Teachers play a critical role in responding to, reporting, and preventing bullying. This study focuses on teachers’ perceptions of various types of bullying: physical, verbal, relational, and especially the more recent phenomenon of cyberbullying. It compares English and US teachers’ perspectives of the seriousness of these different types of bullying, thereby investigating how and why teachers have different views of how to address bullying and the different reasons they give as to why they would or would not respond to different bullying scenarios. This can possibly contribute to potential strategies to combat bullying.
The research is based on a sequential explanatory mixed methods design. In the first quantitative phase, the researcher developed two questionnaires, asking teachers for their perceptions of different hypothetical bullying scenarios, drawing on Expectancy Theory and Social Cognitive Theory. Questionnaires were adapted from those previously developed in a series of American studies (Bauman and Del Rio 2006; Yoon and Kerber 2003; Stauffer et al. 2012). They were administered to a purposive sample of teachers in both England and the US in order to provide a comparative element in two English-speaking country contexts. The questionnaires were analysed to establish whether there are differences between the perceptions and the reasons for responses for new and experienced teachers across the two different country contexts. The analyses also explored teacher perceptions of more long-term strategies to deal with cyberbullying.
In the second qualitative phase, a series of semi-structured interviews were conducted with small sub samples of teachers in both England and the US to provide additional qualitative evidence about teachers’ understandings and experiences of bullying. The interviews explored a number of topics emerging from the quantitative findings pertaining to bullying and cyberbullying, allowing teachers to comment on the survey findings and share their experiences. In addition, the analysis of the qualitative interviews offered the opportunity to provide richer descriptions and insights, building explanations and enhancing understandings. This process enables the research to investigate the degree of similarity between the quantitative and qualitative findings. The combination and integration of findings from both phases of the mixed methods study adds to the ability to triangulate findings and to explore and clarify the reasons for differences in perspectives between English and US teachers. In the mixed sequential explanatory strategy, quantitative findings reveal general trends from the data that are later expanded and investigated further within the qualitative phase. The discussion then explores the nature of the similarities and differences between these findings.
The quantitative findings suggest that three main variables predicted both US and English teachers’ responses to cyberbullying scenarios: the perceived seriousness of the situation, the confidence in one’s ability, and the location (home having less of a response than school scenarios). The qualitative findings suggest that teachers’ perceptions of severity could be shaped by current policies and the relationships teachers developed with their students; the perceived confidence in one’s self could be mediated by one’s interpretation of the school culture and the trust established with others on staff; responding to a home cyberbullying situation could depend on one’s understanding of pastoral responsibilities and the current parental involvement. This research provides new findings that can inform policy makers and practitioners in designing and implementing anti-bullying programs that are relevant to different contexts. Knowledge of teacher perceptions could prove useful as a starting point for developing a teacher education program. An understanding of the different types of bullying and cyberbullying that need attention could enable anti-bullying programs to present new and relevant material.