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Richard, J. F., Schneider, B. H., & Mallet, P. (2012). Revisiting the whole-school approach to bullying: Really looking at the whole school. School Psychology International, 33, 263–284.

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Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior distinguished by repeated acts against weaker victims who cannot easily defend themselves (Lorion, Feinberg, Settanni, & Faunce, 2004; Olweus, 1993). Bullying behaviors can be overt (such as direct physical or verbal aggression) or covert (such as secretly encouraging other children to ignore a specific classmate). Researchers are also studying cyberbullying, a form of bullying made possible by technology (Li, 2006; Slonje & Smith, 2008; Wade & Beran, 2011). Bullying can involve one child or groups of children and can be witnessed or influenced by other children, bystanders (O’Connell, Pepler, & Craig, 1999). Its consequences are severe, especially for those victimized over long periods of time. Victims of bullying experience poorer psychological adjustment than individuals not involved in bullying (Nabuzoka, Ronning, & Handegard, 2009; Nansel et al., 2001). Craig and Harel (2004) have reported in a review of international bullying research that one in every three students indicates having been victimized at least once during the previous few months. According to Craig and Harel (2004), boys and girls are victimized at about equal rates. Research by Craig et al. (2007) has shown that most students who are victimized feel a sense of helplessness that increases over time.

An intervention that can be implemented in the schools is ‘bullyproof’ having the school personnel articulate and implement a clear policy against bullying behavior; some authors refer to this as the direct approach to anti-bullying intervention (Galloway & Roland, 2004). The intent of the direct approach is to create a school in which bullying is not tolerated anywhere. A school characterized by a positive atmosphere, with cohesive interpersonal relationships, where the teaching staff believes in the students’ potential, where academics are taken seriously, and where students feel a sense of belonging is a school less prone to bullying. Recent research by Zullig, Huebner, and Patton (2011) has shown that school climate variables, such as positive student-teacher relationships, school connectedness, academic support, order and discipline, and academic satisfaction, significantly predict students’ school satisfaction. Lorion et al. (2004) emphasize the role of teachers in regulating the level of bully-victim problems among their pupils. Flaspohler, Elfstrom, Vanderzee, Sink, and Birchmeier (2009) found that pupils who indicated low levels of support by teachers and peers reported that they were more frequently the victims of bullies. These pupils also reported low levels of satisfaction with life in general. In a study of 2,327 students within nine middle schools and ten high schools, Wilson (2004) found links between victimization and school climate, as defined by variables such as feelings and attitudes toward school, knowledge and fairness of discipline policies, student-teacher relationships, and student-peer relationships. Galloway and Roland (2004) conducted an intervention in which teachers were offered professional development in the following areas: Quality of care for individual pupils; implementation of routines and maintaining a focus on academic tasks; monitoring students’ behavior and progress; and intervening appropriately when problems occur. Pupils in the schools receiving the intervention reported an 18% reduction in experiences of being victimized by bullies.

School violence has been a problem in France for a long time. Nationwide surveys revealed that 70% of the incidents of school violence occur in middle school. Most of the acts of violence were found to occur in schools which are primarily located in underprivileged neighborhoods. Of the incidents reported, 29.3% are severe acts of violence against persons conducted without using a weapon and 23% represent some form of verbal aggression; these percentages were found to remain very stable over successive school years (Ministe`re de l’E´ducation Nationale, 2003). School principals have reported that 36% of the incidents involve violence between pupils (Ministe`re de l’E´ ducation Nationale, 2008), with 8% characterized by verbal aggression.

The main purpose of the present study was to identify the aspects of school climate that are linked specifically to the problem of bullying. The researchers hypothesized that children in schools with more favorable social climates (including stronger student teacher relationships, better sense of school bonding, and greater staff collaboration) would report fewer bullying episodes.

Method:

The participants were 18,222 students (85% Caucasian with French as first language), 701 teachers, and 478 principals from a nationally representative sample of 478 schools in France. All variables in this study were measured using a questionnaire developed by Dauphin and Trosseille (2004) for a national study of a random sample of French children. Students answered three items describing verbal and relational bullying (‘Other students have insulted me verbally’, ‘I have been rejected, isolated or excluded by a group of students’, and, ‘Other students have said bad things about me behind my back’) and three items describing physical bullying (‘Other students have physically assaulted me,’ and ‘Other students have threatened to hurt me if I did not give them something that they wanted’) on a five-point scale ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (more than ten times this year). Some items assessing the quality of a school’s social climate were answered by students and others were answered by teachers. The rating scale for each of the items varied from 1 (not at all) to 5 (absolutely). The variable safe school comprised three items that measured the students’ perception of the safety of their schools. The variable school bonding comprised five items that measured the quality of students’ emotional attachment to their schools. The variable academic press comprised three items that measured students’ motivation for school work. Lastly, the variable student-teacher relationships comprised five items that measured the quality of student-teacher relationship. The variable clean school comprised two items that measured teachers’ satisfaction with the cleanliness of their school. The variable staff collaboration comprised six items that measured to what extent teachers worked well together. The variable behavior problems in class comprised ten items that measured the amount of behavior problems in each teacher’s class. Lastly, the variable academically on track consisted of the percentage of students per school who were considered by their school principal to be at their expected level academically.

Results:

Students who did not have French as their first language reported being victims of physical bullying to a greater extent than others. Students reporting greater social and academic anxiety, impulsivity, and friendship conflict also reported being victims of physical and verbal/relational bullying to a larger extent than other participants. Peer acceptance and positive friendship quality
were negatively associated with both verbal/relational and physical bullying. Finally, students with higher academic achievement reported less physical victimization and more verbal/relational victimization than their lower achieving schoolmates. Globally, there was less bullying in schools that are perceived as safer, that have higher achieving students, and that have more positive student-teacher relationships.

Discussion:

The results imply that there is a link between positive social climate within schools and reduced incidence of bullying behaviors. School psychologists can be instrumental in fostering positive school climate, and they should be proactive in this endeavor (Lehr & Christenson, 2002). School psychologists should visit the classrooms of the schools in which they work in order to derive an understanding of the climate of the schools in which they work and play an active role in disseminating and evaluating bullying-prevention programs and interventions aimed at improving school climate. In at least one study (Hertz-Lazarowitz & Od-Cohen, 1992), classroom and small-group discussions facilitated by school psychologists have been shown to increase positive social climate within the classroom. In Peterson and Ray’s (2006) study, 67% of gifted 8th-graders reported having been bullied, mostly verbally. Recent research by Rothon, Head, Klineberg, and Stansfeld (2010) suggests that social support from family and friends help protect bullied adolescents against declining academic achievement, but not against mental health issues.