Teacher’s Guide to Bullying, Part 1: Can Teachers Prevent Bullying?
Author, trainer and practitioner Adrienne Katz is a director of the Bullying Intervention Group (BIG Award) which runs a national award for excellence in bullying intervention. She a partner in many research programmes and runs the Cybersurvey, exploring the online experiences of young people and their views on the e-safety education they have received (see her full bio below). We asked her a series of questions about bullying, and the following is her answers, in her own words!
Can teachers do anything to prevent bullying before it happens?
Some believe that good classroom dynamics have the extra benefit of reducing bullying even if this was not the main intention. So it is always considered one of the most powerful tools in the teacher’s armoury. Classroom dynamics can range from controlling the seating plans, to organising pairing off to work together or in groups / teams, to agreeing some class rules on what is unacceptable or writing a manifesto with students.
If they negotiate and own these rules, they police them far more successfully than an adult can. Appeal to their sense of fairness and decency when developing these rules. Don’t call them rules though, but an agreement!
Have in place a long term strategy rather than a sudden short outburst of activity that dies away. Set up methods and systems that are sustainable. Make the students active participators in the work of the school to address bullying – if they don’t own it you are merely trying to bully them into stopping bullying. Use them to communicate the strategy (through graphic design, songs videos, drama and peer mentor training) and set up an Anti-Bullying focus group to meet regularly to plan next steps.
Staff and pupils must be represented on this group with occasional outside visitors coming to meetings who could be bus drivers, parents, school nurse, external agencies, ICT manager or even police if there are issues in the neighbourhood or complex online issues.
Reduce the audience!
Bullying is usually carried out in front of an audience including henchmen and other supporters/colluders and bystanders. By making these people less supportive of bullying and refusing to be part of an audience, you can turn around a situation in which someone or a group of people is dominating the class.
If you can get the group to express their dislike of this behaviour in a discussion, without naming either the bullying student or the target of bullying, you are more likely to succeed. Once bullies hear that they will not be popular or powerful this way, they look for other ways. This is when you offer other opportunities for their leadership skills and help change their behaviour to more pro-social attitudes such as protecting younger students and getting praise for positive behaviour.
You want to aim to:
- Make the victim safe
- Change the bullying behaviour
- Challenge prejudice
- Educate the wider group or class
Set up safe routes for students to report bullying without being thought of as a grass. Offer more than one method including a dedicated email or text number, or school website contact form. In primary schools ‘Worry boxes’ Problem Pals (trained pupils) and of course telling any adult you trust are commonly used. Circle time discussions are helpful to explore types of situations we do not like such as ‘I don’t like it when…’ and ask people to finish the sentence.
Too many students do not tell anyone what is happening to them. They may be sworn to secrecy or threatened, but actually many do not believe that telling will help. Too many are right. Students tell us that if they did report it, very often things stayed the same or even became worse as a result. This leads on to staff training.
If staff are well trained there should not be cases that become worse because they were reported. It is perfectly possible to intervene without naming the suspect or victim where you think this might be necessary. However the purely punitive approach insists you investigate and take evidence from all parties and write it all down then mete out punishment.
This is a sort of judicial approach but sometimes you need to be more subtle and take account of the motivations of the children in your class. The victim may be desperate to be accepted back into a friendship group for example, so a heavy handed approach may make this impossible.
By all means fill in the incident form and show what action you propose to try. Monitor it carefully. If this does not work then you will need a re-think. There are many approaches that can be used and ensuring bullies experience some consequences for their actions is one you may yet deploy.
But using lunch time clubs where the victim is supervised may actually successfully integrate them into a new friendship group and you can address the matter of acceptable behaviour with the whole class talking about the values of the school or the class agreement and how bullying will not be accepted in any form in your school. You can say that you are aware of unacceptable behaviour that has been going on but do not say the victim has reported it. Instead say you have observed it or ‘become aware.’
About the Author:
Adrienne Katz is a director of the Bullying Intervention Group (BIG Award)Author, trainer and practitioner, a partner in many research programmes and runs the Cybersurvey, exploring the online experiences of young people and their views of the education on e-safety they have received (2008-current). This information helps inform training programmes for schools. Adrienne was formerly a Regional Adviser to local councils and schools in an England-wide national programme, ‘The Anti-Bullying Alliance’ and has developed or written several items of government guidance on bullying in partnership with NSPCC and Council for Disabled Children.
Adrienne is the author of:
- ‘Cyberbullying and e-safety: what educators and other professionals need to know.’ 2012
- ‘Making your primary school e-safe’ 2015
- ‘Making your secondary school e-safe’ 2016, all published by www.jkp.com/usa London and Philadelphia