Provocative Victims and 7+ Practices for Victory

Jon Konen
District Superintendent

Back to the main Bully Prevention Guide.

Why does it seem some bully incidents are so hard to solve? Parents and students get upset with the school because they cannot stop the bully behaviors. When the school staff digs deeper, they find information that blurs the line between the student doing the bullying and student bullied. The school team determines the student is a provocative victim.

In a bully situation, a victim refers to a student that does not have power to change what has happened to them. My goal, as a principal, is to empower students, including bystanders, with tools to stand up against bully behaviors.

Schools at times get into a perpetual cycle of chaos when dealing with incidents that occur with students perceived as provocative victims. Schools may hand out consequences to both the bullied and the student doing the bullying, but the issue continues. The provocative victim may find them self in other situations with a different people. Parents get upset and believe the school is not doing anything.

Here are eight strategies school staff can use to stop the victim mentality and empower the provocative victim.

PU #38 - Educator Strategy: Build Trusting Relationships

Building relationships based on trust sounds like a no brainer. The question is, "Do parents believe your actions (or the schools) can make a difference?" Do they trust that what you (the school) say and do will solve the problem? Do they believe you will listen and take action? All of these questions, if answered, "yes," mean that there is trust in the relationship.

Some relationships with families are toxic. Some school staff stir clear of these families. In reality, we must do the opposite. We need to forge an amicable relationship with our most difficult parents. As administrators, we tell our teachers to keep trying. We try to put things in perspective by letting them know (at the elementary level), they only have this parent for one year, and we (administrators) have them for seven. We need to be able to have a discussion with all parents. There should be a least one adult in the building that has a relationship with that difficult parent.

Working with students who exhibit provocative behaviors entails this same type of perseverance when creating strong relationships. We need to connect with students; this means having conversations outside of the academic-only realm. We need to learn their likes, who they respect on the school staff, and anything else that starts to build communication. School staff members may argue that they do not have time to forge these relationships because of the large student population. My response to this is… either you put time in now, or you and your school may be putting the time in solving issues on the other end. The different between proactive and reactive schools is they realize that the time up front will get your staff more time in the end.

An easy strategy, if done sincerely, is the 10 X 2 Strategy. This strategy is quite simple; a staff member chooses an at-risk student and spends 2 minutes conversing with the student. The staff member may not talk about school or academia, nor should the student feel like they are being lectured. These conversations should be about what the student likes or commonalities that the student and staff member share. Personally, I choose sports team, popular music, and movies. I stay current with these topics so I can converse with most students. I am not afraid to learn new things like Yu-Gi-Oh! Cards, Minecaft, or even Trance music to talk with students.

PU #39 - Educator Strategy: Be Honest and Professional

In a politically correct world, schools sometimes have a hard time choosing the appropriate words. At times, we would like to say, "Your son is the meanest student we have ever encountered." I believe there is some future relief if we are upfront and honest with parents and students. We do need to choose the right words in order to maintain the dignity of the student and parents. Nothing will stop communication faster than talking down to students and parents, or putting them on the defensive immediately.

When school staff starts these hard conversations with parents, especially of provocative victim's parents, we do need to find the correct and specific words that are solution-based. The time the school staff put into investigating and finding out the rationale of exhibited behaviors, as well as understanding the multiple perspectives of the situation, supports being able to choose the correct language that supports the success of the student in the educational environment. There are times where the team (in our school it is the teacher, counselor, behavior therapist, and principal) meet prior to the meeting to discuss what needs to be addressed, specific examples to use with parents, what our ultimate goal of the meeting is, as well as who will address each issue. There even times we will reschedule a meeting to gather more information before we address specific situations. After the meeting, we convene as a team again to see if we all understand the words expressed in the meeting, and then we take action.

Listening is the greatest tool we can use as a school staff. We find out the dynamic characteristics of parents and students and then decide what words need to be said, what actions we can take, and in some circumstances, what other services or educational resources we can provide. We would like to be able to ask, "What are your hopes and dreams for your son? Your son has so many fabulous qualities and this is what I know about him…Here are some growth areas that we need your help in supporting your hopes and dreams for your son."

