13 Ideas to Combat Bullying at the Community Level

Jon Konen
District Superintendent

Back to the main Bully Prevention Guide.

You have to watch this video from a recent school board meeting June 5, 2017 from Green Bay, Wisconsin. Click here.

After watching the video that went viral on Facebook recently, I was horrified to hear from this seasoned award-winning teacher that she was leaving the profession because of how students were treating each other and the staff members. At first, I thought it might be a few students that were unruly and needed accountability. After listening to her further, I believe the problem went deeper with the school culture, school administration, school board, and ultimately, I believe the community. What did you think about the school board after she presented? They went on with business! Ugghhh! Yes, this video was pulled from the context of the entire meeting, but no comment from anyone after she spoke? What the…!

What can we do as a teacher, principal, or superintendent to change the culture of our school and community? It may seem like a lot of work to put one of these 13 ideas below into action, but without doing something, the climate will never change and it may even get worse. I am reminded by this famous quote from Albert Einstein,

"The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything."

Here are 13 ideas that can start the conversation with your school and community, as well as keep the communication going strong into the future.

PU #53 - School-Community Kickoff

To focus a school and community on the goal of decreasing bullying, a kickoff event can get everyone's attention. Inviting the community to an event that celebrates students, sets goals that can be communicated, and highlights the steps towards these goals is an exceptional agenda!

In my community, the school implemented a new bully prevention program. We were putting new school policies into place and we were ahead of the state's progress on bullying legislation (NOTE: Montana finally adopting a bullying law in 2015; one of the last states to do so!). As staff members, we took the implementation of the new curriculum, new philosophy, and new mantra seriously.

Our community has large football field the high schools share. We were invited to the stadium for our kickoff event. News and TV reporters were also invited, as well as other community members. All 10,000+ students were bussed to the stadium. Administration addressed the audience and we listened to what would become for many of our schools the "stepping stone to changing school culture." Each school was asked to come up with a chant or cheer that we could share while at this kickoff event. The school spirit was very evident and many students still remember this event. Many of the elementary students are now in high school.

PU #54 - School-Community Partnership Campaign

School and community partnership campaigns are vital to causing change not only in the school, but in the community as well. Partnerships can be as intricate or simple as participants design. The stronger the partnership, the stronger the communication between the school and community. In a partnership campaign, information from the community is used to guide the school's mission and vision for bully prevention.

When the school district in Great Falls, Montana started the Olweus program, businesses were given information on bully prevention and asked to be a safe zone for kids in the community if they were being bullied. Businesses then put stickers in their store windows that stated, "Bully free is good for me." We even taught kids to go into a business and report bullying.

Partnerships can look simply like a monetary stipend (similar to a sponsorship) from a business or community member to support efforts towards bully prevention. In our school district, the week before Halloween is Bully Prevention Week. Our school uses money from my school's PTA to do several different bully prevention activities. For the past couple years we do a poster contest and use the money for the winners at different grade levels. We then use the posters all over the school. We laminate them and even choose an overall winner, which is then framed. This easily organized event keeps bully prevention at the forefront of students, parents, and community member's minds as we hang these posters around our school.

PU #55 - Student Service Projects

Students learn about empathy and caring for someone else when they start a student service project. Student service projects can look different in each school or community setting, but there are some common themes between them. Students decide to support or help a cause. The cause can be within the school, community, state, or even outside of the country. Students will have to decide how they are going to support the cause by coming up with a goal. Students then advertise their service project to get school-wide and community support. Students may send home fliers to every student, make posters, and speak on the PA in the mornings to advertise, use social media, and even use local TV and news outlets to advertise.

In our school, the students have made $1,000's for projects that support other students with health concerns, families or communities ravaged by natural disasters. We also have had students do clothes drives, food drives, book drives, and much more. We have an application process and the principal chooses one project each month to monitor. The principal and sometimes the counselor oversee all the projects in our school. On the student application, a parent from home also needs to be part of the project. Time lines, to-do lists, and check-ins are required for all parties.

Here are the quick steps to starting student service projects in your school:

  • Pick a cause.
  • Set a goal.
  • Advertise how others can support you.
  • Gather momentum and communicate progress towards the goal.
  • Share your efforts with the cause, communicate the outcome, and celebrate!
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PU #56 - School-Community Projects

Creating a bond between the school and community shows that we care about educating our youth in our community. As a school, we teach how to give back to our community. Projects to beautify and clean the community are the most commonly chosen school-community projects. The entire school, grade level, class, or even individual students can work with the community on these projects.

