There are a number of things on the minds of students, families, and teachers as summer draws to a close: school supplies, lesson plans, and, for many, bullying. The most recent Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS) survey results for students in grades 9 through 12 found that almost 16% of students were bullied electronically, and more than 20% were bullied on school property in 2015 (Kann, McManus, Harris, Shanklin, et al., 2016). According to a survey by the National Education Association, students are often bullied as a result of their weight, gender, sexual orientation, or disability status (Bradshaw, Waasdorp, O’Brennan, & Gulemetova, 2011). While some students are more at-risk of being bullied than others, however, all members of the school community are affected by it (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), n.d.) and everyone from teachers to students to families play a role in preventing it (Cohen & Freiberg, 2013; HHS, n.d.).
In December 2015, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance on the importance of promoting tolerance in schools and offered suggestions on how to do so, such as teaching students to value diversity and creating opportunities for students to learn about different. Building empathy is also a great way to increase tolerance and combat bullying in schools (Bazelon, 2013). When students have empathy, they are better able to understand what situations are like for others (Crowley & Saide, 2016; Taran, 2013) and are therefore better equipped to develop positive relationships (Taran, 2013). Empathy allows individuals to take the perspective of others despite differences (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, n.d.), a skill that is useful in creating positive learning environment and in life outside of school (Committee for Children, 2016). Empathy can also help students be a good bystander by stepping in when they feel others are being bullied (Machackova & Pfetsch, 2016; van Noorden, Haselager, Cillessen, & Bukowski, 2015)