To change the culture of an elementary and/or middle school, the message has to begin with parents. A recent study confirms that a school climate is dependent on how kids relate to each other which is a direct result of how they are taught at home.
It's hard work to promote respect among students but unless parents and, in some cases, teachers get the message, it's impossible. But how do we get this point across?
Instead of an anti-bullying campaign, another concept is to build a leadership campaign. It's easier to talk to kids and parents about leadership than it is to harp on bad behavior. It's also an effective way to talk about the critical role of the bystander. If a child feels like they are a leader when they support the kids around them, they are more likely to step up. If both a parent and child can be complimented for their leadership qualities, others will more likely follow.
As part of a leadership program, older kids mentor younger children. This is so important because in order to lead, kids are taught to lead by example.
An observation: kids tune out at the word "bully." Kids don't relate their own behavior to being a "bully." From what I see, they only understand it when they have to explain it to a younger child.
What is also good about this approach is that it sends a message to the young ones about the expectations of the school. Basically, "We are nice to everyone here, whether they are your friend or not." It also gives them a sense of importance that the older kids know them. Sometimes kids do things because they don't think anyone else will notice. The older kids are taught to catch the younger ones doing something good and give them encouragement. The older ones are also reminded to "take their own pulse" and to not make mean behavior a habit.
This may be simple but it is universal. People want to feel good about themselves. Any school can establish a leadership program with no or little cost. Just the help of interested parents. See -- it's always about the parents!