More people are getting involved in the bullying issue. Thanks to Ellen DeGeneres, even celebrities are stepping up to tell us how they really feel about the whole culture of mean. Listen. Whatever works. Bullying is such a messed up and difficult problem to tackle that I personally applaud anyone who tries to untangle one string at a time.

It’s always compelling to see “stars” speak from the heart and it’s really helpful for awareness. Go Ellen, Madonna, Jaden, Greyson, Tracy Morgan…

It’s even better if we’re prepared for solutions. Multiple solutions.

The National School Climate Center provides free bully prevention resources, classroom activities, and supports to schools and students-in-need through their national BullyBust campaign. I asked the center’s co-founder, Dr. Jonathon Cohen, the following question:

Is it possible to actually improve school climate?

Yes! Educators, parents and students can learn and work together in ways that actually make schools significantly safer, more supportive, engaging and helpfully challenging. And, when they do so, academic achieving increases, student dropout rates and teacher retention rates increases. However, improving school climate is – necessarily – a multi-year effort that needs to be a central goal for the whole school community.

As we have recently detailed in ‘School climate reform: Mobilizing and supporting the whole village to support student learning and positive youth development (Cohen, J.[2010] in Principal Leadership, September) there are five important lessons that we have learned that support effective and sustained school climate improvement efforts:

Lesson #1: Principal as leader: School climate improvement efforts need to be fully supported and led by the principal.

Lesson #2: How to measure school climate? School climate data provides the “anchor” as well as direction for school climate improvement efforts and the actualization of the school climate standards. It is important that school use a school climate survey, like the Comprehensive School Climate Inventory (http://www.schoolclimate.org/programs/csci.php) that is valid and reliable; recognize student, parent/guardians and school personnel “voice”; and assess all of the major areas of school climate (safety, relationships, teaching and learning and the environment).

Lesson #3: On the value of school climate improvement road maps: The vast majority of principals recognize that school climate matters. However, we discovered that many principals are not sure how to best support effective school climate improvement efforts that build on past successes and challenges. School climate improvement ‘road maps’ that included specific tasks and challenges that shape each of the five stages of the school climate improvement process provide an essential foundation for change.

Lesson #4: Creating school policies that support safe, engaging, healthy and helpfully challenging schools: Educational research should shape policy, which in turn dictates practice. When schools adopt or adapt the National School Climate Standards (www.schoolclimate.org/climate/standards.php) they are setting a social, emotional and civic as well as intellectual or ‘academic’ bar that schools must strive for.

Lesson #5: Educational practice that support the whole child: School leaders face an almost impossible task. It is an admirable – and essential – goal that no child be left behind. But to insure this we must understand and address a myriad of needs and barriers to learning.

Pass this info on to your schools and check out their resources. Now that we know better, we can do better.

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