PU #40 - Educator Strategy: Do Your Research

We all know time is a factor. The processes a school implements to deal with bully behaviors and more specifically provocative victims can be overwhelming. The difference between a successful school and one that is finds itself in litigation can often be the idea of being proactive versus reactive. A reactive school deals with situations after they occur. They find themselves putting a large amount of time into executing consequence towards individuals that exhibit bully behaviors. With this reactive tone comes scary consequences. In some circumstances, the provocative victim may take actions into their own hands and this can devastate a school and community.

Then how does a school avoid this possible mess? A school must do the research. Unfortunately, there are no easy and fast processes to investigate, re-teach, and even consequent a bully situation. What does become better is the efficiency of your research processes. As a school staff you learn about what questions you need to ask in each situation, as well as being able to listen as you interview to form the new questions you may not have been planning to ask. We must not comprise efficiency with effectiveness. There is a fine balance between efficiency while maintaining a high level of effectiveness.

Corroborating stories puts school staff members into "police mode." When researching we interview those involved on a 1:1 basis. We search for patterns and try to recreate the incident(s) from the gathered information. Ownership of the situation plays a large factor into an interviewer's effectiveness. We then decide, many times with a team, of the next steps to solve the situation. The better we do during our research phase, the more effective we can be when putting the next steps into action.

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PU #41 - Educator Strategy: Develop a Plan For All Students Involved

Too many times school officials put a plan into place and bully behaviors continue. When we reflect, we need to ask ourselves, "Did all students involved in the situation have a devised plan that was agreed upon by all parties?" We may not understand who "all" the people are that need a plan.

Obviously, the student who is exhibiting the bully behaviors and the student who is being bullied both need a plan. A plan is set forth that supports the student with tools and strategies so the behavior does not continue. Many times in bully situations, other students are close by or even taking part in the incident; some maybe friends, and some could purely be bystanders to the situation.

An effective school staff member will research the situation in order to understand who the other people were around the situation. They may not get them all, but they can recreate the situation as best they can. These other people need to be part of the solution. Plans could include the following:

  • The Person being Bullied (or Provocative Victim):
    1. Set a reporting system
    2. Set up regular meetings or check-ins with staff member(s)
    3. Communication with parents
    4. Continue to build skills and strategies for the future
  • The Person Exhibiting the Bullying Behaviors:
    1. Immediate Consequences
    2. Future or Retaliatory Consequences
    3. Communication with parents
    4. Build skills and strategies to avoid future bully behaviors from occurring
    5. Set up regular meetings or check-ins with staff member(s)
  • The People Supporting the Bully Behavior:
    1. Immediate Consequences
    2. Future or Retaliatory consequences
    3. Communicate with Parents
    4. Build skills and strategies to avoid future incidents
    5. Check-in from staff member(s)
  • Bystanders:
    1. Set up a reporting system
    2. Empower with skills and strategies to step in to stop bully behaviors from reoccurring
    3. Check-in from staff member(s)

PU #42 - Educator Strategy: Model Language and Actions

Research states that modeling language and action is the one of the top instructional strategies in order for students to learn new content. School staff need to be modeling language for students, and showing them how they can "fix" situations. With a big push of social justice in our school systems, this strategy reinforces the belief that students need to fix the relationships that can be hurt from bully behavior situations. It is difficult to model and teach the three key character traits: empathy, kindness, and tolerance. These three characteristics are best taught through modeling and discussion. One of the most difficult aspects is teaching someone how to look at situation from someone else's perspective.

No matter the age, students many times do not know how to communicate in words they truly want to say or do. Sometimes the words they use inflame the situation, which can make it worse. That is where adults, parents, and school staff come into play. They can model language and actions for students so they have some examples on how to handle these situations in the future.

