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Researchers have relied primarily on self-report surveys to measure bullying. This method of assessment generally consists of paper-and-pencil questionnaires that are completed anonymously by the students. In most studies, students are given a definition of bullying and then asked to report how often they engage in different kinds of bullying behaviors (Salmivalli, Karhunen, & Lagerspetz, 1996). Salmivalli et al. found that simply asking students to respond to the statement "I bully others" often produced unreliable self-reports, because many students who bully do not consider their behavior as bullying. To obtain more accurate results, many researchers (Bosworth, Espelage, & Simon, 1999; Olweus, 1991; Smith & Sharp, 1994) asked students about the frequency of specific behaviors such as teasing, name calling, or hitting. Solberg and Olweus (2003) contended that self-reports are the best means of measuring bullying; however, self-reports can underestimate the prevalence of bullying if students are unwilling to admit socially undesirable behaviors or are unaware that their behavior constitutes bullying. Some bullies insist they are just "having fun" or "joking around" even though their behavior is intimidating or distressing to their victims. The most important limitation of anonymous self-report surveys from a counseling standpoint is that they yield estimates of the prevalence of bullying but do not help counselors identify the specific students involved in bullying.
Peer nomination (or peer report) represents an alternative approach to identifying bullies. The peer nomination method usually involves asking students to write down the names of classmates who match a descriptive statement, such as "someone who bullies others." Students who receive nominations beyond some cutoff point are considered to be possibly involved in bullying. It should be emphasized that counselors would not conclude that a student was bullying others based on peer nominations alone, but would use the peer nomination results as a basis for further investigation, such as interviewing students and consulting with teachers. Although peer nomination is not widely used in the literature on bullying, peer reports are a standard method of assessing peer social status ranging from peer aggression to popularity (Ladd & Kochenderfer-Ladd, 2002). Leff, Power, and Goldstein (2004) reviewed the most commonly used measures to evaluate the effectiveness of bullying prevention programs (i.e., nursing logs of injuries, discipline referrals, student self-report measures, teacher-reported measures, peer sociometric measures, and behavioral observation systems). They concluded that peer nominations have strong concurrent and predictive validity and are the "methodology of choice for identifying perpetrators" (p. 282).
Purpose Of Current Study
Implications for School Counselors
One clear advantage of peer nomination is that counselors not only can assess the prevalence of bullying, they also can identify students who are possible bullies. Although counselors should not conclude that a student is a bully based on peer nominations alone, they could follow up on the results by interviewing and observing students to determine if bullying is taking place. According to Clarke and Kiselica (1997), a major purpose of a school-wide assessment of bullying is to ascertain the current extent of the problem and to identify perpetrators who require counseling services and additional support. Peer nomination and self-report measures should be given in the context of a school-wide assessment of bullying. Teachers must be prepared in survey administration and motivated to create a receptive classroom environment to attain valid survey results (Cornell, Cole, & Sheras, in press). Cross and Newman-Gonchar (2004) proposed that administrator training may be a critical factor in obtaining more consistent and trustworthy survey data.
School counselors can work with teachers to alleviate ally concerns they may have about survey administration. Sometimes teachers fear that a peer nomination procedure will arouse anxiety in students or be disruptive to the classroom. Students should be advised that the purpose of the survey is to prevent students from being bullied, and that because oftentimes students are reluctant to come forward and seek help for bullying, or to seek help for their friends who are being bullied, the peer nomination provides them with a means to do so (Unnever & Cornell, 2004). Leff et al. (2004) suggested that teachers and school counselors fully debrief students after using the peer nomination procedure. They suggested that teachers explain why students are been requested to rate others in their class and talk about the importance of keeping their responses confidential. In practice, we have observed that peer nominations can be conducted in a straightforward and low-key manner that does not generate undue anxiety or distress among students. Concerns about peer nomination procedures must be weighed against the cost of failing to identify bullies and their victims. The ability to identify bullies and victims of bullying is critically important to any bully prevention effort. Moreover, in cases of severe or chronic bullying, we believe that counselors and teachers have an obligation to use all reasonable means to stop it from continuing. Interventions with identified aggressive youth must begin with behavior management (Bonds & Stoker, 2000; Clarke & Kiselica, 1997). Students must receive clear instructions that bullying will not be permitted and will have disciplinary consequences. It is important that students perceive that discipline is "firm but fair" and applied equally to everyone (Sprague & Golly, 2004). In addition to disciplinary consequences for bullying, schools should make ample use of incentives and rewards for appropriate behavior, consistent with the philosophy of positive behavior support (Sprague & Golly, 2004). Counselors should encourage teachers to emphasize positive consequences and recognition for peer behavior that shows empathy, respect, and consideration for others. This approach may be augmented by school-wide efforts to teach communication and conflict resolution skills, as well as nonviolent attitudes and values (Sprague et al., 2001). Students involved in bullying need assessment to identify potential problems with anger, socio-emotional adjustment, and peer relations. It may be useful to conduct a functional behavior analysis to identify factors that encourage, model, or reinforce the student's behavior, and then to develop an appropriate intervention plan (Skiba, Waldron, Bahamonde, & Michalek, 1998). Students must learn positive alternatives to aggression that replace patterns of bullying and related maladaptive behaviors (Clarke & Kiselica, 1997; Hoover & Hazier, 1991).
Some school staff members may have the mistaken idea that bullying is normal, unavoidable, and relatively harmless. School counselors can play an important role in helping school staff to develop a greater awareness of bullying and a willingness to respond to it (Atlas & Pepler, 1998). As Hernández and Seem (2004) emphasized, "Due to their knowledge, skills, and education, school counselors are uniquely positioned to institute the development of safe climates in schools and can serve as advocates for school change" (p. 257). School counselors can oversee and coordinate a school-wide effort to implement surveys that measure bullying and its effects on school climate. Results of a school-wide assessment can help develop policies and programs to deal effectively and quickly with bullying and aggression.
- Cole, J. C., Cornell, D. G., & Sheras, P. (2006). Identification of School Bullies by Survey Methods. Professional School Counseling, 9(4), 305-313. doi:10.1177/2156759x0500900417
The box directly below contains references for the above article.
Reflection Exercise #2