Teachers play big role in helping victims of bullying, says Guelph researcher

Students who are victims of bullying say knowing a teacher is open, cares about their well-being and willing to listen can make a big difference in how that person copes with a negative situation.

Being heard by a teacher made students feel like someone was in their corner, Ryan Broll says

Wednesday is Pink Shirt Day, which sees people wear pink shirts as part of an anti-bullying message. University of Guelph researcher Ryan Broll says teachers can play a big role in helping victims of bullying by showing they're willing to listen. (CBC)

Teachers can play a large role when a student is the victim of bullying a needs someone to talk to, says a University of Guelph researcher.

Ryan Broll is an assistant professor at the university and his research focuses on bullying and cyberbullying, policing, and victimization. Most recently he's been looking at the impact bullying has on young people. 

He says many of the people researchers spoke with said if they had one or two teachers who they felt were genuinely approachable and wanted to help, that made a huge difference.

"There's evidence that if we can improve school climate then bullying will decrease," Broll said.

"So if students feel welcome and accepted at school, and they feel like they can talk to their teachers and that teachers really care about their well-being, then these are all things that will help reduce bullying in schools."

He said the teachers students would talk to were often chosen because they made themselves available to just listen.

"I think being heard was really important to [the students] and it made them feel better," Broll said. "It made them feel like somebody was on their side, in their corner, that they weren't dealing with the bully on their own."

Class size matters, too

Ryan Broll is an assistant professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at the University of Guelph. (University of Guelph)
Other research has also shown classroom sizes play a role in whether bullying takes place, Broll said. Larger classes can mean teachers aren't able to watch over the students as well and monitor interactions as closely, meaning they could miss cases of bullying.

"If we're serious about dealing with bullying and reducing bullying in our schools, then class sizes is something that we should be thinking of," he said.

A larger class may also mean the student doesn't form that connection with the teacher who might be able to help them, he says. 

Bullying 'will not go away on its own'

Broll spoke about his research ahead of Pink Shirt Day, which is on Wednesday. 

The day, which is marked across the county, was started in 2007 when Nova Scotia high school students David Shepherd and Travis Price got their friends and classmates to wear pink shirts after they saw a Grade 9 student bullied for wearing a pink shirt.

The anti-bullying action has spread across the country and even to other countries.

Tony Volk, a professor in the department of child and youth studies at Brock University in St. Catharines, says the day is a good way to keep bullying top of mind.

"Bullying is a universal problem that will not go away on its own," Volk said in a release on the university's website. "But bullying does vary in different environments, so we know that it is possible to change it and reduce it."