Bullying or Conflict?


Several years ago, I found myself (a special education teacher) in a meeting involving the principal, the director of special education, the school psychologist, a second-grade teacher, two concerned parents, and even the district superintendent.

A second-grade student on my special education caseload reported to his parents that he was “bullied” by another student in his classroom. This was a time when bullying seemed to be a major focus of the media, and my school district took all bullying allegations very seriously.

According to stopbullying.gov, bullying is: unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.

Bullying is not the same as conflict. Pacer Center’s Kids Against Bullying breaks down the difference:

  • Conflict is a disagreement or argument in which both sides express their views.
  • Bullying is negative behavior directed by someone exerting power and control over another person.

After a thorough investigation, it turned out my student was not being bullied after all. Rather, the behavior demonstrated between my student and the alleged “bully” was determined to be a conflict between two classmates.

I was relieved that my student was not being bullied, but I knew I was not off the hook. I needed to do a better job of teaching my student what bullying is and what bullying is not. I also needed to do a better job of teaching him how to handle conflict and bullying situations, including asking for help at school.

Together with my student’s parents and the rest of his Individual Education Plan (IEP) team, we developed and implemented a plan to check-in with the student on a scheduled basis and provided him with direct instruction and support with conflict resolution and social skills.

Provided below are links to free, online resources that I rely on to teach students about conflict and bullying:


Bullying is indeed a problem that needs to be taken seriously, and sometimes conflict behaviors can cross the line to bullying. Whether it’s conflict or bullying, students need to know what to do when they find themselves in challenging situations. It is our responsibility, as educators, to provide students with safe learning environments where they will be heard and supported.

Are you concerned about bullying behaviors in your school? Learn more about how to identify and prevent bullying behaviors, as well as how to intervene when bullying occurs by enrolling in our course:

Bullying and Cyberbullying: An Educator’s Toolbox for Prevention and Intervention

Here are a few classes related to this topic:

Jill Rockwell
Jill has over 13 years of experience as a licensed teacher in the areas of Special Education, Reading Education, and Health Education. She embraces diversity and has worked with students in grades K-12 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California. Jill completed her Master of Science degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls while teaching full time. She fully understands the soaring demands of today’s teachers. Her courses are designed to maximize the time of all educators by providing engaging, meaningful, and applicable activities which can be used to enhance teaching practices. She focuses on research-based best practices and technology integration throughout her own instructional practices. Together with her husband and two young boys, Jill enjoys traveling, biking and the changing seasons of the great outdoors in Wisconsin. 

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