Monday, December 1, 2014

Connecting Sexual Violence Expertise with Bullying Prevention

A conversation with Ray Knight
Written by Joan Tabachnick

As part of our new prevention series, I had the chance to speak with one of my ATSA heroes, Ray Knight about his relatively new work and interest in bullying prevention.  Most people know Ray as a passionate public speaker who once literally presented on stage while in bed from a back injury. He is remarkable for his ability to race through 180 slides in an hour and still leave the audience wanting more.  If felt that way in my interview with him about this new avenue of his work. 

Ray’s relatively new focus on bully prevention grew out of his desire to apply what he has learned in aggression research to a practical prevention project.   It is also a great example of how ATSA members are using their skills and knowledge to have an impact on prevention in their community. 

A few years ago, Ray and his wife, Judith Sims-Knight, began working with the Foxboro School system, monitoring the effectiveness of a Caring School Community (CSC) program in grades K through 4th.   The children are then followed up through high school.  In the K-4th grade intervention, children are taught through cooperative learning about how to mediate conflict and through modeling and participation about the importance of prosocial behavior and community involvement.  Both teachers and children model these behaviors throughout the school.  In Ray’s own words, “So far, it is showing promise in reducing aggression as those that have experienced the program progress to higher grades.”   

Ray and Judith began their work in Foxboro as part of their work with a parent task force and then brought their well-regarded research skills to this project.  As parent-researchers, they are administering, scoring, and interpreting for the school system an annual computerized inventory that assesses the incidence of both perpetrating and being targeted for various forms of bullying.  If a respondent is identified as a bully or a target, the computer program asks more detailed questions about the circumstances and consequences of this behavior. Not only does this identify for the school system areas for potential intervention, but it also serves as a consistent monitor of the frequency of these behaviors so that they can determine whether programs that they implement to reduce aggression have any effect. 

The assessment protocol that Ray and Judith created, which is based upon the bullying literature, serves as a metric to measure the efficacy of this program. This protocol is, however, more than just a research tool; it also helps the school system identify problem areas they need to address.  For example, Ray described how the children identified a problem with the band room in the high school – significant bullying occurred there before, during, and after school. The administrators used the computer survey to examine what was happening and take steps to solve this problem. 

In addition to physical and verbal bullying, the research is also looking at relational aggression such as gossiping, telling stories about someone, exclusion behaviors such as who sits alone at lunch and who is invited to parties, and cyber bullying, which exclusively uses the internet and social media for bullying. In 2013, 5th, 6th, and 7th grades had experienced varying amounts of CSC, and those experiencing the program could be compared to students who had not experienced CSC.


The initial data are showing that the intervention is working. Ray and Judith are also finding that physical bullying seems to break into two components, instrumental/proactive and reactive aggression.  For those who don’t know the terms, instrumental or proactive aggression is an aggressive act intended to achieve a goal, while reactive aggression is retaliatory and stems from anger or hurt. The CSC program does affect the anger and dysregulation that contributes to reactive aggression, but is less effective for reducing instrumental aggression.  The program also appears to reduce the active forms of relational aggression (rumors, gossiping) but not the more passive exclusionary types of relational aggression (not enough room for one more at the lunch table…). Direct meanness and verbal harassment also decrease. Next year, they will be able to analyze whether CSC also decreased sexual harassment, when the participating students reach the age at which these questions are asked.

 Overall, the initial results show that the Caring Schools Program is working.  It has had a huge impact on the community and the teachers.  What might be hardest to measure is how it also motivates and energizes the teachers so that the motivation and interest in the program keeps growing!  You can check out the feedback that Ray and Judy have given to the school committee and administrators, and a doctoral dissertation that has examined the first three years of the follow-up at



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