Friday, January 8, 2016

New Study on Impact of Influential Students on Bullying

Reducing and abating bullying within schools is a focal point for teachers, parents, and policymakers. There are a plethora of programs, tools, and research into the topic and yet little significant evidence has been yielded on how to definitively curb bullying. A new study from researchers at Princeton University (working with colleagues from Rutgers and Yale) suggests that key, influential students may be able to hone and shape a school culture that is intolerant of bullying. Theories of human behavior posit that individuals often attend to and emulate the behavior of people within their community in order to learn the social norms and constructs. Researchers used this notion to identify, often through social media, key influencers in the social network of 56 middle schools in New Jersey, and analyzed their ability to reduce bullying and school conflict.

Current anti-bullying programs are constructed by adults to address adult defined problems. The distinguishing feature of the program model used in this study is that researchers trained the students on anti-conflict ideologies and then let them independently lead their own messaging campaigns. This gave the autonomy to each student to change and shape their school culture by addressing the problems they saw using their own voice. Students were encouraged to make their anti-conflict stance well known through social media posts, and printing posters they designed, while also suggesting positive ways to resolve issues they confronted in their own smaller social circles.

The report, “Changing climates of conflict: A social network experiment in 56 schools,” found that the middle schools who used social influencers saw a 30% decrease in student conflict over the course of the year. The rate of decreased student conflict also appeared to be correlated to the number of social influences each school had; the more social influencers present in a community, the higher the reduction in bullying behavior.

For more information about the program used in this study or to review the anti-bullying curriculum they used, head over to the Roots program. The researchers at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public Health have generously made their anti-bullying curriculum open source for anyone interested in using their ideas in their own communities. The curriculum is "user friendly" and uses specific examples and illustrations to explain how communities of influence work,

For example, the Hoberman Sphere functions as both a toy and a visual reminder of social networks. When expanded, it represents the way in which communities of influence can have an expanded impact.
We are excited to see a program that empowers students to make a tangible change in their own communities, using their own grass roots ideas of how exactly to affect that change. We believe there is a lot of power in a program that tackles bullying from the bottom up, rather than the conventional top-down approach.

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