Comparison Of Victimized And Nonvictimized Teachers’ Ways Of Handling Schoolbullying Incidents


The aim of the present study was to examine differences of the ways of handling school bullying incidences between teachers with and without workplace victimizations experiences, taking into consideration the measurement of self-report frequency of workplace victimization in school context by using the Negative Acts Questionnaire-Revised ( Mikkelsen & Einarsen, 2001 ). Teachers’ workplace victimization was reported by 17% (N = 46) and nonvictimization by 83% (N = 230) from a multi-stage cluster sample according to the operational definition of victimization. A sample of 276 teachers (mean age = 41.09 years; SD = 8.14) completed survey asking how likely they would be to use different strategies (ignoring the incident, working with the bully, working with the victim, enlisting other adults, and disciplining the bully) to respond a hypothetical bullying case between pupils as measured by the Handling Bullying Questionnaire (HBQ; Bauman, Rigby, & Hoppa, 2008 ). Teachers with and without workplace victimization experiences differed on three of the five HBQ scale scores: victims of workplace bullying reported ignoring bullying incidences significantly less; and used more likely to working with the victim and disciplining the bully than nonvictims of workplace bullying. Factors related with teachers’ ways of handling school bullying incidents may by relate with such teachers’ personal characteristics as their experiences of being victims or non-victims of workplace bullying.

Keywords: Workplace bullyingvictimizationteacher responsesHandling bullying questionnaire (HBQ)


Bullying happens in many different social contexts with research history beginnings in school context among children and followed in workplace among adults (Monks & Coyne, 2011). These two areas of research (schoolbullying: Smith, 2011; workplace bullying: Coyne, 2011) use common key terminology – bullying is a subtype of aggressive behavior continuing repeatedly over a lengthy period of time and a power imbalance exists with the bully or bullies possessing greater power than the victim.

At one side, teachers are persons with a high level of responsibility in school context to prevent and intervene in school bullying incidences (Gorsek & Cunningham, 2014). At the other side, teachers themselves are vulnerable for being targets of workplace aggression. It was revealed that individuals in the field of education have higher rates of workplace violent harassment than members of most other occupational groups (Kelloway, Barling, & Hurrell, 2006), whereby the rates of teacher-targeted victimization in school contexts tended to rise in nowadays (Kõiv, 2015; NASUWT, 2012).

Teacher interventions in student bullying vary in terms of probability, extent, nature, and effectiveness, reflecting co-occurrence of situational and individual teacher characteristics with theoretical emphasis to view teachers as key stakeholders in efforts to prevent and intervene school bullying (Newman, Frey, & Jones, 2010), whereby situational variables tended to be not so significant predictors of teachers’ reported likelihood of intervention than individual variables (e.g. VanZoerena & Weiszb, 2018). It is important to examine individual teacher characteristics because of their possible influence on a teacher’s response to schoolbullying.

Teachers’ responses to an incident of school bullying are influenced by teacher’s personal beliefs and attitudes (e.g. Bradshaw, Sawyer, & O'Brennan, 2007; Grumm & Hein, 2012; Kochenderfer-Ladd & Pelletier, 2008; Oldenburg et al., 2015; Sairanen & Pfeffer, 2011), moral orientation (e.g. Ellis & Shute, 2007), self-efficacy (e.g. Bradshaw et al., 2007; Byers, Caltabiano, & Caltabiano, 2011; Duong & Bradshaw, 2013; Sokol, Bussey, & Rapee, 2016; VanZoeren & Weisz, 2018; Yoon, 2004), and empathy (e.g. Bauman & Del Rio, 2006; Byers et al., 2011; Craig, Henderson, & Murphy, 2000; Mishna, Scarcello, Pepler, & Wiener, 2005; VanZoeren & Weisz, 2018; Sokol et al., 2016; Yoon, 2004; Yoon & Kerber, 2003) as moderator variables regarding their strategy use.

