A behavioral school program designed by psychologists appears to reduce bullying in schools where it’s been implemented, according to a new study.
The program is called the School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS), and is widely used as an alternative to some schools zero-tolerance anti-bullying policies.
Bullying has gained greater national attention in recent years as specific events have brought it into the media spotlight. Bullying left unchecked can lead to academic, interpersonal, physical health and mental health problems.
Despite the concern, relatively few school-based programs have shown to be effective at preventing bullying. Even worse, zero-tolerance policies adopted at many schools have not been shown to be effective either.
An alternative to zero-tolerance policies is positive schoolwide prevention efforts. Tracy E. Waasdorp, Ph.D., of the Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and her colleagues decided to evaluate one such program.
School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) aims to alter the school environment by creating improved systems — such as discipline and data management — and procedures — such as office referral and behavioral reinforcement — that promote positive changes in staff and student behaviors.
“SWPBIS teaches behavioral expectations through direct instruction, positive reinforcement and consistent consequences, promoting acceptable social and classroom behaviors. This in turn is theorized to reduce the likelihood of engaging in and rewarding bullying behavior,” the authors note.
Data for the study came from a randomized controlled effectiveness trial of the universal SWPBIS model conducted in 37 Maryland public elementary schools to determine the impact on discipline problems and the school environment. The sample included 12,344 children.
“The hierarchical linear modeling results indicated that children in the SWPBIS schools displayed significantly less bullying behavior and experienced lower levels of rejection over time vs children in the comparison schools,” the study results indicate.
Researchers called the potential effects of SWPBIS on bullying encouraging and in line with policymakers’ and researchers’ emphasis on school climate and culture for bullying prevention as an alternative to zero-tolerance policies.
“These findings suggest that a universal SWPBIS model is a promising approach for preventing bullying. Although the rates of bullying tend to be the highest in middle school, when SWPBIS is implemented in elementary school, it may help children better prepare for the transition into adolescence,” the researchers conclude.
The new study appears in the February issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.