I remember sitting in a meeting during the beginning of the year teacher PD and seeing many emotional teachers. The entire high school staff broke out into small groups to talk about the events that happened the year prior. A student who was bullied committed suicide the year before, and you could see the strain it had on many of the teachers’ faces, especially those who taught the young man.
After hearing the stories of the teachers and administrators, the conversation shifted to what we can do to prevent this from happening again. As I was new to the district, I did not know exactly how I could help, but I wanted to so badly.
Several months later, my Co-Student Council Advisor stumbled upon dude. be nice at a Student Council Advisors workshop here in Texas. After she attended the first session with dude. be nice, she ran to me excitedly and said… “DUDE, we have to do this!!!”
So we decided to both sit in on the session and listen to the CEO of dude. be nice talk about his work at other schools and my co-sponsor and I knew instantly that this would be the avenue for how we were going to help positively change the school culture at our school.
What's the best way to prevent bullying?
In order to achieve an anti-bullying culture, we incorporated dude. be nice into the DNA of the school itself.
Ideas to create an anti-bully culture:
- Created an on-ramp for all students to participate
- We didn’t just announce the Dude. Be Nice Week the Friday before. Instead, we used our Advisory classes to intentionally inform every student on what dude. be nice is and why we’re doing it.
- When students understand the purpose, they rally around it that much more.
- Developed our DBN campaign
- We literally pulled our ideas from the content that DBN created! You can find those resources here.
- To make the activities fun and to encourage all students to participate, we created the DBN gameboard students could play to spread kindness and win a free t-shirt.
- Here is a link to Alamo Heights’ daily themes!
- Check out the video of the kids honoring a custodian who models kindness!
- Communicated our purpose to families
- We wanted to make sure every stakeholder knew about our mission, so we sent out information in our daily announcements to families.
- Here is a sample of ours!
- Made “On Wednesdays, we wear DBN” a part of our weekly rhythm
- We knew that if we wanted the heart behind an anti-bullying culture to stick, we needed weekly reminders.
- The custom DBN shirts made it easy for every student to feel a part of the community in a significant way… every week!
After our first Dude. Be Nice Week, we noticed a true change, a real shift in the school culture. We could hear students in the hallways saying, “dude. be nice!”
Not only did we hear this new language, but we also saw evidence in the form of student behaviors. This was especially evident as students wore the shirts. For many, the conversation was, ”how can I not be nice when I’m wearing this shirt around?”
We saw students from the elementary grades wearing DBN Alamo Heights shirts, and I received emails from their teachers not only requesting more shirts but also asking for help to bring DBN week to their campuses. The shift in culture was evident throughout the community.
How can bullying be stopped in schools?
Teachers have A LOT on their plates already and the COVID pandemic has definitely exacerbated the amount of work teachers do. It is the collaborative work of students’ families and the school to help build a culture that prevents bullying from happening.
If you’re a teacher or school staff member, you know that typically, students and staff are proud to work at their schools, which creates a dynamic school spirit.
However, school culture consists primarily of the underlying values and beliefs that teachers and administrators hold about teaching and learning and how students are involved in the process.
The idea really should be that we bridge that gap between school culture and school spirit to where it is more a positive way of building community and reinforcing the values of the school itself.
If you’re sitting with your team, wondering how you can combat bullying issues and change the culture on your campus, here are my key takeaways.
3 Ideas to Create an Anti-Bully School Culture
- When we first started our anti-bullying campaign, we knew we needed the support of the teachers and staff on campus. Our team first presented our idea to the principal.
- From there, we sent emails to teachers inviting them to several different presentations in which we highlighted our action plan for the anti-bullying campaign. Doing this allowed the teachers to understand that we weren’t just changing school spirit, we were changing the school culture.
- After we got the teacher's buy-in, we knew we needed the support of our students or our anti-bullying program wouldn’t function. To achieve student buy-in, we first presented the idea to our Student Council.
- Because Student Council puts on a lot of programs at the school, we knew if we got their support, they could influence the student body. After hearing of the anti-bullying campaign, the members of Student Council became excited and eager to help change the culture of the school.
Keep it Simple!
- Three simple words changed our school culture. Dude. be nice is a message so clean, so simple, it would allow us to propel our efforts to new Heights…pun intended.
- We created our events and activities around these few simple, yet effective, words. The activities that the students created to foster a change in school culture were ingrained in those words and it was heard throughout the community.
Bonus - Community Support
- We didn’t just bring our Dude. Be Nice campaign to the high school. The Student Council members incorporated activities at the junior school, elementary school, and even with our school board.
- We included staff members from janitors to school bus drivers. We also worked with the Alamo Heights police and fire departments to ensure several successful events. This culture shift had to include the entire community or it would not have been as effective as it was.
The best part was we didn’t stop with just Dude. Be Nice Week, we continued to spread that positive message throughout the school year. Student leaders across campus continued the Dude. Be Nice push and would go on the school announcements weekly to share how the campus can do a specific act of kindness for that week. High school students also went to the junior and elementary schools to promote the same messages which provided for an even greater impact within the community.
All in all, students were the ones who drove the message and had the conversations to change the culture of the school to be more positive in nature.
A note to faculty who want to implement this at their school: this work is not easy. Changing the dynamics of school culture does require proper planning.
Surround yourself with a team that can get the job done and who believes in the mission. This is mission-driven work and in the end, our students will be better for it.
By Andrew Walton, M.Ed.
Doctoral Fellow in Culture, Literacy, & Language
The University of Texas at San Antonio.
Previously, he served as the Spanish Teacher/Student Council Advisor at Alamo Heights High School and will be moving on to Metropolitan State University of Denver as an Assistant Professor of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education
Want to hear more from Andrew? Here’s an interview he did with our CEO, Brent Camalich, on how to positively shift the culture on a school campus.