This week’s blog is going to follow on from my previous blogs about the reinforcement and punishment that pupils are given in schools for both good and bad behaviour.
I have previously discussed the use of positive reinforcement for good behaviour and negative punishment for bad behaviour. The presentation that I gave regarding negative punishment, in this case time-out, can be seen below:
As noted, reinforcement and punishment are currently being used badly in schools due to the limited classroom management training that teachers receive (Maag, 1999). It is often the case that in trying to punish pupils, teachers are often reinforcing the bad behaviour, and good behaviour is often punished through the teachers ignoring this behaviour and focusing solely on the bad behaviour (Maag, 2001). However, when looking at reinforcement and punishment in schools, one also needs to consider the ways in which pupils punish and reinforce the behaviour of their peers?
In this blog, I will examine the way in which well-behaved students are positively punished, in the form of bullying, by their peers, the effects that this can have on their behaviour and learning, and argue that educators can challenge this bullying behaviour.
I have previously written about my own experiences at school and how teacher and student behaviour impacted badly on my own behaviour in class. As mentioned in my first blog, I was put in a class with a significant number of badly behaved pupils, with the group even winning an award for the worst class in the school (another example of reinforcement and punishment being used badly). To try and solve this problem, our tutor decided to get a ‘naughty book’ that a well-behaved pupil would be trusted to take to class. The teachers would then write the names of who had been disruptive and what they did wrong, and it would be the well-behaved student’s responsibility to hand the book to the tutor at the morning register the next day.
As proud as our tutor was with this “innovative” method of classroom management, there were two crucial flaws:
- badly behaved students would love having their names written in the book and it became almost a competition of who could get their name mentioned the most in a day. As a result, it became positive reinforcement for their bad behaviour rather than the positive punishment it was initially meant to provide.
- the well-behaved pupil chosen was me. At first I was proud to have been given the responsibility however, the other pupils started to notice that I was a “teachers pet” and “suck up” and made fun of me as a result.
The punishment that I received from my peers, combined with other factors I have spoken about previously, resulted in my decision to behave badly to prevent this punishment from occurring.
Bullying is a form of positive punishment due to the fact that it adds something unpleasant to the victim’s environment and makes the behaviour previously exhibited less likely to occur in the future. For example, if a pupil came to school with a trombone case and was bullied for playing a musical instrument, they may decide never to play an instrument again, thus punishing that behaviour. The same can apply to a pupil exhibiting good behaviour: if they are bullied for doing so, they are again unlikely to demonstrate good behaviour in front of their peers again.
This notion has been supported by research by Thomson and Gunter (2008) who focussed on a school in the north of England, finding that there was an everyday practice of isolation, physical hassling, and name-calling for students who were viewed as being well-behaved and intelligent. In turn, this can cause pupils to develop problem behaviour to prevent being bullied (Wolke, Woods, Bloomfield, & Karstadt, 2003).
This has significant implications due to the positive relationship between bad behaviour in the classroom and poor academic achievement (Wentzel, 1993). This can mean that previously well-behaved students who begin to behave badly due to bullying may achieve far poorer grades than they would have done without the influence of bullying.
When discussing the issue of bullying, one should also consider the impact that this can have on a child’s wellbeing. Previous research has found that not only does bullying affect academic performance (Wentzel, 1993), but it can also lead to depression (Kaltiala-Heino, Fröjd, & Marttunen, 2010), low self-esteem (Seals & Young, 2003), negative future relationships (Bernstein & Watson, 1997), and poor attendance at school (Glew, Fan, Katon, & Rivara, 2008) in both those being bullied and the bullies.
These findings demonstrate that bullying can have a detrimental effect on all parties involved. Our education system needs to acknowledge and address these issues in order to promote pupils with higher levels of academic success, better social relationships, and increased wellbeing.
There are numerous bullying prevention programs that have been implemented in schools, many of which employing classroom management strategies to combat bullying behaviour. I will focus on one of these methods (due to my lack of adherence to word counts of late – sorry Jesse) so please feel free to comment with any other methods or research-based ideas that would be of interest.
