Scanlan Center for School Mental Health
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Safety, Acceptance, Community: Building a Bully-Free School Culture

Emily Schrepf
Emily Schrepf
written by

Emily Schrepf

Teaching & Learning

Bullying is a serious and widespread issue and can cause great harm to young people. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has found that bullying by peers has been linked to illnesses, school avoidance, poor academic performance, increased fear and anxiety, and suicidal ideation as well as low self-esteem and depression. Cyberbullying is a somewhat more recent issue and is also quite detrimental to victims’ mental health.

It is not always obvious that a student is being bullied but there are some possible signs:

  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
  • Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating; kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide

*These signs do not always point to bullying and may be related to other mental and/or physical health issues.

7 Bullying Prevention Best Practices

So how can we as educators help prevent and mitigate bullying in school? reports that school-based bullying prevention programs could decrease bullying by up to 20%.

If your school does not currently have a program in place, you may want to encourage your administration to take a look at what the Center for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports recommends.

Below are some recommendations for best practices for schools to help prevent bullying:

  • Establish a positive, supportive school culture in which bullying and harassment of any type are unacceptable. There should be a clear plan in place about how bullying is handled and it must be followed with fidelity each time.
  • Strengthen connections between students and adults at school. Adults should make an effort to know as many students by name as possible, including those outside of their classrooms, engage with their interests, and listen with intention.
  • Educate and empower students about bullying. Ask your school or guidance counselor to provide a lesson on bullying if it isn’t in your curriculum; the American School Counselor Association offers school counselors training to become a Bullying Prevention Specialist.
  • Reinforce positive behaviors to replace bullying behaviors. Praise students when they show kindness and point out when students do something to assist or support classmates.
  • Ensure access to mental health services and supports. All students should be able to meet with a trusted adult when they are experiencing mental health issues. School counselors and social workers should be available when possible. The Scanlan Center for School Mental Health clinic also offers free virtual short-term counseling for students aged 10+. Students must be referred by a school mental health provider, administrator, or AEA by emailing Additionally, WellTrack Connect, a free referral service can help connect a student with a therapist that best their needs.
  • Protect particularly vulnerable student populations. Provide safe spaces in the school where marginalized and vulnerable students can spend time if needed.

Unfortunately, even when we do everything, we’re aware of to try to prevent bullying, it still happens. Research shows that the strongest indicator of resilience after bullying is social support from family, peers, and school staff (Davidson & Kilpatrick Demaray, 2007).

More Ideas for Fostering Connection

Here are a few other ideas for promoting connection in schools:

  • Morning meetings that allow students to connect with each other. Questions that encourage students to think about other’s experiences are helpful or teachers can even lead games that promote empathy: Have students sit in a circle. Select a student to start by sharing a situation they experienced where they felt a strong emotion (e.g., happiness, sadness, anger, or fear). The next student in the circle will then try to imagine how the first student felt in that situation and briefly describe their understanding of those feelings. Continue around the circle, with each student sharing a situation and the next student empathizing with their feelings, until all students have had a turn.
  • Small groups with school counselors or social workers. Groups for social skills, success in the classroom, friendship skills, and others can help students connect and learn valuable skills.
  • Encourage participation in extra-curricular activities. Ask students about their interests and encourage them to get involved in sports, clubs, and groups when possible.
  • According to the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, the single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult. Students who are having a hard time may want to check in with an adult they trust at school on a regular basis.
  • Special activities for the entire school to participate in such as school-wide field days, dance parties, or service projects bring all students together.

Together, we can work toward safe and supportive learning environments!


Davidson, L., Kilpatrick Demaray, M. (2007). Social Support as a Moderator Between Victimization and Internalizing-Externalizing Distress from Bullying. School Psychology Review. 36(3), 383-405.

Emily Schrepf is currently a student clinician at the Scanlan Center for School Mental Health Clinic and is pursuing her master’s in social work at the University of Iowa.