National Bullying Prevention Month: Five Key Actions for Making Schools Safer

October 6 2014


  • William Grace Frost, Former Director of Strategic Relations, Community Matters
    William Grace Frost
    Former Director of Strategic Relations, Community Matters
  • Rick Phillips, Founder, Community Matters
    Rick Phillips
    Founder, Community Matters

Understandably, in reaction to the 1999 school shooting tragedy at Columbine High, as well as to every school shooting since, authorities and administrators have done everything they could think of to keep our kids safe from harm. Schools built higher fences, and added security guards, metal detectors and cameras to the tune of $10 billion plus dollars. They also instituted zero-tolerance discipline policies which led to a significant increase in suspensions and expulsions. We refer to this response as the “outside-in approach.”

Literally hundreds of school shootings and other incidents of violence have taken place in the ensuing years and what we now know is that for all our well-intentioned efforts and financial expenditures, to date, there is no measurable evidence indicating that schools today are significantly safer due to “securing the perimeter” and attempting to lock the problem out.

We also know that there is no “detector” that can filter out the “weapons” of emotional immaturity, intolerance for differences, resentments and prejudice that students carry in to school on a daily basis.

The Good News – What We Know Now that Works

We know that we can make schools safer and achieve better educational outcomes. This can be accomplished by balancing the “outside-in approach” with programs and initiatives that focus on transforming school climates utilizing an “inside-out approach”. This climate-based approach is built on a foundation of social norms change and a discipline model that utilizes restorative practices. It emphasizes the power of student voice and the importance of youth and adult relationships. Given our experience in providing support, training and consultation to more that 1500 schools across the country, we know the following actions are the keys to success:

  • If we want our students to be compassionate, respectful of differences and courageous enough to speak up, we must begin by finding our own courage first – it starts at the top. Educational leaders, from school boards and superintendents to building administrators, must be willing to make an honest and comprehensive assessment of their schools’ strengths, weaknesses, gaps and opportunities for improvement. Starting with a “deep dive” analysis will go a long way in ensuring that school climate improvement planning is built on accurate data and leads to measureable and sustainable results.
  • It takes strong organizational leadership to change the culture and climate of a school. Discipline procedures and practices are effective when all key stakeholders, from the administration and school board to the students, parents and staff, are included in the development and implementation of behavioral policies.
  • Increasing student voice and utilizing a peer to peer role-modeling approach is the quickest, most cost efficient and effective way to change the social norms on campus and reduce bullying, cyber-bullying and harassment. By identifying and training the socially-influential leaders in each of the campus cliques to set an example of courage and compassion in their words and actions towards others, over time the social acceptability of bullying can be eradicated.
  • Successful teachers and staff are those who put relationships first – taking the extra time to greet students by name, offering a kind word or smile, being “hall-friendly” and cultivating authentic connections with students. These actions pay off in students developing a stronger sense of belonging, less staff time spent disciplining and more time for teaching and learning.
  • Discipline needs to be focused on restoration rather than punishment – restorative practices include powerful tools and strategies that maintain connection, restore relationships, repair hurt, and ultimately reduce discipline incidents; disagreements can also be diffused well before they get to the point of altercation and harm when restorative practices are used effectively.

Community Matters offers programs and services that can assist schools in each of the areas outlined above. For more information, please see the Programs and Services page on our website or contact us at

We ARE Making a Difference

As we recognize National Bullying Prevention Month, we can take heart in knowing that shifts are taking place and that many schools are committed to school climate transformation. While there is still much work to be done, more and more schools are taking positive actions to ensure that their students feel welcome, safe and connected.

We applaud the educational leaders, school boards, administrators, teachers, parents and community members who are taking responsible, well-informed steps towards creating school environments where our children can maximize their learning while becoming caring and responsible citizens. And most importantly, we are grateful for the thousands of students who day-in and day-out express their courage and speak up when they encounter meanness, intolerance and injustice.

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