The program that I will focus on is the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (Olweus, 2003). This program is evidence-based and targets students in elementary, middle, and junior high school. It is the teachers responsibility to implement the program on three levels:
- all pupils and staff are given an anonymous questionnaire to determine the prevalence and nature of the bullying.
- a school conference day is arranged to discuss the findings and interventions.
- a Bullying Prevention Committee is formed to coordinate the program.
- areas identified as “hot spots” for bullying are supervised.
- holding frequent class meetings with pupils.
- the formation and application of class rules and regulations against bullying.
- discussions with parents of students identified as being bullied or showing bullying behaviour.
- interventions with students identified as being bullied or showing bullying behaviour.
- teachers can be helped in these endeavours by trained counsellors.
The methods employed in this behaviour program focus on fostering a warm and friendly school environment, with strict guidelines regarding bullying behaviour. The implementation of the program has been shown to be extremely effective by Black and Jackson (2007), who found that the program reduced incidences of bullying in urban youth from diverse ethnic backgrounds by up to 65%.
Another point I would like to quickly note is the fact that the majority of research in this area refers to the person being bullied as the ‘victim’. Having attended training for a bullying charity and for voluntary work, it was advised that no person should ever be referred to as a ‘victim’ as it promotes a damaging self-fulfilling prophecy. It seems strange that, in spite of this, researchers are referring to individuals in this way. What are your thoughts on this?
Overall, bullying can impact dramatically on an individual’s life, both in the case of the bully and the person being bullied. It would be foolish to say that bullying can ever be stopped completely, but clearly steps need to be taken by schools to reduce the damaging effects that bullying can have. This can be done by implementing programs such as the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. This will not only improve pupils academic progress, but also their social functioning and wellbeing.
Bernstein, J. Y., & Watson. M. W. (1997). Children who are targets of bullying: A victim pattern. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 12(4), 483-498.
Black, S. A., & Jackson, E. (2007). Using bullying incident density to evaluate the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. School Psychology International, 28(5), 623-638. doi: 10.1177/0143034307085662
Glew, G. M., Fan, M. Y., Katon, W., & Rivara, F. P. (2008). Bullying and school safety. The Journal of Pediatrics, 152(1), 123-128. doi: 10.1016/j.peds.2007.05.045
Kaltiala-Heino, R., Fröjd, S., & Marttunen, M. (2010). Involvement in bullying and depression in a 2-year follow-up in middle adolescence. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 19(1), 45-55.
Magg, J. W. (1999). Behaviour management: From theoretical implications to practical applications. Sab Diego, CA: Singular.
Magg, J. W. (2001). Rewarded by punishment: Reflections on the disuse of positive reinforcement in schools. Exceptional Children, 67(2), 173-186.
Olweus, D. (2003). A profile of bullying at school. Educational Leadership, 60(6), 12-17.
Seals, D., & Young, J. (2003). Bullying and victimisation: Prevalence and relationship to gender, grade level, ethnicity, self-esteem, and depression. Adolescence, 38(152), 735-747.
Thomson, P., & Gunter, H. (2008). Researching bullying in students: A lens on everyday life in an ‘innovative school’. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 12(2), 185-200. doi: 10.1080/13603110600855713
Wentzel, K. R. (1993). Does being good make the grade? Social behavior and academic competence in middle school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(2), 357-364. doi: 10.1037/0022-06188.8.131.527
Wolke, D., Woods, S., Bloomfield, L., & Karstadt, L. (2003). The association between direct and relational bullying and behavior problems among primary school children. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41(8), 989-1002.
Another point I would like to quickly note is not particularly related to education so I thought I would pop it here. When looking through the research in this area, I was astonished by the fact that the majority of research refers to the person being bullied as the ‘victim’. Having attended training for a bullying charity and for voluntary work, it was advised that no person should ever be referred to as a ‘victim’ as it promotes a damaging self-fulfilling prophecy. It seems strange that, in spite of this, researchers are referring to individuals in this way. What are your thoughts on this?