Implementing a school-wide bully prevention program

October is Bully Prevention Awareness Month making it the perfect time to explore the steps, highlights, and challenges of implementing a school-wide bully prevention program.  While working as a school counselor in Ganado, Texas, I was hired through a Safe Schools grant focused on implementing a school-wide bully prevention program.  Our district chose to adopt the Olweus Program to use with our staff, parents, students, and community leaders.  The goal of this program is to reduce existing bullying problems, prevent new bullying problems, and to improve peer relations at school.  We saw a dramatic change in the school climate by the end of the second year of implementing the program.  Our district reported fewer discipline referrals and a decrease in bullying incidents.  I have also included a book list, websites, and activities that will support and enrich any school-wide bully prevention program.

Olweus Bully Prevention Program Overview Video

Definition of Bullying

Dan Olweus, creator of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, defines bullying in his book, Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do:

“A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending him or herself.”

This definition includes three important components:

1. Bullying is aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions.
2. Bullying involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time.
3. Bullying involves an imbalance of power or strength.


The following statistics are reason enough to consider implementing a school-wide bully prevention program.

    • 1 out of 4 kids are bullied
    • 1 in 5 students admit to being a bully, or doing some “bullying”
    • Each day 160,000 students miss school for fear of being bullied
    • 43% of kids fear harassment in the bathroom at school
    • Playground school bullying statistics-Every 7 minutes a child is bullied: adult intervention-4% peer intervention-11% no intervention 85%

7  Keys to Creating a Safe School & Reducing Problem Behaviors

  • Creating school-wide procedures and rules for bullying
  • Setting firm limits on unacceptable behavior
  • Ensuring consistent application of sanctions for violations of rules
  • Providing positive adult role models
  • Motivating staff to develop positive interest and involvement in the lives of students
  • Educating teachers and staff members on how to intervene in a bullying situation
  • Teaching students specific skills and providing them with a plan when faced with a bullying situation

8 Program components

  • Form a Bully Prevention Coordinating Committee  It is best if this group includes a school administrator, teacher from each grade level, school counselor or other mental health professional, representative of non-teaching staff (bus driver, custodian, or cafeteria worker), at least one parent, and a representative from the community.  This committee will develop a plan to implement the school-wide bully prevention program; share the plan with staff, parents, and students; and present the program to the community.  It is recommended this committee meet once a month.  I can’t express enough the importance of including non-teaching staff.  At our school, many of the bullying incidents occurred on the bus, in the cafeteria, in the bathroom, or in the hallways.  Our custodians played an important role in reducing bullying in many of these areas.
  • Distribute Bully Questionnaire (Grades 3-12)  You should distribute the questionnaire prior to implementing the program and then once a year once the program is in place.  The survey is meant to raise awareness among students, staff, and parents about the particular bullying problems experienced in the school.
  • Develop school rules and both positive and negative consequences to either following the bully rules or not following the bully rules  The Olweus program uses the following rules: 1. We will not bully others. 2. We will try to help students who are bullied. 3. We will try to include students who are left out. 4. If we know that somebody is being bullied, we will tell an adult at school and at home.  Make sure the rules are posted in classrooms, cafeteria, gym, library, hallways, bus, etc.
  • Determine Hot Spots  This information can be gathered from the questionnaire given to students.  Most often the hot spots are bathrooms, playground, cafeteria, bus, and other places that are not monitored closely enough by adults.  Make a plan to monitor these areas more closely or add additional staff to these areas.  Once our students knew the adults in the school were aware of the hot spots we saw a reduction in bullying in these areas.
  • School Kick-off Event This event is intended to increase awareness about bullying, to introduce the program to both students and parents, and to clarify the school’s rules and procedures related to bullying.  This can be done during an open house or even during an assembly.  We invited the Morris Brothers (fun assembly educating everyone about bullying) to our school and made sure to include parents and community members.  We also discussed our program with parents during a parent workshop.
  • Classroom Meetings  During these meetings students will go over the bullying rules and consequences, discuss different types of bullying, explore their role in preventing and stopping bullying, and learn problem-solving strategies for addressing bullying.  From my personal experience, it is best for both the counselor and classroom teacher to participate in the meetings.  This sends the message that we are all working together to prevent bullying and to provide a safe learning environment.  I found that my students enjoyed participating in bully games and activities during these meetings or during classroom guidance.  My typical bully follow-up activity involves reading a book about bullying and playing a game from my site to reinforce the lesson.
  • Specific procedures for dealing with bullying situations   I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to take action and follow through when bullying is reported.  Most students will admit they do not report bullying in fear of retaliation from the student being accused of bullying.  Several students also complained that adults do not step in to stop the bullying when it is reported or even when the adult witnesses the bullying.  Luckily, by implementing our program we were able to gain trust from our students that their effort to report bullying would be taken seriously and they would be supported by all staff.  The following are procedures we followed when bullying was reported:   1. Serious talks with the child who is suspected of being bullied and his or her parents.  2.  Similar talks with the child who is suspected of bullying and his or her parents. 3. During these talks send a clear message to both the students and the parents that bullying will be stopped and the situation will be closely monitored.  4. Develop individualized plans, where appropriate, to provide support for students who have been bullied and to correct the behavior of students who bully other students.  It is important to contact the parents so they are aware of the situation.  I found that most parents who were familiar with the program and the procedures were more likely to work with the school on solving the bullying problem.
  • Community Level  Work with community members to find ways they can support the school-wide bully prevention program. It is important the community feel a responsibility to participate in preventing bullying and to intervene when someone is being bullied. Many of our local business owners posted the bully rules on the wall or door of their business.  Our students were comfortable knowing they could ask for help at these businesses if needed.  I was fortunate to work in a rural community where this was less challenging to achieve.  If your school is located in a city then target businesses near your school where students are likely to pass by when walking to and from school.

