Every Student Counts: Building a Positive Learning Environment

Join in the effort to end bullying through building a positive learning environment for everyone.

By Dawn Dodson

boy sitting against a wall with his head in his hands

We’ve all witnessed bullying at some point in time. What was our reaction? Did we know how to handle the situation? No matter whether your answer is yes or no, there is always more one can learn and do to prevent bullying. October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and there is a variety of ways for schools, classrooms, and homes to become involved in the effort to stop bullying. Heightened awareness regarding bullying was created and organized by PACER—Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights. The 2013 campaign slogan is “The End of Bullying Begins with Me.” PACER’s official website includes month-long programs for communities, schools, and homes.

October 9th is Unity Day when everyone nationwide is encouraged to wear orange in support of the initiative to raise awareness and end bullying. In addition to becoming a part of a nationwide program, there are also ways to create and maintain a positive learning environment for all pupils in our classrooms. These include strategies that can be utilized throughout the school year.

Strategies for Individual Concerns

Picture your own school experiences. Did you have the fortunate experience of being a part of a classroom that made you feel welcome and safe? Ideally, the days ran smoothly, and the teacher knew what every student needed in order to achieve. With that ideal in mind, here are some ideas to get to know each learner with the goal of creating a safe, welcoming, learning environment that meets the needs of diverse individuals.  

  • Letter to the Teacher: The purpose of this letter is to better understand your pupils. Each learner writes a three-paragraph letter, which is composed by using a prompt that asks them to describe themselves. They are instructed to include information about their families, hobbies, past school experiences, and their goals for the new school year. The letters are personal, and they serve as a great beginning-of-the-year ice breaker that gives the teacher useful information about each individual. This information will aid teachers in making classroom instructional decisions, as well as help them to understand sensitive issues pupils in your class may have.
  • Concern Box: This is a quiet way for students in your class to express a concern. The concern box should be located in an area of the classroom where notes can be inconspicuously submitted for the teacher to view privately. Concerns may range from a question someone was too shy to ask during class, to someone in need of help in dealing with a bully situation. Encouraging pupils to use the box as a means to reach out to an adult helps those who are feeling victimized to take the first step in dealing with uncomfortable situations positively. 

  • Positive Language Zone: As a part of a classroom behavioral procedure, the idea behind a Positive Language Zone is to promote respectful attitudes and words toward one another. As an extra incentive, each time someone is caught being respectful and/or voicing a positive comment to another classmate he/she is rewarded.  
  • Journals: Located in each pupil’s journal is a section for free writing. These entries can be about anything he or she chooses to write about on a given day. If a particular entry needs to be privately addressed, the page to the entry is folded down. This signals the teacher that special attention is needed. This is also a strategy to encourage the class to reach out for help if they are dealing with a bully or witnessing a fellow classmate being bullied.

School-Wide Strategies

In an effort to end bullying, many schools across the nation are implementing programs to identify and provide help to those experiencing bullying. There are many resources available, as well as strategies to try. The following are a few strategies to get started building a positive and welcoming school environment:

  • Surprise Surveys: This is an unannounced student survey that takes place once a quarter. The survey addresses those who have been bullied, as well as those who have witnessed bullying. The results of this survey provide an identified list of bullies with the times and places the incidents take place. The completed surveys are handled by the school counselor for further investigation and guidance.         
  • Character Awards: Promoting a positive environment and building character throughout an entire school population can be maintained through recognition and celebration. Recognizing those kids who do the right thing and are spotted helping out a fellow classmate is a reason to celebrate. Publicly recognizing these individuals and their kind actions will help to model exceptional behavior for all peers. 
  • Bully Reporting Zone: Similar to the classroom Concern Box, the Bully Reporting Zone can be accessed by the entire school. This can be an actual locked box with a small opening for dropping reported incidents of bullying. Many schools also have an online version that can be accessed at any time, allowing victims and witnesses to privately submit concerns.

Through building trustworthy relationships with students and implementing strategies to create a positive environment, each school can join the effort to end bullying.

Additional Lessons:

Good Citizens in Action

Youngsters learn the seven qualities to being a good citizen. Then each quality is highlighted for a month at a time throughout the school year.

Rules and Responsibilities

Throughout a week, pupils watch and take note of the rules around them. At the conclusion, a citizenship discussion takes place, as well as the creation of a responsibility journal.

Class with Character

This resource affords pupils the opportunity to create and demonstrate positive class rules and how to deal with negative situations properly. The class discussion and process of creating the rules is a valuable experience for everyone.