Establishing a Bully-Free Environment for ELLs

Establishing a Bully-Free Environment for ELLs

by Judie Haynes

Are the ELLs in your school the target of bullies? Learn how to design programs so that they can protect themselves.

This article is based on a chapter in Authenticity in the Language Classroom and Beyond entitled Sticks and Stones: Preventing Bullying in the Elementary School by Joann Frechette and Judie Haynes (TESOL, 2010)

There are many types of bullying. Physical bullying is comprised of actions such as hitting, pushing and punching; verbal bullying includes name-calling and teasing; and emotional bullying consists of behaviors such as excluding someone from an activity. The English language learners (ELLs) in the suburban school where Joann Frechette and I taught were often the victims of verbal and emotional bullying. Their parents were not likely to report verbal or emotional bullying to the school. In my experience ELL parents did not appear to recognize the emotional damage that bullying can cause in children. They often expressed that this type of bullying is a normal part of growing up. Furthermore, ELLs who were victims of bullies were usually reluctant to draw attention to themselves. They were not only embarrassed to talk about their problems with bullies.

Staff members in our school district received training in an anti-bullying program adapted primarily from the book, Bully-Proofing Your School by Cam Short-Camilli (1994). We called our program We Respect ALL People (WRAP). At the heart of the WRAP program are various strategies that students employed to deal with bullies. From the beginning we wanted to make sure that the English language learners in our school were included in the program. We found that they needed extra practice with some of the strategies, and that they felt more comfortable talking about their experiences in their ESL class. So, we decided to reinforce the WRAP strategies as part of the ESL curriculum.

Even though ELLs do not often assert themselves while an actual bullying incident is happening, they will usually bring the problem to the ESL class. There, the ESL teacher teaches assertive language that ELLs can use with bullies. As the students gain more confidence through practice, they are more willing to stand up to a bully. Building community and encouraging classmates to be of assistance to each other goes a long way in helping ELLs avoid problems with bullies.

There are many long-lasting effects of bullying for the victim. Children who are bullied have low self-esteem and tend to be anxious and insecure and are often lonely and depressed. it is important for ESL teachers to work with classroom teachers to ensure that ELLs have a bully-free environment in school.