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How to recognize, build and maintain a Bully-free school environment

School culture and student learning
School culture and student learning
Photo by Robert Benson

A parent shared her son’s concern about avoiding mistreatment at school, a daily worry. In the morning, this child scrutinized each item of clothing he put on for the potential bully factor. This exemplifies systemic school bullying. Bullying impacted his very existence.

Parents should demand a Bully-free school culture. Bully-free cultures employ key elements. We’ll look at school culture which promotes acceptance and achievement.

Characteristics of a Bully-free or Acceptance and Achievement Culture (AAC)
All staff set an example through dress, interactions and behaviors.

AAC Dress

  • Staff is clean, body art and puncture free
  • Dress is neat, ironed, clean, fits well, modest and professional
  • Hair is neat, clean and styled

These steps are the foundation. Focus is on learning, not personal style. Appearance shows respect for self, others and the occasion at hand: in this case, a professional occupation of complete authority over children.

AAC Interactions

  • All staff consistently exercise appropriate manners, treat others with mutual respect, kindness (though firm) and consideration.
  • Staff is honest, mean what they say and follow through.
  • Staff is dependable.
  • Rules are fair and consistently applied.

AAC Behaviors

  • Staff model behavior desired in students.
  • Staff is in student areas including school grounds, hallways, stairs, etc anytime students are present.
  • Rule infractions are immediately addressed in professional, positive, consistent and appropriate ways intended to correct, practice and promote desired behaviors.
  • Honesty and fairness are integral to consistent rules, policies and expectations.

AAC School environment

  • Classroom dress code for students is modest and professional.
  • Hallways are clean, safe, orderly and quiet.
  • Buildings are well-maintained and immaculate; vandalism or other problems are immediately cleaned/repaired.
  • Positive interventions are employed which model appropriate relationship skills.


  • Being unkind necessitates a student call to parents.
  • School playgrounds are safe areas in which students release energy and play games.
  • For that small cohort of kids who find it difficult to control behavior on the playground, staff will take them to another area and engage in an organized sport or game.
  • Kindly stating “Please walk” instead of screaming “Don’t run!” has a profound effect on youth. For many children, it is a new way of learning how to live and interact with others toward positive outcomes.

“Laws and norms are no stronger than the will of those who enforce them against violators.”
(Galston, Wall Street Journal 3/26/14)

AAC Curricula and instructional strategies

  • Student learning is the key to developing and maintaining an Acceptance and Achievement Culture in School.
  • When students (and staff) are actively engaged in effective, content-rich, rigorous curriculum, school is a happy place.
  • Ineffective teaching techniques, such as magic spelling, nonsense words and word guessing are abandoned in favor of time-tested phonetic methods. Students then learn to read well within the first few months of formal schooling.
  • Students are allowed to learn at their own rate and make continuous progress in flexible groups or classrooms.
  • Mental engagement is obvious.


  • Remain focused despite who walks by the classroom or into the classroom
  • Are happy after school
  • Look forward to each school day

According to the largest national study of adolescents ages 12-17, National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health begun in 1994, of the 25 risk factors examined, “problems with schoolwork were the most serious.”

When bullying, classroom behavior, drugs and/or other risky behaviors are large issues for your child or in your child’s school, look first to school culture, curriculum and instruction for the cure.

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