Can a student information system prevent bullying?

October 13, 2012

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Today’s guest post is by Matthew Plummer in honor of National Bullying Prevention Month. Matthew is the Product Manager for Aspen, Follett Software Company’s student information system. Based in Hingham, Mass., Plummer joined the company in 2010 after a 20-year career teaching mathematics in Hanover Public Schools. He holds a Masters of Art degree in Teaching, Educational Instructional Technology, and was named 21st Century Educator of the Year, Massachusetts. He is also the creator of the Pi Day Challenge, a series of logic-based puzzles. I have received compensation from Aspen for including this post on the blog, and I think you’ll really enjoy reading about how Aspen can support teachers and administrators in keeping schools safe for students. At the end of the post, I’ll share some links to other anti-bullying resources.

Although October is designated as National Bullying Prevention Month, bullying is understandably an issue that is a concern for educators, parents and students throughout the entire year.  Despite the increased focused on bullying, the fact remains that nearly one-third of all school-aged children are bullied each year, equating to nearly 13 million students.

A total of 49 states in the U.S. now have passed school anti-bullying legislation. In my state, Massachusetts, the issue was tackled head on with the passage of a landmark anti-bullying law in 2010, triggered from the suicide deaths of students Phoebe Prince, 15, and Carl Walker-Hoover, 11, both bullying victims whose tragic stories were well publicized.

The Massachusetts bill prohibits bullying on school grounds, school buses, at school-sponsored activities, and through the use of electronic communications. Teachers and other school employees are mandated reporters of any bullying incidents. Ultimately, every incident must be reported to the principal. The principal must investigate those reports, take disciplinary action, notify parents of the victim and aggressor, and alert police if necessary. Notably, the bill bans retaliation against someone who reports bullying.

As educators, we need to be able to recognize bullying – sometimes it is not as obvious as one might think. Most educators will recognize teasing, physical assault, or isolation in an instant. But what about the bully that simply coughs when a particular student is within earshot. How many educators would know that a student is being bullied as bulimic? Administrators must ensure that all the adults in the school building understand signs of bullying and have tools to deal with it. That may require professional development and common planning time.

In today’s schools, how can we handle bullying differently than we used to? What tools can we employ to help us in this digital age? Educators agree that bullying today is much different than it was 30 years ago – social media has not always existed. It is concerning that some students feel empowered to bully, not face-to-face, but from behind a keyboard. Cyber-bullying is also very real. The bottom line is that educators must work diligently to maintain student safety. How seriously can a student take their own education when they do not feel safe? Therefore we need new tools and innovative resources to report, track, and combat bullying.

A powerful resource that more and more school districts are utilizing for this very reason is the Student Information System. Follett Software’s Aspen now has specific features built into the system that assist school districts with the problem of bullying. With the advent of Aspen’s version 4.0, developers added a new bullying workflow that allows parents or students to report bullying incidents from the SIS’ family and student portals.

When a teacher suspects or witnesses an incident, the teacher records it into the system and it becomes part of the bully’s (and victim’s) record. A referral is issued and the system allows educators to follow incidents and determine if a pattern of behavior exists and intervene before it escalates. The new information follows students from school to school, year to year, and their entire history can be made visible to the key stakeholders, giving educators a chance to help a bully head down a different path.

In Aspen, workflows allow anyone within the school community to report an incident. Teachers can submit a form right from their home page. Parents also can submit a concern, or report an incident through the parent portal, and can remain anonymous if preferred. The principal takes the report and determines what action needs to be taken: gather more information, assign discipline (apology, detention, suspension, etc.), close the incident as erroneous, or in rare cases kick off a whole new workflow that provides a checklist of steps to investigate the incident as potential bullying. Every step is focused on ensuring and maintaining student safety. An investigation checklist workflow supports and follows the investigation through to resolution.

Aspen allows users to report incidents and administrators to organize and track all the vital information around incidents. Aspen’s reports give administrators the ability to see incidents by type, severity, date, and location – it is easy to see trends when the data is right in your face. Being informed assists educators to recognize victims and works with them privately to help them learn to react appropriately and not become a repeat victim. Helping victims early in the process is essential. Each and every case must be taken seriously, and if your Student Information System doesn’t have the features that allow you to report, track and respond to bullying, it’s time to investigate a system that does.

As a former teacher, with many years in the classroom, I recognize that bullying is an age-old problem and, regrettably, it’s one that might never entirely disappear. Educators should try to get to know their students. Sometimes a simple sentence is all it takes. Try to connect with each and every student, even if a small way. With continued heightened awareness, through such focused efforts as National Bullying Prevention Month, and by using all resources available to intervene quickly and effectively, we can make a significant difference. Visit www.follettsoftware.com/aspen to learn more.

More Anti-Bullying and Bullying Prevention Resources

lots of free printables for anti-bullying lessons

PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center offers free downloadable toolkits, bookmarks, role plays, coloring books, songs, and more.

The New Jersey Education Association has a nice collection of free downloadable lessons and tools to prevent bullying.

The Character Education Partnership shares a wide selection of classroom activities for all age groups to teach and reinforce a variety of character traits and build a sense of community.

A Year of Many “Firsts” has beautiful anti-bullying posters you can download and print for free.

The Corner on Character shares some free printables (including “what to do if you are bullied” bookmarks) and a list read-alouds that promote a culture of caring. Also check out the Be a Buddy, Not a Bully post.

My Character Education page has resources to promote honest, responsibility, tolerance, kindness, cooperation, and other important traits. You’ll also find some of my book recommendations to fight bullying in schools.

Teaching in Room 6 (Stephanie M) has adapted the American Girl anti-bullying program. She shares the links to the original resources (American Girl will send you a free DVD upon request) as well as her lesson plans for upper elementary.

Freebielicious has free printable chevron and zebra print anti-bullying signs. They feature Mel D’s school anti-bullying pledge that the students say each morning.

Does your school have anything planned for National Bullying Prevention Month? How do you prevent bullying in your classroom and teach students respect, empathy, and tolerance?

 

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Angela was a classroom teacher for 11 years and currently works as an instructional coach and educational consultant based in New York City. She's created a webinar series on pro-active behavior management and has written 3 books for educators. Check out the blog and free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

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