TRAINING ACTIVE BYSTANDERS (TAB):
ACTIVATING BYSTANDERS TO PREVENT BULLYING, VIOLENCE
AND OTHER HARM DOING
Recent events in Massachusetts have necessitated a shift in the way schools address the problem of bullying. Bullying is not a new phenomenon, nor is it one central to Massachusetts; in schools around the world, children harass, intimidate, physically harm, and abuse at least some of their peers[i]. In May of 2010, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed into law An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools; passage of this legislation was spurred in part by the suicides of Phoebe Prince in South Hadley and Carl Walker-Hoover in Springfield. Schools across the Commonwealth now have the challenging task of reviewing, revising, and implementing an anti-bullying curriculum to meet the unique needs of their schools. Quabbin Mediation has created Training Active Bystanders (TAB), a program with a written curriculum and applied using a training for trainers model, which has already proven effective in Western Massachusetts schools. The goal of TAB is transformation of the school community to a norm in which harm doing is not acceptable, resulting in a safe educational environment where all children can learn.
Implemented in North Quabbin middle and high schools for four years, TAB’s evaluation showed a significant reduction in violence, 20% compared to the control schools. Whereas other programs place the responsibility for implementation and change on a limited number of people, TAB maintains that every member of a school community has a responsibility for changing school climate. Such a change requires a process and structure that involve more than simple skill-building programs like those widely available. Quabbin Mediation recommends further implementation and evaluation of TAB in Massachusetts middle and high schools in varying demographics.
Bullying has been a problem in all schools for many, many years. The word bully is limited and vague. Many students in middle and high school believe bullying only happens in elementary school. The language must be broadened. In TAB, we refer to “harm doing” which is defined as hurtful teasing; excluding, or ignoring someone; telling lies, spreading false rumors; threatening; forcing someone to do something; physical violence including hitting, kicking, shoving; stealing or damaging someone’s possessions; making negative comments or gestures with a sexual meaning, about someone’s sexual orientation, about someone’s race, color, religion, nationality, class, ethnicity, or body type. Harm doing in schools extends beyond child-on-child bullying to mistreatment by adults of students and vice-versa.
Conflict, a natural consequence of differences, can descend into meanness and cruelty. But humans also have an enormous capacity for kindness and helping behavior. TAB is not a “fix” for bullying, nor is it a solely skill-based program. TAB is a process that recognizes connection, empowers bystanders to overcome inhibitors to action, and to step forward when help is needed.
A wide variety of programs offer violence prevention or anti-bullying curricula. Some of these are “proven” or “science-based” programs. Often, the burden of implementation falls on classroom teachers who already have heavy teaching responsibilities. This results in programs losing fidelity over time or never actually being implemented at all. The “out-of-the-box” programs may not fit the needs of particular schools and are not flexible enough to be modified to do so. Some programs address only the victim or bully, others are punishment based, and thus are not capable of effecting long-term, deep change. Schools around the state have anti-bullying or anti-violence programming that fits their needs but have not had the resources to engage in the comprehensive evaluations required to be certified as “proven” or “science-based” programs by the federal government. Like TAB, these programs require a closer examination as to their effectiveness.
This is a recommendation to increase TAB’s presence in Massachusetts’ schools. TAB’s goal is the evolution of the school community toward a norm in which harm doing is not acceptable, appropriately responds to the needs of all students and creates a safe educational environment where children can learn. The objectives are to institute certain norms: responsibility to each other and the community, inclusive caring, empathy, and moral courage.
Quabbin Mediation created TAB in partnership with Ervin Staub, Ph.D., founding director of the doctoral concentration in Peace and Violence Prevention and author of the book, The Psychology of Good and Evil: Why Children, Adults, and Groups Help and Harm Others. Dr. Staub’s research and research of others on helping and harming behavior everywhere from local schools to countries suffering genocide, is the basis of TAB. The program’s development still involves the North Quabbin’s two police departments, school principals, superintendents and guidance, children’s protective services (DCF and DYS) and local youth agencies, teenagers and teachers. Today, TAB is popular and successful because it involves the whole student body, it is preventive rather than reactive, and it improves the schools and the larger community which have a sense of ownership in it.
