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Clerical Services/Administrative ESPs and Bullying Prevention

Administrative Staff Hear Bullying Reports from Students and Parents

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Bullying behavior is a growing concern among America’s educators. Bullying is generally defined as repeated aggressive acts intended to do harm, and is characterized by a power or status difference between the students. Bullying includes not only physical aggression such as hitting or stealing, but also verbal aggression, such as threatening, name calling, spreading rumors, socially rejecting and isolating someone, or cyberbullying (where perpetrators can hide behind the anonym- ity of the Internet).

Students who have been bullied report feeling depressed, anxious, and isolated. Many have low self-esteem. Their school attendance and performance may suffer. And as the nation has seen recently, in some cases they are so tormented they take their own lives.

Bullying seldom happens in the school office, but the fallout from it makes the school office the front line of prevention and intervention. Clerical services ESPs (secretaries, administrative aides, office assistants, accountants, receptionists, etc.) are frequently in the position to hear reports of bullying from students and parents. With a shortage of counselors in many schools, clerical services professionals often become the informal counselor to the bully, the target, and their parents at a highly emotional time.

While there are many curriculum materials that provide educators with tools to teach students about bullying, few training opportunities are provided to clerical ESPs on how to deal with bullying situations. We know that for any bullying prevention ini- tiative to be successful, all staff members need to be engaged and trained on prevention and intervention strategies.

NEA has long been committed to bullying and harassment prevention and intervention. For decades, members have received training on how to recognize and intervene in student-to-student bullying situations. In order to assess the opinions of education support professionals as well as teachers on issues relating to bullying, NEA conducted surveys in 2010 and 2012. Among the 2,900 ESPs surveyed in 2010, 495 were clerical services ESPs. An additional 531 responded to bullying questions as part of an over- all ESP survey in 2012.

What Clerical Services ESPs Said

Students and parents tell them about bullying. Given the nature of their job and their limited interaction time with stu- dents (relative to other ESPs), clerical or administrative staff are less likely than other ESPs to report seeing a student being bul- lied at their school. Even so, 13% of them reported witnessing it as frequently as several times a month and 8% reported seeing bullying daily. And, because of their position, they are more likely to hear about bullying from both students and parents, and thus might be more likely to view bullying as a problem at their school. Approximately 46% of clerical services ESPs indi- cated that a student reported bullying to them within the past month, more than any other ESP category. Forty percent stated that a parent reported bullying to them, more than any other group of school staff, including teachers (16%). This puts clerical services ESPs in the valuable role as central connectors who can share important information with all school staff—administrators, teachers, and other support professionals—and with parents (who seem to trust them) to prevent further bullying.

They feel it's their job to intervene. A significant major- ity—88% in 2012—of clerical services professionals surveyed reported that it is “their job” to intervene in bullying situations.

They need training on bullying prevention and intervention. While nearly all clerical services ESPs surveyed—98%—reported that their school district has a bullying prevention policy, and many of them are involved in the administrative details of reporting incidents occurring on school grounds, less than half—41%—said they had received training on that policy. Including clerical services ESPs in training on bullying prevention and intervention strategies is especially important since they interact directly with the student who bullies, his or her targets, and the parents of those involved when they arrive at the front office.

They want training on different forms of bullying. Research shows that clerical ESPs do not differ much from the rest of the school staff in their need for additional training about all forms of bullying. Training on cyberbullying and sexting are most needed, with two-thirds of clerical workers indicating they want additional information on those topics as well as on what to do in situations involving children being bullied because of sexual orientation.

They need to be encouraged to join school committees on bullying prevention. The survey found that few clerical services ESPs are involved in bullying prevention efforts at their school. Only 21% reported being involved in school teams, committees, or prevention programs dealing with bullying. This seems like a missed oppor- tunity to include the one category of school staff that receives the most bullying reports from both students and parents. Enlisting clerical services professionals can prove invaluable to prevention efforts because they are more likely to know all the students: the new students, foreign-born students, those with hidden or visible disabilities, and others who are easy targets of bullies.

They report feeling connected to their school community, which influences bullying intervention. Connectedness is the belief by adults in the school that they are regarded as individuals and professionals who are involved in the learning process. Research has shown there is an important link between feeling connected to the school and being comfortable intervening with all forms of bullying among all types of students. The more staff members, including clerical services ESPs, feel connected to their school, the more likely they are to intervene and stop bullying when they see it. Furthermore, given the evidence that both students and parents report bullying to them, clerical ESPs can play a critical role in implementing whole–school programs by serving as liaisons (connectors) between students, parents, teachers, and all other school staff.

They are likely to live in their school community. The NEA survey found that 69% of clerical services ESPs live in the school community where they work, which is considerably higher than teachers. This means they are more likely to know the students and their families outside the school setting, and can be an invaluable resource when seeking answers to bullying incidents.

Inform Yourself and Your Association

  • Visit, a good go-to source for resources about how to help bullied students, and how to prevent bullying in your school.
  • Seek input and collect data from other school staff to whom students go for support.
  • Request a bullying prevention and intervention training session from NEA at (there is a training link). Make sure the training is scheduled at a time that is convenient for clerical services ESPs to attend.
  • Ask your school district to invest in clerical services ESPs and provide training on the content of current policies for bullying prevention and intervention. Work with your local affiliate to ensure these trainings are scheduled at times that are conve- nient for clerical staff to attend along with other school staff.
  • Become involved in bullying prevention teams, com- mittees and other activities at your school or Education Association.
  • Initiate meetings with other staff to share concerns about bullying in general or specific students in particular.

NEA’s official website for the NEA Bully Free: It Starts with Me campaign.
Guidance on bullying from the U.S. Department of Education.
National PTA guide on safeguarding children from bullying.
Education Support Professionals website with links to bullying resources, including the 2010 NEA Nationwide Study of Bullying.
Educator Tip Sheets are available, such as: How to Intervene to Stop Bullying: Tips for On-the-Spot Intervention at School.

Take the Pledge:

Take the pledge to change school climate and let’s make our schools Bully Free!