Studies have examined teachers’ gender differences in handling bullying and most of them (Bauman et al., 2008; Burger et al., 2015; Sokol et al, 2016; Yoon, Bauman, Choi, & Hutchinson, 2011; Yoon, Sulkowski, & Bauman, 2016) revealed that females prefer to react with non-punitive alternatives, but some (Byers et al., 2011; Craig et al., 2000) did not find any gender differences. Similarly, some studies have showed that highly experienced teachers were more likely to use non-punitive strategies (Burger et al., 2015; Sairanen & Pfeffer, 2011; Yoon et al., 2016), other studies failed to find such effects (Bauman et al., 2008; Yoon, 2004). Teachers ethnicity may influence their intervention in schoolbullying incidents (Yoon et al., 2016); and also, the role of educator appeared to be a salient individual factor, as school counsellors prefer to react with non-punitive strategies and teachers rather with authority-based interventions (Bauman et al., 2008; Power-Elliott & Harris, 2012).

Teachers' personal experiences with bullying (e.g. childhood experience) affect their reactions in shoolbullying situation; however, these views have been overlooked in the published literature (Newman et al., 2010). Links between schoolbullying experiences and victimization in adulthood at workplace (Smith, Singer, Hoel, & Cooper, 2003) were relevant among teachers – O’Moore, Seigne, McGuire, & Smith (1998) revealed that workplace bullying victims (included teachers) tended to have history of victimisation; and Bradshaw and colleagues (2007) found that school staff (included teachers) who had history of victimization reported more likely victimization at the school as an adult. Schäfer and colleagues (2004) concluded that irrespective of gender, profession (teacher or university student) and cultural differences experience of victimization in school was related with difficulties as an adult in feeling good about oneself (e.g. self-esteem), and in having trust in (attachment) relationships.

Preliminary evidence (Bradshaw et al., 2007; Kokko & Pörhölä, 2009; Mishna et al., 2005; Oldenburg et al, 2015; Twemlow, Fonagy, Sacco, & Brethour, 2006; Yoon et al., 2016) have suggested that teachers' childhood experience of bullying may affect a range of teachers’ reactions of handling students bullying. Based on data gathered by qualitative study among teachers who were victimized by their peers as a child Mishna and colleagues (2005) concluded that teachers felt that this experience made them more sensitive and motivated to recognize and reduce schoolbullying, but many of these teachers failed to report the childhood victimization experience directly related to how they respond to bullying as adults. University student teachers who had a history of being victimized (victims and stable victims) were more likely to perceive bullying as harmful behavior and feel empathy towards victims compared with non-victims of schooltime bullying (Kokko & Pörhölä, 2009). Bradshaw and colleagues (2007) found that school staff members' (included teachers) childhood victimization experience predicted their attitudes towards bullying – staff who reported being bullied as child was more likely to think bullying was a "moderate" or "serious" problem at their school, and accepted more myth about the bullying (bullying is a part of life that everyone has to go through). However, experiences with bullying as a child was not related to the school staff members' perceived ability to effectively handle a bullying situation. Also, student teachers experience of victimization during their own schooltime had no effect on their commitment to stop bullying or their ability to identify bullying (Kokko & Pörhölä 2009). Oldenburg’s and colleagues (2015) study revealed that when teachers had a personal history of bullying others, there tended to be more peer victimization in their classrooms, but no relationship was found between teachers’ ability to handle bullying among students in the classroom and their own bullying history of being victimized in schooltime. Teachers’ childhood experience was found to differentiate three groups of respondents corresponding to the specific strategy of handling schoolbullying. Namely, compared to other groups of teachers: (1) teachers who reported being victims of peer aggression as a child were more likely to discipline bullies and involve adults in interventions dealing with bullies; (2) teachers who reported being bystanders to bullying behavior as children, were more likely to involve other adults when responding to victims and support targets of bullying behavior; and (3) teachers who reported being uninvolved with bullying in their childhood were found to report a greater willingness to discipline bullies and to involve adults to help victims (Yoon et al., 2016).