The entire community is responsible: school boards, school administrators, teachers and all other school staff, students, community members (civic organizations, houses of worship, local police, state and local agencies, parents, business members, court personnel, community mediators, etc.). Everyone must be trained in recognizing targeting behavior and harm doing and strategies for interrupting it so all youth and all adults in a school are cognizant of the language, concepts, and skills of active bystandership.
TAB Content: Broadening Definitions
TAB defines the roles of individuals in the school community as follows:
· Broaden the language from “bullying” to harm doing (hurtful teasing; excluding, or ignoring someone; telling lies, spreading false rumors; threatening; forcing someone to do something; physical violence including hitting, kicking, shoving; stealing or damaging someone’s possessions; making negative comments or gestures with a sexual meaning, about someone’s sexual orientation, about someone’s race, color, religion, nationality, class, etc.).
· Bystanders have a powerful role to play in taking action to change the norms. Recognize that none of the roles of bystander, target, and harm doer are static: we are all of these.
· There are situations requiring help when there is not a clear harm doer. In TAB, a harming situation students often raise that requires action is the problem of a fellow student abusing drugs or alcohol.
TAB Content: Roles
TAB explains three primary roles: target, bystander, and harm doer. The concepts of target, harm doer, and bystander apply to everyone, not just targets or harm doers (victims or offenders, bullies, perpetrators, etc.), because each of us has had the experience of being a bystander, of having needed help, and of doing harm (even if unintentionally). TAB deliberately avoids the word “bully” because 1) it implies a static, unchangeable behavior, 2) many middle and high school students perceive bullying as solely an elementary school problem, and 3) TAB is applicable to many other circumstances beyond bullying that do not involve deliberate harm but do require helpful behavior.
Ø Harm doer--one who engages in harm doing: hurtful teasing; excluding or ignoring someone; telling lies, spreading false rumors; threatening; forcing someone to do something; physical violence including hitting, kicking, shoving; stealing or damaging someone’s possessions; making negative comments or gestures with a sexual meaning, about someone’s sexual orientation, about someone’s race, color, religion, nationality, class, etc.
Ø Target—the recipient of harm.
Ø Bystander – a witness, someone who is in a position to know what is happening and is in a position to act. Active Bystander – a bystander who acts to stop harm rather than ignoring, watching passively, or joining in.
TAB Content: Concepts
We stress the need for safety and for judging a situation to make sure the active bystander is not harmed. Other concepts addressed in TAB include: the evolution of helpful and harmful behavior and its effect on individuals and the community, the responsibility we all have for creating a safe environment, and moral courage, which is doing what you believe is right even when acting contrary to the values, beliefs or expectations of people around you. Promoters of active bystandership include empathy, responsibility for others, inclusive caring, and competency to help. Inhibitors of active bystandership are pluralistic ignorance, diffusion of responsibility, ambiguity of the need for help, danger or cost of helping, and fear of disapproval. (This language is part of the curriculum and is defined during the lessons.)
Beginning in middle school with the basic curriculum and continuing into high school with the two advanced levels, TAB can be taught in nearly any class. In the North Quabbin, the basic is taught in health, but all the lessons could fit the educational frameworks for social studies, civics, English, history, and so on. The curriculum consists of small and large group discussions, role playing, activities and games to illuminate concepts, and entries in journals that are collected at the end of each lesson.