At our school, we routinely clean up the local city park next to our school. This past year, we put our gloves on and worked alongside of our local Lion's Club members. In addition, one of our grade levels went to a few local organizations and helped with weeding, planting, and cleaning up flowerbeds. These organizations have routinely sent volunteers to our school to support our school events. We believe this is one way to give back to them: school-community projects.

These connections can help start the conversations about how we change our school and community culture by teaching tolerance, empathy, and kindness. School and community members can then dialogue on the next steps.

PU #57 - Community Discussions

Community discussions can get valuable information out to the public and school officials can use the input to set goals. School officials can create questions that are predetermined according to areas of need. These questions are communicated to community members prior to the meeting in hopes giving parents and community members time to formulate responses and generate solutions. In a community that is contentious, having a set agenda and time limits may work well to keep everyone on task, as well as setting the tone for the solution-based discussion.

Allowing for open question and answers is also a good idea in order to cover other topics if time permits. Depending on the format of the community discussion, this meeting may also have untended consequences as concerns may veer away from the agenda. A smart and efficient discussion has an agenda, sets time limits, and gives everyone an opportunity to participate.

PU #58 - Multi-Organizational Meetings

Meetings that connect several different organizations with the goal of combating bullying would be powerful in a community setting. Organizations such as school officials, city commerce, city council, small business owners, police, Department of Family Services, and other influential groups can stand against bullying and other citywide youth concerns.

Much like idea #5, meetings should have an agenda, a goal, and have basic rules for discussion and presentation of materials and information. Each agency or organization can report how it deals with social situations such as bullying when they confront it in their operations. In addition, they can also brain storm ideas on how they can support the school's efforts in combating bullying behavior.

One way I believe Green Bay, Wisconsin's Middle School can take on the behavior problems is by getting multiple agencies involved, everyone owning the behavior, and deciding how they can "go to solution." Spending time on the problem by pointing a finger at one person, the administration, or just the school board, seems like it will not solve the problem.

PU #59 - School-Community Presentations

Partnerships between the school and community strengthen when there are open channels to communicate. These dialogue sessions can be held at the school or a common community-meeting location. Presentations with question and answer sessions on bullying and culture can support a community's goal of "going to solution."

Valuable school presentation information should not only include information on bully prevention, but also on what the school and community is doing to create a positive learning culture for the students. This is a great time to show the community and school employees that there is much more to the solution than implementing stricter school policies and harsher consequences.

Usually, presentations are one-way communication avenues with some questions and answers. Presentations primarily get information out. These type of presentations can be given around the town at different organization meetings (i.e. Elk's Club, Lion's Club, Other Service Clubs).

PU #60 - School-Community Bully Prevention Teams

Educators have many different types of teams that make school-based decisions. A team consisting of parents, community members, school staff, and even students can be a useful tool for change in combating bullying. Gathering information from different perspectives helps everyone to empathize and problem solve at several different levels.

Though my school has not recently convened the school-community bully prevention team in a couple years, it definitely helped when we started our kick-off campaign and implemented our bully prevention program school-wide the first year. A smaller team was devised from this larger team, all school-based now, consisting of the principal, counselor, and school psychologist.

A typical agenda for this team could include the following information:

  • Continually discussing the Mission and Vision of the this team
  • Bully Data and Hot Spots
  • Problem Solving Solutions and Setting Long Term Goals
  • Deciding on Short Team Goals to Check Progress and Hold Everyone Accountable
  • End with Celebrations (probably the most prolific part of the meeting and ending on a positive)

PU #61 - Community/Business Sponsorship Programs

Community and business school sponsorships illustrate the commitment to schools, as well as an understanding that everyone plays a role in combating bullying. A sponsorship is different from a partnership in that the community members or businesses merely want to sponsor or support the school's cause. Many times, due to lack of time, the businesses involved in the sponsorship are supportive of the school's mission and vision for the bully prevention program, yet they would only like to support through financial or other monetary means.

Some ideas for sponsorship could include the following strategies and ideas:

  • Financially Support a Kickoff Event
  • Pay for the copying, printing, and publishing of materials used for parent, community, and school handouts
  • Pay for advertisements, service announcements, or other information on the radio, TV, or news media
  • Financially support professional development for school staff members on bully prevention and other culture building activities.
  • Financially supporting the presentations, community discussions, and anything else where they are not directly involved

PU #62 - Community Survey and Data Shares

When implementing bully prevention components, the use of data collection procedures is vital to communicating successes. The data can be used to set goals within a school and a community. Getting information from parents, community members, and even students through survey data can drive the short-term and long-term goals created in your school.