Students can practice these words with safe adults in order to be able to use it in real situations they will encounter. Having students report back to an adult on how their words and actions actually worked is vital to the follow through of modeling. Continued communication and check-ins with these students will be important in solving the problem.

PU #43 - Educator Strategy: Team with Other Professionals

Whether your school is small or expansive, as a school leader you must find a team to work to collaborate while tackling the bully incidents. Getting more staff members involved supports the idea of teaming around our students. When a bully incident arises, multiple perspectives and ideas will best support finding the most effective solution.

In large schools, teams can consist of a classroom teacher, counselor, and principal. The teams do not need to be large, but definitely are dependent on the severity of the situation. Obviously, involving more team members can reach a point where the efficiently and effectiveness are comprised. Too large of teams spend more time in discussion, or even trying to find time to meet, than putting plans into action.

In smaller schools, team leaders or administration must be creative when involving staff members onto a team. All staff members should be trained in a bully prevention program. School leaders can include a classified employee, a classroom teacher, or a counselor, which can all be a good fit for your school.

At our school, our team includes the counselor, the principal, and the homeroom teacher of the student whom was targeted by the bully behaviors. This team is dynamic and changes when a new student is involved. All staff members are trained in the Olweus Bully Prevention Program. We can then team together with professionals for the student's success.


PU #44 - Develop a Reporting System

Being proactive and stopping bully behaviors from occurring is only as effective as the reporting system you create with the student body. Staff members cannot be in all places on the school campus when bully behaviors occur. The sheer ratio of staff members to students can seem insurmountable in efficiently stopping bully behaviors.

Reporting systems must have some basic information in order for school staff members to take action:

  • What happened? How did it start and how did it end?
  • When did it happen?
  • Location?
  • Who was involved?
  • Where there any witnesses?
  • Did you talk to any other adults about the situation?

The goal in our school is to make sure all 400+ students have at least one adult in the school that they can go to report an incident. If they do not have anyone at school, we are hoping they can report to their parent, who in turn will call us so we can investigate further. Having parents be part of the reporting system gives them ownership and power in solving the situation. They can support us in making sure the bully behaviors stops at school, and elsewhere, too! We hope that with the development of a systematic reporting system, the number of incidents decrease.

Be Proactive and Teach Empathy, Tolerance, and Kindness

Schools have been adopting and implementing new socio-emotional programs. These programs can and will drive the culture of a school and even a community. I believe the following three character traits should be part of all programs: empathy, tolerance, and kindness. These three traits will help other students see the world from a provocative victim's world, as well as from the student who exhibits bully behaviors. We must better understand both sides before we can find a solution.

What does your school do to teach empathy? Being able to put yourself in other people's shoes can be a difficult concept to teach. Finding examples from real world situations, as well as events that occur within the school are good places to look first. School staff can encourage discussion, model language, and even model conceivable actions. Group thought and discussion is powerful. Students will bring their prior experiences and they have learned from their parents or guardians into the discussion. This discussion can be powerful and difficult to encourage convergent and divergent thinking. Teaching students the concept of tolerance is another necessity. As bias is around us, as well as discrimination of race, religion, orientation, and more we must be proactive and use history as a guide. Implementing activities that increase tolerance and break down barriers can be controversial, but necessary. We must not be afraid to incorporate current events appropriately into our teaching.

Finding kindness in our schools should be an easy task. When staff put an emphasis on recognizing the kindness that goes in a school, everyone will find it can be contagious. An easy PA announcement in the morning recognizing random acts of kindness can slowly change the culture of a school. You can create a Kindness Tree (or even one designed like your school's logo) by students writing down acts of kindness that they see in the school. Share these acts and then post the progress so the whole school is aware. There are infinite ideas for implementation of kindness programs.

If the provocative victim learns more about empathy, tolerance, and kindness, they too can deal more effectively with situations when they arise. Having students understand how the provocative victim feels and acts can be powerful for them when dealing with such a student.

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Jon Konen