To minimize the burden of implementation, the program’s work load is spread out among many. We engage members of the larger community in the program delivery and we engage students as co-trainers with the adults using a “peer educator” model. (Note that the first adult TAB trainers in the North Quabbin included police officers, school board members, and staff of local youth agencies. All TAB adults MUST be CORIed.) The model in which youth and adults work in pairs as a co-equal team is unique. Student co-teaching with an adult builds strong relationships among youth and between youth and community adults. The hands-on skills student trainers learn working and teaching shoulder to shoulder with the community adults are invaluable in the world outside school, and develop the potential for these youth to be teachers and leaders. These experiences build self-confidence and self-esteem among the youth.
Scheduling is done by a community-based TAB program coordinator (which in Quabbin Mediation’s case is one of the state’s 16 local court-approved mediation programs, most of which implement peer mediation programs in the schools) with help from guidance. Such supervision of a professionally trained team of trainers builds a strong basis for consistent program implementation across the state.
Use of a “Training for Trainers” model means that trainers from the particular community have a thorough grasp of the material and can competently translate it for those within that community. This ensures cultural competency and that a model is used that all participants can relate to, relieving the problem that some programs work well in some communities but do not resonate with others. The curriculum maximizes personalization by the trainers who are part of the community, and program concepts, content, and skills are generalizable across cultures so it can easily be replicated in cities, for younger people and adults, in community and institutional settings.
Fidelity and Quality Control
The program must be implemented with fidelity within and among schools over time. To guarantee quality control, there are rigorous standards applied at each step.
The 18-hour Training for Trainers is taught by licensed TAB Instructors who teach 18-24 trainees from a school district/community how to teach the 6-hour basic curriculum. A trainee group is usually a ratio of two students per adult. TAB trainees must teach the basic curriculum at least once under Instructor mentorship and are evaluated by the Instructor using the trainer assessment tool. Those with positive evaluations are certified as TAB Trainers for one year, only in their particular school.
To maintain certification, the school’s TAB Trainers must attend an annual refresher. Here they are also instructed in teaching the progressively higher levels of advanced TAB. Instructors engage in a more lengthy and rigorous training, mentoring and regular evaluation process in order to obtain and maintain licensure.
Each TAB site has a TAB Coordinator (who is an experienced TAB Trainer or Instructor), employed by Quabbin Mediation. The Coordinator, using the fidelity tool, randomly sits in on their school’s TAB lessons to verify they are taught consistently at that site and across all sites. Coordinators are supervised by Quabbin Mediation and all meet quarterly in a Coordinators’ Council.
Policy and Program development
1. Schools create internal policies and procedures to sustain the change in social norms and that support the active bystander. For example, currently many schools have policies which penalize students who interrupt harm doing; instead policies must protect and encourage active bystanders. Similarly, internal school policies must weigh in on the side of supporting targets.
2. Involve the entire community in program development both within the school and within the larger community; this generates broader commitment to change over the long term.
3. Make certain the program extends to new forms of communication. For example, one student explained in her TAB journal how she interrupted harm being done to another student via the internet using skills she had learned through the program.
The use of volunteers to teach TAB minimizes the long-term costs of the program and allows it to be carried out continually into the future. Working with schools to establish a TAB program involves:
· Consultations with the school to determine the capacity and commitment to long-term implementation,
· Developing a structure that works for the school,
· Providing application and screening materials for selecting trainers,
· Training and certification of 18-24 students and community adults as trainers,
· Ongoing support and supervision to ensure efficient scheduling of trainers and classroom instruction, program fidelity and quality control.
· Trainers are certified to teach TAB and use the curriculum for one year in their school.
· To maintain certification, trainers must attend yearly trainer refreshers in which they also are trained to teach progressively higher levels of the curriculum.
To date, 3,555 students and 300 adults have been taught the curriculum by 104 student and adult trainers. Results of the TAB qualitative and quantitative evaluation showed significant improvements in overall school climate.
Students from four school systems participated in the Quantitative Evaluation: the two North Quabbin school districts were matched demographically with two control schools. Students completed questionnaires three times: before lessons, just after lessons had finished, and five months afterward.
