Putting bullying prevention programs to work: improving implementation and sustainability

While the implementation of effective (rigorously tested) bullying prevention programs are essential to reduce the burden of mental health and social problems for children and adolescents, a critical gap exists. Schools face significant challenges implementing the whole-school approach required to address the complexity of bullying behaviours, limiting the reach and impact for students and families.

18 February 2020

Research shows that a whole-school multi-faceted approach works to reduce bullying behaviours and usually involves the systematic coordination of policies and practices that address school climate, classroom curriculum, engagement with parents and students, coordination of student support services, modification of the physical environment, and building teacher capacity. Whilst we know what doesn’t work to support schools to implement these strategies like training alone (no matter how well done), mandates or financial incentives, we know less about what does work!

Researchers and program developers gathered at the WABF in Dublin to discuss ways to bridge this gap between the evidence (what we know) and practice (what we do in schools). This workshop aimed to identify common dissemination and implementation challenges for bullying prevention programs and successful strategies that could be applied across different educational contexts. Ways to engage system-level educators in providing the support needed to ensure these programs are sustainable and reach those students who need it most was also a priority.

Over thirty participants attended representing bullying prevention programs across the globe including Friendly Schools and the PEACE Pack (Australia), Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (Norway, America and Lithuania), Friends (Sweden), KiVA (Finland, UK and Estonia) and No Trap (Italy). Many factors that influence the successful dissemination and implementation of these programs were identified at the system, school and staff levels. Ideas were generated to address challenges such as staff readiness, capacity and turnover, system and school-level leadership, shifts in system policy and school priorities and communication of bullying by the media.

A consensus across the discussions was, in addition to effective, well-defined programs, schools need a change process that embeds and sustains the program (activities matched to implementation stages to build infrastructure and capacity), improvement processes that enable the school context to support the program strategies over time and an implementation team to make it happen. Schools are such busy places that to effectively reduce bullying, staff need tailored, stepped support to enable them to effectively and sustainably implement all that is needed (best practice) to support their students.

Dr Natasha Pearce

Senior Research Fellow, Telethon Kids Institure, Australia