Methodologically, in order to keep situational characteristics of schoolbullying incident constant, a standardized bullying vignette, as part of the Handling Bullying Questionnaire (HBQ; Bauman et al., 2008), was used in the present study as a stimulus for teachers' responses. Previous studies on the English version of the HBQ revealed a five-factor structure (among US teachers and school counsellors: Bauman et al., 2008). Also, the German version of the HBQ revealed the five-factor structure following the English version (among Austrian and German teachers: Burger et al., 2015). However, two factor solutions of the HBQ was applied in South Korean sample of teachers (Yoon et al., 2011) and in different German school type participants (among teachers: Grumm & Hein, 2012). Translations of the questionnaire were made to Finnish (among teachers in Finland: Sairanen & Pfeffer, 2011) and to Dutch (among teachers in the Netherlands: Van der Zanden, Denessen, & Scholte, 2015). Using the same questionnaire, results were obtained with samples of school staff in Australia (Rigby & Bauman, 2007) and with school counsellors in Canada (Power-Elliott & Harris, 2012). The methodological aim of the present study was to investigate the factor structure of the Estonian version of the HBQ.

According to Bauman and colleagues (2008), teachers can react to the schoolbullying incident in various ways: ignore the schoolbullying incident, discipline the bully (e.g. demanding obedience to authority), work with the victim (e.g. training his/her assertiveness), enlist other adults, such as their colleagues or their pupils’ parents; and/or work with the bully (e.g. finding something more interesting to do for the bully). Multiple studies measure teachers’ use of these five intervention strategies (Bauman et al., 2008; Burger et al., 2015; Power-Elliott & Harris, 2012, Rigby & Bauman, 2007; Van der Zanden et al., 2015; Sairanen & Pfeffer, 2011) by the HBQ. The conclusions drawn from these surveys are that: teachers reported being least likely to ignore the bullying incident and more likely to discipline the bully or enlist other adults, whereby teachers tended less likely to directly intervene with the bully and victim in a non-punitive way. Also, Kochenderfer-Ladd and Pelletier (2008) and Troop-Gordon and Ladd (2015) demonstrated that teachers were most likely to punish the bully and least likely to encourage pupils to work it out on their own. Burger and colleagues (2015) found that teachers used likely a combination of strategies to address schoolbullying with prevalence of combinations of two strategies – they likely applied disciplining the bully and at the same time unlikely work with the victim. Also, teachers seldom indicated that they would provide support to the target, either as their exclusive strategy or in combination with other strategies. Some combinations of schoolbullying-specific strategies of teachers were related with students’ bullying and victimization levels in the classrooms: (1) pupils bullied less and felt less victimized when teachers were less likely to discipline the bully; and (2) lower levels of victimization were established when teachers more likely enlist other adults to handle bullying and less likely discipline the bully (Van der Zanden et al., 2015).

It was also revealed that school counsellors would endorse work with the bully and work with the victim as strategies, but not as strongly as they would endorse discipline the bully and/or enlist other adults (Power-Elliott & Harris, 2012). These results are parallel with Bauman and colleagues (2008) findings showing differences between school counsellors and teachers sample – teachers were even less likely to work with the victim in non-punitive way and preferred to react more likely to work with the bully in disciplining-punitive way. Also, teachers were even likely than counsellors to ignore the schoolbullying incident.

Problem Statement

A limited amount of research has looked at the relationship between teachers’ current experience of bullying as adults and their classroom experiences studying links between: (1) teachers’ current victimization experiences as being targets of students bullying and their tendency to bully students in the classroom (Twemlow et al., 2006); and (2) school staff members' current victimization experiences as being multi-target victims of adult and student bullying in school and their inability to intervene in school bullying (Bradshaw et al., 2007).

Research Questions

However, an under-researched area to examine relationship between teachers’ current victimization behaviour in school settings and dealing with students bullying incidents emerges the new research question – whether or not teachers who are victims of workplace bullying in school settings can be distinguished by their ways of handle bullying incidents among students?

Purpose of the Study

The aim of the present study was to examine differences of the ways of handling school bullying incidences between teachers with and without workplace victimizations experiences in THE school context.

It was hypothesized that teachers as workplace bullying victims would differ from the non-victims on the HBQ subscales. Specifically, (1) teachers with workplace bullying experiences would score significantly higher than teachers without workplace bullying experiences on the scale Working with the victim and (2) teachers without workplace bullying experiences would score significantly higher than teachers with workplace bullying experiences on the scale Ignoring the incident .

Research Methods

Sample design and size

Survey estimates are derived from a stratified, multi-stage cluster sample: in the first stage randomly selected four schools were selected from all separate districts from Estonia representing basic schools and gymnasiums in rural and urban areas; in the second stage of sampling all teachers from in each school were selected; and during stage three teachers with and without workplace victimization experiences was identified.

Whole sample consisted of 276 teachers: 227 females (82%) and 49 males (18%). The mean age of the subjects in this year was 41.09 years (SD = 8.14) with youngest subject was 23 years old and the oldest was 65 years old. The average number of years in the teaching profession for the participants was 12.83 years (SD = 10.47).


The Negative Acts Questionnaire-Revised (NAQ-R), developed by Mikkelsen and Einarsen (2001) was used to measure workplace bullying. In this study, workplace bullying was measured with the Estonian version of the NAQ-R and the psychometric properties of the Estonian version of the NAQ-R are presented in Tambur and Vadi (2012). The scale comprised 22 items (Cronbach's alpha=0.84) which measure exposure to various negative acts either direct (e.g., verbal abuse, offensive remarks, ridicule) or indirect (e.g., social ostracism, slander). For each item, the respondents were asked how often they had been exposed to the behavior during the previous six months, with the response categories: Never, Now and Then, Almost weekly, Almost daily , whereby after the completion of the NAQ-R, a formal definition of bullying at work was introduced. A weekly exposure to such negative acts over a period of six months has been proposed as an operational definition of victimization due to bullying at work (Mikkelsen & Einarsen, 2002), which considers that a person is a workplace victim of bullying if s/he respond to at least two negative acts with a frequency of weekly or daily.

The Handling Bullying Questionnaire (HBQ; Bauman et al., 2008) as a second research method was used in which respondents indicated the likelihood that they would use the strategies given for each item when a specific bullying situation occurs in the classroom/school. The HBQ consists of a hypothetical bullying episode followed by 22 possible reactions. Respondents indicated how likely they were to take each action. The items had to be answered on five-point Likert scales from 1 ( I definitely would not ) to 5 ( I definitely would ). The higher the scale score on each category, the higher the frequency of that strategy. The HBQ was translated into Estonian and back-translated using the parallel-blind technique to establish linguistic equivalence.


Prior to testing the main hypotheses, psychometric properties of the Estonian version of the HBQ investigated, and subscale scores were computed. An exploratory factor analysis (principle axis factor analysis using Varimax rotation) was conducted. The rotated component matrix (factor pattern coefficients can be seen in Table 3 ) revealed a structure, with most items having a strong loading on one factor. The scales corresponding to the five factors were: Working with the victim (accounting for 15% of the variance), Working with the bully (13% of variance), Ignoring the incident (12% of variance), Enlisting other adults (11% of variance), and Disciplining the bully (9% of variance) following the five-factor structure of the English version of the HBQ (Bauman et al., 2008). Scale reliabilities (see Table 01 , column 2) are comparable to those reported elsewhere (Bauman et al., 2008; Power-Elliott & Harris, 2012; Sairanen & Pfeffer, 2011) and can be considered adequate. For each subscale, the scores were added together and then divided by the number of items representing that scale in order to obtain the means for each scale.

Overall, in this study teachers scored highest on the Discipline the bully subscale followed by Enlist other adults , Working with the bully , Working with the victim and Ignoring the incident (see Table 01 , column 1).

Table 1 -
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In order to label a teacher as workplace bullying victim, this person need to be exposed to at least two bullying behaviors in a weekly or daily basis during the last six months measured by the NAQ-R. According to this operational estimation method, 17% (N = 47) of all (N = 276) teachers were victims of workplace bullying (teachers with workplace victimization experiences) and 83% (N = 229) nonvictims of the workplace bullying (teachers without workplace bullying experiences) in the present study.

In a next step of the analyses – to determine if two group of teachers (victims and nonvictims of workplace bullying) report using different strategies for managing school bullying, t -tests was conducted with the scale scores as independent variables separately. The means and SDs as well as t -values of the self-ratings of teachers with (N = 47) and teachers without (N = 275) workplace bullying experiences for the HBQ scales are provided in the Table 02 .

Table 2 -
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Statistically significant differences were found in three of the five the subscales of the HBQ across two study groups of teachers: (1) teachers without workplace bullying experiences had higher mean scores on Ignoring the incident than teachers with victimization experiences; and (2) teachers with workplace bullying experiences scored higher than teachers without workplace bullying experience on Disciplining the bully scale, and on Working with the victim scale. Working with the bully and Enlisting other adults scales did not differentiated significantly groups of non-victims and victims of workplace bullying.

Table 3 -
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Specifically, teachers with workplace bullying experiences had significantly higher mean scores than non-victimized teachers in several items on Working with the victim scale: Tell victim to stand up, Suggest victim be more assertive, and Encourage victim to show not intimidated. Also, differences in preferences for the various strategies were detected between teachers with and without workplace victimization experiences with victimised teachers more interested in disciplining-punishing the perpetrator (insist the bully cut it out, make sure the bully is punished, tell the bully such behavior is not tolerated), and less inclined to ignore the bullying problem (let someone else sort it out, treat it lightly, tell kids to grow up, ignore it, let students sort it out themselves), whereby across all abovementioned items here revealed statistically significant differences.


Using teachers’ perspective, the focus of the present study was to assess teachers’ workplace victimization experiences, as either being a victim of bullying or not being victim of bullying as an adult, in relation to their ways of handling bullying incidences. We were able to demonstrate that the Estonian version of the Handling Bullying Questionnaire has a same five-factor structure than the English one (Bauman et al., 2008) following teacher responses to a hypothetical bullying incident. Results implicate that there was a general consensus among Estonian teachers that some kind of action had to be taken against school bullying with strong endorsement of disciplinary interventions of bullies and least likely to ignore the bullying incidents. However, the similar findings regarding teachers and other school staff members handling bullying problems in different cultural surroundings, such as Austria, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germania, the Netherland, South Korea, and the US, (Bauman at al., 2008; Burger et al., 2015; Grumm & Hein, 2012; Power-Elliott & Harris, 2012, Rigby & Bauman, 2007; Van der Zanden et al., 2015; Sairanen & Pfeffer, 2011; Yoon et al., 2011), suggesting that the nature of the problem is relatively comparable from one cultural context to another. Also, parallel with this Pochtar and Del Vecchio (2014) stated that culture did not significantly moderate the association between teacher beliefs about seriousness or negative affect and teacher responses to child aggression.

During last decade researchers have acknowledged the need to conduct more studies in order to develop a deeper understanding of teachers’ responses to school bullying and to identify individual characteristics that influence these responses; starting that factors related with teachers’ ways of handling bullying incidences may be related not only with teachers' childhood experiences of bullying, but also with teachers’ current victimization experiences as adults. However, so far, no study has investigated possible differences in teachers’ strategies for handling school bullying incidences among teachers’ with and without current workplace victimization experiences. The present study expands previous studies focusing on one of the individual teacher characteristics – experiences of workplace victimization in school context. In general, findings of the present study support the contention that teachers' own current workplace victimization experience in school context is a predictor of if and how they decided to intervene in school bullying interactions. However, whether such teachers’ strategies for responding to students’ bullying behaviour are a cause or consequence of teachers’ victimization as adults remains unclear in previous, also in the present study.

