An Important New Study on the Impact of Influential Students on Bullying

My latest article for the Yellin Center covers a salient topic in education -bullying.  A dynamite (and academically badass) team of researchers from Princeton, Yale, and Rutgers came together to explore how to best promote an anti-conflict mindset and disrupt the culture of bullying in schools.  The impact of their research doesn’t end with a theoretical publication; the practical Roots program has been developed to help teachers and policy makers enact this research in tangible, real world ways. Read my article below for more information on the novel research and Roots Program. 

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 discussion on the topic and yet little significant empirical 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.

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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One thought on “An Important New Study on the Impact of Influential Students on Bullying

  1. Renee, again, this is so critical an issue and where better to address bullying than in schools. As I mentioned this morning, the football players weren’t the perfect solution but it was an awareness and at least an effort to decrease incidents at school. I wish there had been “studies” available during my high school and teaching years as we had a number of influential students who would have been ideal for this. At Killarney there was zero tolerance and any perpetrators were dealt with quite seriously. In the ’60’s and ’70’s schools were much more regimented with very strict rules in place. Hopefully we can reach a point where it will be diminished out of existence. I know we’re a long way from that but with programs like this, it is a pathway leading to good things. Thanks for writing about this. :).

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