The ability to celebrate the smallest accomplishments towards your school's bully prevention goals can create a tidal wave of support. When your school team notices changes in data for the positive, get that information out! Staff members need to know that what they are doing makes a difference. Likewise, community members need to know that what you are doing is making a difference.

Be cognizant of how you share your data. Data can be judged and can have inexplicable consequences. Know your audience and make sure the data you share is clearly explained in a manner that is hard to misinterpret. Some school districts rank their schools by the number of bullying incidents reported and acted upon by administration. Some unintended consequences of this type of data sharing can cause an exodus of students from a school or perpetuate a larger problem. My suggestion is to use data wisely by knowing your audience, being careful on what data you share, being honest with the stakeholders, and using the data to celebrate as much as possible! Remember, what you put time into shows where you want your efforts to go!

PU #63 - Celebrate Success with Community-Wide Recognition

Celebrating even the smallest of successes with bully prevention tells the story of the school, celebrates the staff's progress towards devised goals, and it gives direction, vision, and a mission for all stakeholders to work towards combating bullying.

Communicating success can be tricky. As a principal, I do not recommend getting on the PA and stating, "We only have 3 bullying incidents today. Let's go for two tomorrow." Instead, spend more time on the positive behaviors you want to see.

What you and your team chose to celebrate can set standards that may be difficult to replicate or improve upon. In my school, the past two years we have had less than 10 true bullying referrals (You must understand the definition of bullying is a repeated bullying behavior where there is an imbalance of power. Yes, I admit there are quite a few more incidents that we write up on tune-ups that do not make the referral level. We use a tiered discipline and behavior system. This gives power back to all staff members. When there is a pattern formed or the incident is so heinous, and then I get involved). We have celebrated this data (10 referrals or less in two years) and we continually look at the precursors to a majority of our bullying behavior in our classrooms and outside: teasing, name-calling, taunting, etc…

We actually spend more time on the positive behaviors of students with a special emphasis on the big three character traits: kindness, empathy, and tolerance. We devise ways that students and staff can communicate when they see these big three in our school. We change the emphasis or theme each year, but students recognizing other students becomes contagious. If you can find a way to make this visible, it even becomes stronger. Here is a picture of our Kindness Tree (every leaf, or Lion Paw, had an act of kindness written on it). We read these every morning on the announcements (takes 2 minutes).

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PU #64 - Social Media Celebrations and Pushing Out Information

Using social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to celebrate progress towards devised goals, or merely to push out information can change a culture of a school and community. As stated above in ideas #10 and #11, I recommend putting emphasis into the positive behaviors you want to see in your school and community.

Using pictures, videos, comments, quotes, data, and even memes can a powerful tool to encourage students and the community to participate in reaching the devised goals. Knowing and understanding your audience can be dynamic to the message your school wants to portray.

Schools are pushing out more and more information about students in the past five years then they probably have in the last two decades. Schools are becoming a source of daily news for student activities, student engagement, student progress, and even athletic endeavors. Many schools are even using live video feeds to share student activities and events with parents, community members, and even the world.

When new students come to your school, guide parents to your Facebook page to learn more about your school. Parents and community members should be able to see evidence of your school's culture.

Here are some ideas for pushing out information on bully prevention:

  • Newsletters or Bully Prevention Materials/Guides
  • Blogs, Articles, and Internet Links
  • Live Bully Prevention Assemblies and Skits
  • Evidence of the Positive Characteristics Your School is Encouraging
  • Start a Bully Free Live Facebook Show

PU#65 - School-Community Bully Prevention Guide Sheets

Developing guide sheets for parents and community members to use outside of the school that correlate with the information taught to students in school can be a powerful tool. Many companies are now devising their own materials that can be purchased and printed for parents. I believe the power in using bully prevention guides is the ability to tailor the information to your students, parents, and community.

Here are a few ideas when building or purchasing prevent guide sheets:

  • Definitions
  • Types of Bullying
  • Signs to Look for At Home
  • Strategies to Use with Students Who have Been Bullied or Who Are Bullies
  • Students with Disabilities
  • Statistics
  • Facts, Q and A's
  • Information on Legal Rights
  • Bully Prevention Resources
  • Tips for Parents to Use When Working With Schools


Jon Konen