The last thing a teacher needs with a new class is a bullying problem. But identifying bullying, and planning an effective plan to beat it can be a challenge.
What is Bullying?
Bullying is an act which can be readily identified by a teacher by a few key factors. To be called bullying, the actions must be:
- done with the aim of causing pain, harm or damage to another person or group
- done by someone who has more power than the person they are bullying
- done over a period of time, not just once
People who bullying may do lots of different things. We know as teachers that girls often bully in different ways to girls. Boys tend to be more physical, and may kick, punch, hit or throw items at another person. Girls tend to use more language based bullying. They will pass nasty notes, spread rumours, send harmful text messages or engage in cyber (online) bullying.
There has been lots of research done into the topic of bullying. One of the most significant researchers in the field in Australia is Ken Rigby, who has researched and written extensively on the subject.
How Often Does it Happen?
Bullying is surprisingly common. It varies from school to school, and from area to area. There are no hard and fast rules about bullying being something which only happens in lower socio-economic areas, or with people from a particular cultural or racial background. Bullying can happen to anyone.
Research tells us bullying can be as common as one in six children who say they have been bullied at some time during their schooling. This means that out of any grade of children, the chances are there are more than just one child who has been bullied.
Strategies for Teachers
It is important to realize that bullying can be dealt with effectively. Teachers have the power to deal with bullying in schools. The important thing is to realize it is happening, and to develop whole school strategies to manage it. Ensure your school has a recent and effective anti-bullying policy. Talk with other staff about using language which ensures there is no culture of 'blame the victim' which occurs. