Magazine Feature

Toolkit for Under Attack

This toolkit provides resources and suggestions for educators who may be experiencing bullying at work or supporting someone who is. It also outlines a possible structure for creating a workplace civility task force within a school setting.

The bullying of teachers by other educators or administrators is a “dirty little secret” in education that needs to be exposed and discussed. While some experts see personality as the motivation for bullying, others see corruption and greed as primary forces behind this abusive behavior. Whatever the motives, workplace bullying can be devastating—and health-harming—when it’s happening to you. This toolkit will provide some language and background knowledge to help educators recognize and talk about workplace bullying, and make suggestions for how to put together a task force to help report and prevent it.

Essential Questions

  1. What do all employees need to know about workplace bullying?
  2. What steps can a targeted educator take to protect herself, her students and her employment status against workplace bullying?
  3. What are the recommended components of a workplace civility task force?


Part I. Learn about workplace bullying.

Workplace bullying is an issue everyone should be able to recognize and talk about—regardless of being a target or not. Take these steps to familiarize yourself with the concept of workplace bullying and the language often used to describe it.


Part II. Take preliminary steps.

If you are being targeted, take these initial steps to help you decide how to protect yourself. Different circumstances (physical, emotional, financial, personal, professional) may call for different kinds of action or response. (Note: Steps presented below are in no particular order.)

  • Talk to a professional counselor who can support you and help reassure you that the abuse you are experiencing is not your fault.
  • Create a record of every incident. What happened before, during and after? Who was there? Is there a record of the behavior (email, voicemail, witness)? How did you feel afterward? Did any work-related consequences occur (including consequences involving students)? Have you experienced any health-related consequences?
  • Read any school policies related to harassment, collegial behavior or complaints processes as they relate to school or district employees. Do any of the policies speak to your situation?
  • Assess your health. Explain to your doctor that you are experiencing an extended period of stress, and have yourself tested for stress-related illnesses and conditions as well as overall physical wellness. Investigate short-term disability options if your physical health is in jeopardy.
  • Tell someone you trust at work, even if they don’t have any power to intervene. Allies are key. Use the language of workplace bullying and be prepared to share examples from your records. Find out if your ally is willing to stand up for you in the moment or to stand by you if you decide to escalate your situation within the administration. 
  • Make a pros and cons list about the potential consequences of “outing” the person bullying you. How much support do you have within the building? Is the person bullying you directly responsible for your employment or advancement? Are you healthy enough to take on a battle at work? 
  • Visit the WBI’s website and read about their three-step action plan and their responses to critiques of their plan. Consider whether this course of action fits with your circumstances.
  • Consider joining the National Association for Prevention of Teacher Abuse (NAPTA). (Note: NAPTA’s general approach is NOT to try to expose individual bullies but, instead, to approach teacher abuse as a symptom of systemic corruption. NAPTA takes a “strength in numbers” approach and is not anonymous.)


Part III. Establish a workplace civility task force.

Many of the experts Adrienne van der Valk interviewed for “Under Attack” noted that workplace bullying was much harder to get away with in schools where collegiality guidelines had been articulated. Whether workplace bullying is an issue for you personally or not, consider building a task force to promote workplace civility.

  1. Gary Namie of the WBI recommends approaching staff members who are known for being fair, objective, rational, solution-oriented and good at listening. Explain why you have invited them to participate in a task force and that a positive school climate and job satisfaction are the ultimate goal. Be sure to approach administrators first if it is safe to do so.
  2. As a group, read the article “Under Attack,” and follow the recommendations of Alan McEvoy to curate a list of uncivil or non-collegial behaviors. Ultimately, you will return to this list as a foundation for a policy.
  3. Share the resources in this toolkit as well as the WBI reading list and select some titles to read and share jigsaw style (each person reads one book and brings knowledge to the group).
  4. Read the Healthy Workplace Bill and the workplace civility policies put in place by other states and organizations.
  5. Based on your research, draft a workplace civility policy that is specific to your school. Focus on the benefits—financial and educational—of promoting collegial behavior. Outline specific consequences for engaging in non-collegial behavior. 
  6. Call a meeting, and present the policy to your building administration and to the larger district administration.