.
- Establish or revise and enforce school policies and procedures related to best practices in bullying prevention and intervention.
- Train all staff in bullying awareness, prevention, and appropriate intervention.
- Increase active adult supervision in hot spots where bullying occurs.
- Intervene immediately, consistently, equitably, and appropriately when bullying occurs.
- Integrate time into academic and social activities for teaching students bullying prevention skills including awareness, responding, and reporting.
- Continue to implement, monitor, and update bullying prevention efforts over time.
Not surprisingly, some version of these same strategies had been identified two years earlier in the results of the Colorado Trust’s program evaluation. The Trust’s learning curve had even identified possible bumps in the road such as their identification of parent and family involvement in anti-bullying work as extremely difficult.
Rather than taking the 10 strategies wholesale, the summit participants attempted a “frugal innovation” approach to changing school culture and behavior in the interest of preventing bullying. They identified three key strategies:
- Leverage existing state and district standards, data, and accountability structures,
- Build authentic partnerships with youth,
- Foster creative collaborations with families and community-based organizations.
From these three strategies, the Blueprint outlines specific activities schools and districts can implement to build stronger and safer community cultures. Not surprisingly, these activities and strategies include approaches that, like the Safe-2-Tell legislation, do not necessarily center around bullying behaviors, but take as their goal plotting a course to the kinds of communities that produce empathetic, active citizens rather than attempting to combat an unwanted behavior.
This preventative, proactive stance also aligns with the Colorado Trust’s concerns about the immovability of bullying attitudes and proclivities in high schools relative to elementary and middle schools. If schools and communities took the time to attend to positive behaviors early on, perhaps later-year bullying would no longer be a concern.
Nationally, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University in partnership with the Born This Way Foundation have dedicated a significant amount of resources to accomplishing a task similar to the mission of Colorado’s Department of Education’s efforts to aggregate and disseminate the best practices in bullying prevention. In “Bullying in a Networked Era: A Literature Review” Berkman outlined not only strategies for combating bullying behavior in schools, but illuminated the norms around bullying as well.
Drawing on more than 100 studies of bullying behavior from across the country, the literature review successfully describes the context, participants, and norms surrounding bullying behavior. Unlike the Legacy Foundation or Colorado Trust efforts that identified bullying as a problem and then offer solutions, Levy et al. worked to help educators understand the structures that might be in place within their learning organizations that could contribute to bullying behavior including gender norms, socio-economic status and others.
In addition to the efforts above, scholars and academics have started focusing their research more intently on the study of school cultures and bullying behaviors. In his 2005 book Hurt: Inside the world of today’s teenagers, Chap Clark engages in an ethnographic study of adolescents within a single school district in order that he might better understand the cultural and social forces shaping younger generations.
Clark describes what he finds as a collection of lost, forgotten, and invisible children. While some of his work points toward a golden age fallacy, Clark interprets what he finds as an indication that the youth he encounters have been left alone or ignored by adults who might otherwise be taking an active role in their lives. Such an understanding is similar to the Legacy Foundation’s contention of the importance of adults in young people’s live modeling and explicitly teaching the value of standing up to injustice and bullying.
In her 2011 Dude You’re a Fag: Masculinity and sexuality in high school, C.J. Pascoe reported findings similar to Clarks, describing students’ frequent usage of the term “fag” to demean their fellow classmates. Such language was encountered so frequently, Pascoe claimed, that it often appeared as though community members did not register its use.
Pascoe also reported a norm outside of Clark’s contention of neglect. She wrote that adults within the school where she conducted her study were also implicit in creating environments of heteronormativity and homophobia that led to or passively authorized students’ bullying behaviors.
Such a claim matches with the GLSEN (2011) survey results. Twenty-seven percent of GLSEN survey respondents reported regularly hearing “staff make negative remarks about someone’s gender expression, and 18 percent regularly heard school staff make homophobic remarks” (p. 1).
The work of Clark, Pascoe, and other researchers attempting to document the lives and cultures of American schools with the goal of understanding norms, bullying, and how they are shaped brings a more localized and personal understanding to the work of bullying prevention. Combined with the work of state and national organizations, this research can provide a fuller perspective of the causes, effects, and strategies of prevention surrounding bullying behavior.