As predicted, teachers with current workplace victimization experiences in handling students’ bullying behaviors were more likely applied work with victims, and less likely ignored bullying incidents compared with teachers without workplace victimization experiences. Moreover, evidence was also found, that victimized teachers endorsed more likely disciplining the bully as a strategy than non-victimized teaches. Additionally, the results identified the approaches that both study groups adopt for tackling school bullying – enlisting other adults, and working with the bully. Thus, this research has highlighted the fact that individual differences in teachers’ current experiences of workplace victimization can predict a preference for strategies of responding to school bullying incidents.

At first, evidence was found to support the hypothesis that teachers with current workplace victimization experiences would report ignoring school bullying incidents significantly less than non-victimized teachers. This result that non-victimized teachers tended even more likely than victimized teachers to ignore the school bullying incidents is parallel with previous results that school staff members' (included teachers) experiences as being multi-target victims in schools was negatively associated with their ability to intervene in school bullying behavior (Bradshaw et al., 2007). Also, teachers more likely than school counsellors tended to ignore the school bullying incidents (Bauman et al., 2008). We may speculate that not only differences in educators’ role status, but also teachers’ workplace victimization experience may influence teachers’ ways of use active-passive ways of tackling with school bullying.

Secondly, we expect that teachers who have current workplace victimization experiences are more likely to state that they would work with victims in non-punitive way than teachers without workplace victimization experiences, and this hypothesis was improved. Although the present study did not measure empathy, previous studies have reported that teachers’ empathy toward victims was associated with more teacher involvement with bullying intervention (Craig et al., 2000; Yoon & Kerber, 2003; ); and teachers' personal experiences with childhood victimization experience affected their reactions in school bullying situation to be emphatic with victims (Mishna et al., 2005), whereby teachers as victims of childhood bullying felt more empathy with school bullying victims than non-victimized group members of teachers (Kokko & Pörhölä, 2009). Previous findings (Bauman, Rigby, & Hoppa, 2008) also have revealed: differences between school counsellors and teachers in modes of responding to school bullying with results that teachers were less interested in working with the victims; and differences between different groups of teachers who had an experiences to be in different roles (victim, bystander, uninvolved) in childhood with results that teachers with bystanders background more likely responded actively to victims in the classroom than other teachers (Yoon et al., 2016).

Thirdly, it was revealed that, teachers in the present study have endorsed disciplining the bully as a most prevalent strategy, but teachers with workplace bullying experiences have applied this strategy more likely than teachers without victimization experiences. Thus, teachers with workplace victimization experiences tended to use more reactive strategy – disciplining-punishing the school bullying perpetrators, compared with non-victims. This result is parallel with previous concerning teachers history of school bullying and showing that two groups of teachers – teachers who had childhood victimization experiences and teachers who were uninvolved with bullying in their childhood, tended more likely to discipline bullies than teachers who reported having been bystanders to bullying in their childhood (Yoon et al., 2016).

Taking together, victimized teachers tended less than non-victimized teachers ignore school bullying incidences and more likely endorse oppositional strategies – non-punitive prosocial ways dealing with victims and disciplining-punitive ways dealing with bullies. We may speculate that if some teachers suffer from the negative consequences of their own current workplace victimization in school context, it could prevent them from taking avoidant response as they otherwise might do when interfering in incidents of bullying; and because of their own personal current experience of workplace victimization, these teachers might be supposed to be sensitive to understand the suffering of the victims and feel empathy for them being highly committed to deal with victims of peer bullying in non-punitive way and with bullies in disciplining-punitive way. Also, Twemlow et al. (2006) results reflect connections of teachers’ childhood history of victimization with oppositional experiences as an adult in the classroom being a perpetrator and being a victim concerning with students bullying behaviour.

Knowing which strategies teachers use can help to develop better bullying prevention programs and it can help to avoid negative consequences for victims and bullies. This information is important in that it investigates of one of the potential teachers’ individual characteristics for why teachers may be more or less inclined to adhere to anti-bullying policy within school context. If policies were closely aligned with teachers’ personal characteristics – both childhood and current experiences of victimization of bullying, then teachers may be more inclined to support targets of school bullying and deal effectively with bullies.


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