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A small-scale research study has shown the benefits of teachers and education researchers working together to develop tailored anti-bullying intervention programs and resources for early years students.

Dr Lesley-Anne Ey and Associate Professor Barbara Spears, from the University of South Australia, worked with 12 teachers and 99 children aged between five and eight for a proof of concept study commissioned by the World Organisation for Early Childhood Education.

It aimed to explore junior primary students’ understanding of what bullying means, identify gaps in their knowledge, and use the data to co-create anti-bullying lessons and resources. Students were shown cartoons depicting bullying behaviour, non-bullying aggressive behaviour (showing conflict rather than bullying), and play behaviour. They were asked to describe their understanding of bullying and asked if the images depicted bullying behaviour.

The children had only a basic understanding of the key elements of bullying – 17 per cent demonstrated knowledge of repetition, 14 per cent intent to harm and 4 per cent imbalance of power. In interviews, just over half (53 per cent) associated bullying with aggressive behaviour. When they were shown the cartoons, they had a good recognition of bullying and play behaviour, but a poor understanding of non-bullying forms of aggression – confusing bullying with any form of aggression, such as a one-off conflict.

The teachers and researchers discussed the interview responses, issues raised, and possible strategies and resources that could help address student needs. Teachers took the lead and worked with colleagues – including leadership staff and social workers – and the researchers to create a program for their own classroom context, with 10 lessons aligned to the Australian Curriculum and South Australia’s Keeping Safe: Child Protection Curriculum.

“All teachers reported that they thought the implementation of their anti-bullying program was beneficial to children’s understanding of bullying. Specific learning they mentioned included understanding the difference between conflict and bullying, having a greater understanding of the three elements of bullying… and being able to label these, understanding that conflict is normal, having the confidence to seek help (speak to an adult) if they are being bullied or see others getting bullied,” Ey and Spears report.

After the intervention, study participants receiving the programs had a better understanding of the three key elements of bullying, with 51 per cent demonstrating knowledge of repetition, 30 per cent intent to harm and 16 per cent imbalance of power.

Ey and Spears say the research needs to be replicated with a larger sample, but it shows that when teachers use data from their own classes to inform their practice and create a tailored, meaningful program specific to their student needs it works.

References: Ey, L., & Spears, B. A. (2018). Supporting early childhood educators to address bullying in junior primary classes through the co-creation of anti-bullying interventions and resources: A Proof of Concept Study - A report for the Organisation Mondiale pour l’Education Préscolaire (OMEP) (World Organisation for Early Childhood Education).

This is an edited version of a podcast transcript published by Teacher and has been reproduced with the permission of the Australian Council for Educational Research. To listen to the full podcast, and access the transcript, visit www.teachermagazine.com.au.