Since bullying is still heavily prevalent in schools, the system for addressing it needs remodeling. The Isabelle Farrington College of Education & Human Development at Sacred Heart University is up to the challenge.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 22 percent of students ages 12–18 reported being bullied at school during the school year in 2019.
“Bullying in schools and classrooms is directly tied to how a teacher or school leader sets tone, expectations, climate and community,” said Dr. René Roselle, department chair of Teacher Education and director of the Teacher Education Program.
Verywell Family reported that school-based bullying prevention programs reduce bullying by up to 25 percent.
“We’ve recently done some significant redesigns to our program – for example, the idea of moving away from this concept of ‘classroom management’ to ‘creating positive classroom climates,’” said Dr. Michael Alfano, Dean of the Farrington College. “We’re trying to get ahead of the problem before it actually becomes a problem, so if we can create communities within classrooms where people are individually taking responsibility over their own actions, that can really help lead to a more positive climate in the classroom.”
Due to the redesign, a class that was originally called Multicultural Education is now Culturally Sustaining Ed (CSE).
“Students often bully because they don’t feel seen or known. In CSE, teacher candidates will reflect on their identities, inquire into the experiences of others and examine individual, interpersonal, institutional and systemic barriers that limit educational opportunities and outcomes for many students,” Roselle said.
According to Roselle, another course in the teacher education program is the Intro to Social & Emotional Learning course elective.
“The Farrington College places a large emphasis on social and emotional learning, which is also referred to as S.E.L,” said senior Sofia Debrot, an elementary education major and president of the education club. “This is the process of developing self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success.”
As part of her curriculum, Debrot teaches in a fourth-grade class in Stamford.
“S.E.L. talks about being kind and teaching kids how to be kind, and that’s one of the most important ways of preventing bullying,” Debrot said. “We definitely discuss topics about bullying, being kind to students, and being empathetic. And just by observing that, I’ve definitely seen a decrease in the amount of bullying going on in the school.”
Roselle said, “Finally, our clinical experiences/seminar model affords opportunities to practice and process critical incidents/problems of practice as well as learn from experienced master mentors.”
The Center for Disease Control reported that students who are bullied are more likely to have low self-esteem, perform worse in school, and experience mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
“Bullying is a common problem that doesn’t get enough recognition and attention, and often it is not handled the way it should be,” said Dr. Franc Hudspeth, department chair of Counselor Education in the Farrington College and Program Director of Clinical Mental Health Counseling.
According to Hudspeth, learning about bullying occurs in the curriculum during the human development course, the diagnosis course, and the crisis & trauma course. In the first two courses, students determine issues in the upbringing and environment of children, adolescents, and adults that could lead to the development of a mental illness.
“In the crisis & trauma course, they look at bullying as how it’s traumatic and how it affects the brain development and relationships,” Hudspeth said.
“If you look at individuals who have experienced bullying and you compare them to individuals who have experienced other types of traumatic events, there are very similar brain changes from bullying as other traumatic events.”
Dr. Alfano recognizes that the ongoing mental health crisis is infiltrating issues of bullying in school, so future teachers need specific training to mitigate this.
“Not only are they talking with each other and with their professors about issues around bullying and emotional and behavioral health, but they’re actually developing the skills to be able to proactively build communities that are resilient to issues of bullying,” said Alfano.