Programs & Initiatives

Certification Element: Programs / Initiatives

A key step of the framework is to implement researched and evidence-based programs or initiatives that fit the school community’s needs and challenges. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Schools must implement programs or initiatives that are supported by data in order to help ensure success. Schools must consider their specific situation, needs, and available resources when selecting a program or series of practices. When identifying what might work for your school, it is important to consider whether a program works and how it will fit into your school’s context. When considering programs, it’s vital to look beyond marketing and names and dig deeper to understand how programs work, for what, for whom, and at what cost.




There is no one-size-fits-all solution for every school. Each school has different needs and challenges that need to be identified and addressed. Before selecting a program or initiative, you first need to understand what your data means. Many times, data will suggest solutions different than the ones you already may have thought of. It is often not necessary to implement a packaged “anti-bullying” program to solve the issues in your school.


·         Simple practices/initiatives outside of packaged programs can be very effective at promoting positive school climates

o   The “Circle of Concern” is one practice that has helped many schools increase students’ understanding and respect for others. The activity helps students and school staff understand which people they currently show concern for, and how to broaden that circle of caring. Learn more from the Making Caring Common Projectat the Harvard Graduate School of Education.


·         Other practices of initiatives may seem simple, but may help to improve the environment

o   Increasing supervision in areas identified as “hot spots” in data collection, hanging motivational and campaign posters, and regularly recognizing positive student behavior can be effective, especially when used alongside an evidence-based program.


·         Building protective skills and knowledge can be effective at preventing bullying

o   For instance, building students’ social and emotional skills can help resolve conflict and increase positive relationships with their peers. These programs, often called “social-emotional learning” programs, have demonstrated reductions in aggressive behavior among youth.


·         Utilizing lesson plans that are easily integrated into the existing curriculum can help address issues without taking additional class time


Once a potential strategy is identified, it is important to know how well the programs or practices you have identified work, and whether they will work for your school.




The first thing to ask is whether there is evidence that a program or practice works. Evidence usually means that the program or practice has been evaluated, using rigorous scientific methods, and shows that the program or practice has the desired outcomes. These results are typically published in academic journals, in which the results have been reviewed by other scientists.


It may be difficult for schools to independently find these published results. There are many evidence-based program directories that are designed to help schools identify evidence-based programs. These directories focus on different outcomes, and it can be useful to compare how a program rates in each directory. Evidence-based program directories include:


·         U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s FindYouthInfo.Gov

·         U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices

·         University of Colorado-Boulder’s Blueprints For Healthy Youth Development

·         Center for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning’s Program Guide


Many bullying prevention or anti-bullying tools have not been tested or do not have strong enough evidence to appear in such directories. This does not mean that they don’t work or that they may be harmful. However, without evidence, it’s impossible to say whether a program will work – or worse, whether it will increase bullying.




Program directories will help you find out whether a program works in a general sense, but usually do not indicate with whom or in what contexts the program has been previously been tested or even what sorts of commitments – both financial and time – are required to implement the program as designed.


When deciding whether a program will work for your school, consider:

·         Program fit

o   Does the program fit the situation in your school? Does the program address the needs identified by data collection? Does the program work for the student age group in your school? Does the program work for the cultural makeup of students at your school? Does the program share the culture and values of the community?

·         Program efficacy

o   Based on previous results, how confident are you that the program will work?

·         Program feasibility

o   Does your school have the required time, funding, personnel and expertise to implement the program as designed? Will staff buy in to this program?


The EPIS Center at the Pennsylvania State University provides a useful, free worksheetfor helping schools answer these questions.