vendredi 1 novembre 2013

Improving School Climate to Reduce Bullying

There seems to be no shortage of bad news about bullying in Canada these days. Suicides linked to bullying are regularly reported in the news. And we know that most students witness bullying at school, and many are directly involved in bullying sometime during a given school year. 20% of students—one in every five kids in nearly every school—is involved in bullying (as bully, victim, or both) on a weekly basis. This means that many kids' lives are being disrupted and scarred by bullying.

Bullying harms kids in nearly every way imaginable. Minimally, it disrupts their learning, as kids who are victimized tend to avoid school to avoid the bullying. The stress of bullying causes them to suffer anxiety and depression, and it undermines their feelings of safety and connection to school. We now know that children who witness bullying are also at risk for serious negative effects, including school disengagement, school avoidance, and, consequently, lower academic achievement.

Bullying is defined as "a relationship problem that requires relationship solutions" ( This new way of thinking about bullying highlights the complex and powerful relationship dynamics that underpin bullying. And it provides a compelling rationale for the important role that adults—educators, parents, and community leaders—have in intervening in bullying situations and helping all children to learn better ways of relating to each other.

A relational understanding of bullying also connects directly to the growing appreciation of the links between school climate and bullying. School climate is a complex concept, but can generally be separated into four broad dimensions (Cohen, McCabe, Michelli, & Pickeral, 2009):

  1. Physical, social, and emotional safety
  2. Quality of teaching and learning
  3. Relationships across the school community
  4. Well maintained school with adequate space and resources

Students in schools with positive climates are absent less frequently, feel a strong connection to their school, and consequently get better grades. Teachers also benefit from a positive climate by having more satisfying careers in their school. Schools with negative climates tend to have more bullying problems than in schools with positive climates. When the climate is positive, however, students get messages that discourage bullying and promote positive values from the staff. Consequently, students are less likely to bully and more likely to do something constructive to stop it when they see it happening.

A recent study from the US (Syvertsen, Flanagan, & Stout, 2009) showed that students in schools with poor climates were less likely to tell a teacher or principal if they knew a peer was planning to hurt others because they feared that telling would get them into trouble. This suggests that students who lack trust in their teachers and principals will not confide in them and not report bullying incidents to them. Consequently, the bullying will grow and fester under a cloak of silence, and the adults who should be acting to end bullying will never be mobilized to do so.

There is little doubt that the public's expectations of teachers and school officials regarding bullying have increased substantially in recent years, a fact reflected in recent legislative and regulatory changes across Canada. Today's schools are undoubtedly complex systems to navigate. However, the bedrock on which great teaching is founded has not changed. That bedrock is relationships. Great teachers build trusting, warm, and caring relationships with all of their students, notwithstanding the challenges this can sometimes pose, and lead them toward academic and social success. And if there is a world without bullying in our future, it will mostly likely look like this.

Dr. David Smith, C.Psych.,
Y2 Consulting Psychologists

If you have any questions and/or comments, don't hesitate. Thank you!


  • CBC News (2011a). Bullying blamed for Quebec teen's suicide. Retrieved on April 5, 2012 from
  • CBC News (2011b). Gay Ottawa teen who killed himself was bullied. Retrieved on April 5, 2012 from
  • PREVNet (2011). Bullying: Definitions. Retrieved on April 5, 2012 from http://www.
  • Syvertsen, A. K., Flanagan, C. A., & Stout, M. D. (2009). Code of Silence: Students' Perceptions of School Climate and Willingness to Intervene in a Peer's Dangerous Plan. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101, 219–232.
  • Cohen, J., McCabe, E. M., Michelli, N. M., & Pickeral, T. (2009). School climate: Research, policy, practice, and education. Teachers College Record, 111, 180-213.
  • Smith, J. D. (2008). Promoting a positive school climate: Restorative practices for the classroom. In D. Pepler, and W. Craig (Eds.), An international perspective on understanding and addressing bullying, PREVNet Series, Vol. 1 (pp.132-143). Toronto: PREVNet.

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