Potential Challenges

  • Selling idea to teachers and staff:  I believe the most important piece of this process is getting your staff on board with the program.  It takes everyone working together and being consistent to make a school-wide bully prevention program a success.  If teachers do not buy into this program then many times they will feel like it is just extra work.  We were lucky that most of our staff had an open mind and saw a need for this type of intervention in our school.  The teachers who were the most involved in the program experienced the most positive changes in their classrooms.
  • Teaching students the difference between reporting and tattling:  In the program we teach students the importance of reporting bullying.  We even provided a mailbox and report forms for students to report bullying.  To say the teachers were NOT our biggest fans would be the understatement of the year.  They were being driven crazy by all of their students reporting every little issue in the classroom.  This was especially true for our kindergarten and first grade teachers. This is when I created my game, Don’t Squeal, to help teach students the difference between what should be reported and what is a tattle.
  • Educating the community about being proactive:  My principal asked me to present the program to the Rotary Club.  During my presentation, many of the Rotary Club members commented that bullying is just a rite of passage for children.  They were bullied and turned out just fine.  It took a lot of convincing and persistence to educate the community about the negative effects of bullying on children and on the community as a whole.
  • Staff Being Good Role Models:  As in many schools, sometimes the adults behave like bigger bullies than the students.  We made a great effort to communicate to teachers the importance of not participating in bullying behaviors.  Teachers and other staff are sometimes the only good role model a child has in their life.  It is crucial your staff model good behavior and compassion to students.
  • Students being labeled bullies or victims:  It is important to not label a student a bully or a victim.  In my personal opinion, it is best to label the behavior as bullying instead of stating the child is a bully.  Once a child is labeled a bully, it is more challenging for him or her to shed this label and change his or her behavior. I also always address the student as being bullied, not as a victim.  We want to empower the student who is being bullied, and I feel like the word victim takes away their power.


The following books may be used to educate students about bullying.

A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue by Julia Cook
Bully Beans by Julia Cook
Chester Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully by Audrey Penn
Don’t Laugh at Me by Steve Seskin
Don’t Squeal Unless It’s a Big Deal by Jeanie Franz Ransom
Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose
Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns About Bullies by Howard Binkow
Kicky, The Mean Chick Learns Her Lesson by Erika Karres
One by Kathryn Otoshi
Say Something by Peggy Moss
The Band-Aid Chicken by Becky Rangel Henton
The Juice Box Bully by Bob Sornson
The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill
Zoe the Misfit by Ellen Dee Davidson


The following activities are just a few you might consider using with your students to support your program.

Pieces to a Peaceful School

stop bullying pledge patch

Bully-free School Mandala