Effective Evidence-based Practices for Preventing and Addressing Bullying

There is no one-size-fits-all or simple solution for addressing bullying behavior.  Rather, efforts to prevent and address bullying behavior should be embedded within a comprehensive, multi-tiered behavioral framework used to establish a positive school environment, set high academic and behavioral expectations for all students, and guide delivery of evidence-based instruction and interventions that address the needs of students, including students with disabilities.  In such a framework, policies and practices would be aligned and consistently implemented school wide; that is, across general and special education, each grade level, and in all school settings and activities. Data-based decision making would be used to identify needs, analyze problem situations, outline clear evidence-based practices to be used in delivery of instruction and implementation of interventions, and monitor progress toward clear, positive academic and behavioral outcomes as part of an ongoing, continuous improvement model.

When deciding which strategy or strategies to use to address bullying behavior, each school needs to consider the relevant factors given its school environment, students’ social and cognitive development, and the evidence on programmatic prevention and intervention.  Teachers, administrators, and staff understand that students’ social behavior affects their academic learning. In many high-performing schools, academic instruction is combined with effective behavioral supports to maximize academic engagement and in turn, student achievement.  That is, successful schools focus on decreasing academic failure and problem behaviors, including bullying, and increasing opportunities for all students to fully participate in learning. There is a growing body of research on promising school bullying interventions that can inform practice.  For example, a meta-analysis of research across a 25-year period found that school bullying prevention programs led to changes in knowledge, attitudes, and self-perceptions of those targeted by bullying, engaging in bullying, and bystanders. Another meta-analysis of school-based programs implemented in the United States and internationally to reduce bullying concluded that overall school-based anti-bullying programs were often effective in reducing bullying, and identified program elements (i.e., critical practices or strategies) associated with effective programs; but results varied based on context.   Experimental research has also demonstrated lower rates of bullying and peer rejection when critical practices or strategies were used within a multi-tiered behavioral framework.

Merrell, K. W., Gueldner, B. A., Ross, S. W., & Isava, D. M. (2008).  How effective are school bullying intervention programs? Meta-analysis of intervention research.  School Psychology Quarterly, 23, 26-42.

Farrington, D. P., & Ttofi, M. M. (2009).  School-based programs to reduce bullying and victimization.  Campbell Systemic Reviews, 2009:6.

Bradshaw, C. P., Mitchell, M. M., & Leaf, P. J. (2010).  Examining the effects of school-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports on student outcomes:   Results from a randomized controlled effectiveness trial in elementary schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 12, 133-148.

Use a comprehensive multi-tiered behavioral framework

Just as important as determining which strategies will be used is knowing how, when, and by whom those strategies will be implemented.  Evidence-based instructional and intervention strategies for preventing and addressing bullying of students, including students with disabilities, are most effective when used as part of a comprehensive multi-tiered behavioral framework that engages the whole school community, and establishes and maintains positive, safe, and nurturing school environments conducive to learning for all students.  Providing clear and formal instruction for all students, and staff on how to behave in respectful and responsible ways across all school settings and activities is a vital component of this approach.

Issues related to the bullying of students with disabilities should be included in the topics addressed by the school’s comprehensive multi-tiered behavioral framework, and also as a specific area of focus in policies and practices addressing behavioral expectations.  In addition to implementing certain steps for the whole school (e.g., consistent rules and rewards for good behavior), a comprehensive multi-tiered behavioral framework of instruction and interventions also includes using strategies that address bullying and other problematic behaviors, such as steps for groups of students exhibiting at-risk behavior and individual services for students who continue to exhibit troubling behavior.

Using a comprehensive multi-tiered behavioral framework for making decisions on identifying, implementing, and evaluating effective evidence-based practices helps schools to: (a) organize evidence-based practices, including those that will be used to address bullying of students with disabilities; (b) support the use of evidence-based practices according to the practice guidelines; and (c) monitor the outcomes for students to determine the effectiveness of the evidence-based practices and need for any additional instruction and intervention.

Preventing and addressing bullying of students with disabilities needs to be aligned with, and embedded as part of each school’s comprehensive multi-tiered behavioral planning, and given explicit consideration to ensure that the individual needs of each student with a disability are addressed fully in the school-wide plans for creating and sustaining a positive, safe, and nurturing school environment.

One example of a multitiered behavior framework that school personnel can use to plan, implement, and evaluate evidence-based instruction and intervention practices is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS).  The PBIS framework can help to create an appropriate social culture, learning and teaching environment, achieve academic and social success, and minimize problem behavior, including reducing the risks and decreasing the occurrence of bullying.  Using this multi-tiered framework, school personnel establish a continuum of evidence-based behavioral practices that include school-wide strategies, more intense strategies for groups of students exhibiting at-risk behaviors, and individual services for students who continue to exhibit problematic behavior and need additional support.   Rather than offering a packaged curriculum, a manualized strategy, or a prescripted intervention, PBIS provides school personnel with a decision-making structure that they can use to identify, implement, and evaluate effective evidence-based instruction and intervention strategies within a comprehensive multi-tiered framework to prevent and respond to bullying in their school setting.


Bradshaw et al. (2010).

Sugai, G., Horner, R.H., Algozzine, R., Barrett, S., Lewis, T., Anderson, C., Bradley, R., Choi, J. H., Dunlap, G., Eber, L., George, H., Kincaid, D., McCart, A., Nelson, M., Newcomer, L., Putnam, R., Riffel, L., Rovins, M., Sailor, W., &

By outlining a comprehensive school-wide approach with multi-tiered instruction and intervention, schools work to create school cultures that prevent the development and reduce the occurrence of bullying.  In addition, schools are prepared to respond to problematic behavior using a team-based, data-driven problem-solving process when needed.

The following are practices found in many effective, evidence-based behavioral prevention and intervention school-wide frameworks.