Ø Harm doing, as reported by targets, went down significantly in the implementation schools, 20% compared to the control schools.
Ø Harm doing reported by witnesses went down 10% in the implementation schools compared to 1% in the control schools.[ii]
Ø Dropout rates in Mahar between the 06-07 and the 07-08 school year, after implementation of TAB, fell 43%.[iii]
According to the Qualitative Evaluation by Deborah Letit Habib, Ed.D., “Leadership, self-esteem and courage increase among youth trainers as a result of teaching the curriculum to peers. Youth trainers exhibit behavior shifts, demonstrating active bystandership or utilizing curriculum language and techniques in peer and family contexts. Students who receive TAB curriculum demonstrate an ability to use new terminology and identify actions they can take as an active bystander. The majority of journal responses conveys an increased awareness and recognition of harm-doing and bystandership in school, peer and community settings and implies development of skills to take action in response to harm doing.”
Some students’ journal entries are surprisingly astute and sophisticated. One 8th grader wrote in his journal, “If I see a situation that I think needs help, I will be an active bystander and do something or say something instead of giving in to pluralistic ignorance” Another 8th Grader wrote, “I can use what I learned in TAB to help intervene in a situation. I learned how to diffuse a problem quickly and safely. I am now more inclined to act in a situation where someone is being harmed.” A 10th grader wrote in his journal, “I am no longer a passive bystander. People say power comes in numbers but bigger power can come from one person. It only takes one person to create a chain of endless caring that is powerful in many ways.”
The mother of an at-risk youth who is a TAB trainer said, “It’s unusual for adults and teens to work together as equals for the same purpose. I see a very positive effect on my son because of the mutual respect among trainers who are adults and teens.”
A High School Principal said, “The program is designed to stop harm doing in the sense that a lot of times we will never hear or see it. The incidents that we know about, we can fix. This program helps those kids who would have never come forward to say ‘I need your help’”
A Superintendent said, “It aligns with every school’s social and civic expectations of teaching the whole community to be active, whether it’s a participant in social change within a culture, or in becoming a change agent.”
According to the evaluators’ recommendations, “It appeared that the program reduced harm doing. Replicating the program may reduce harm doing in other schools. Continuing its implementation may maintain or further decrease levels in the schools in which it is already implemented.”
A Health Teacher interviewed for the evaluation said, “I think that I would say whole-heartedly [to another district] that this is something that they should get involved with and it’s getting better all the time. It cannot hurt; it can only help.” [iv]
RESEARCH SUPPORTING TAB
Research supports Training Active Bystanders as a strategy to reduce anti-social behavior: hostility, aggression, and violence and to increase pro-social skills/knowledge, attitudes and behaviors. In schools around the world, children harass, intimidate, physically harm, and abuse at least some of their peers.[v], [vi], [vii], [viii] ,[ix]. The consequences of harm doing may be withdrawal, depression, or aggression. Boys who are aggressive toward their peers are likely to become more aggressive over time, and are more likely to get involved with criminal activities as they get older.[x]
The basis of TAB is the power of bystanders. Children who are bystanders are often passive.[xi] Passivity in the face of harmful actions by others encourages harm doers and teaches children that people are not to be trusted, that other people can be cruel and uncaring, that the world is dangerous, and that school is not a positive place.[xii] Children who engage in some helpful action feel more positive about school. People who engage in positive, helpful actions, tend to become even more helpful over time. Analysis of the actions of “rescuers” of people during the Nazi Holocaust shows an evolution of helpfulness. Active bystandership can lead to more positive interactions among children, an improved classroom atmosphere, improved learning, and can be an important contributor to children’s positive socialization.[xiii]
The TAB curriculum draws on research findings on psychological processes that inhibit bystander action, among them are pluralistic ignorance, diffusion of responsibility, ambiguity of the need for help, danger of retribution, and fear of disapproval.[xiv], [xv] Empathy, responsibility for others, inclusive caring, courage, and competency to help all promote active bystandership. [xvi], [xvii], [xviii] Older students teaching younger ones results in more generous, helpful behavior.[xix]
The TAB “Train the Trainers” model reduces risk factors and enhances protective factors for the youth trainers, and for their fellow students to whom they teach TAB.[xx] The adult/student training-pairs model develops mentoring relationships which promote resiliency for youth exposed to negative factors. [xxi], [xxii] The effectiveness of mentoring in preventing gang involvement, educational failure, delinquency, and dropping out of school, was demonstrated by research reported in several US Department of Justice bulletins. [xxiii]
[i] Staub, E. (2003). The psychology of good and evil: Why children, adults and groups help and harm others. New York: Cambridge University Press.
[ii] Alexandra Gubin, Ph.D., (December, 2007). Training Active Bystanders (TAB) Quantitative Program Evaluation, Sun Statistical and Research Consulting, Belmont, MA,
[iii] Courville, C., Producer, (June 2008). Training Active Bystanders (Reza Namin, R.C. Mahar Superintendent), Athol Orange Community Television.
[iv] Deborah L. Habib, Ed.D., (December 2007). Stories of Implementation: A Report on the Findings of Qualitative Research, Orange, MA.
[v] Fried, S. & Fried, D. (1996). Bullies and victims: helping your child survive the schoolyard battlefield. New York: M. Evans and Company, Inc.
[vi] Hazler, R., Carney, J., Green, S., Powell, R. and Jolly, L. (1997). Areas of expert agreement on identification of school bullies and victims. School Psychology International, 18, 5-14.
[vii] Olweus, D.(1993).Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Oxford: Blackwell.
[viii] Rigby, K. (1996). Bulling in schools and what to do about it. Melbourne: The Austrialiana Council for Educational Research LTD.
[ix] Staub, 2003
[x] Coie, J. D. and Dodge, K. A. (1997). Aggression and antisocial behavior. Handbook of Child Psychology, fifth edition. William Damon, (ed.) Vol. 3. Social, Emotional, and Personality Development. Nancy Eisenberg, Vol. (ed.) New York: John Wiley and Sons.
[xi] Staub, 2003.
[xii] Staub, E. (1989). The roots of evil: The origins of genocide and other group violence. New York: Cambridge University Press.
[xiii] Staub, E., (1989). Political Psychology, 10, 39-53.
[xiv] Latane, B., & Darley, J. (1970). The unresponsive bystander: Why doesn't he help? New York: Appleton-Crofts.
[xv] Staub, E. (1978). Predicting prosocial behavior. In L. Pervin & M. Lewis (Eds.) Perspectives in international psychology. New York: Plenum Press.
[xvi] Staub, (2003).
[xvii] Grusec, J. E. (1981). Socialization processes and the development of altruism. In J. P. Rushton, & R. M. Sorrentino (Eds.), Altruism and helping behavior. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
[xviii] Eisenberg, N. and Fabes, R. A. (1998). Prosoical development. In W. Damon (Ed.), Handbook of Child Psychology, Fifth Edition Vol.3: N. Eisenberg (ed.). Social, Emotional, and Personality Development.
[xix] Staub, 2003.
[xx] Hawkins and Catalano, (1992). Communities That Care, John Wiley and Sons.
[xxi] Werner, E.E. (1987). Vulnerability and resiliency in children at risk for delinquency. In J.D. Burchard & S.N. Burchard (Eds.), Primary prevention of psychopathology, 10, Prevention of delinquent behavior (pp. 16-43). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
[xxii] Rak, C. and Patterson, C., (1996). Journal of Counseling and Development.
[xxiii] Grossman, J.B. and Garry, E., (1997) Mentoring-A Proven Delinquency Prevention Strategy, and Novotney, L., Mertinko, E., Lange, J. and Baker, T.K., (2000). Juvenile Mentoring Program: A Progress Review, US DOJ, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.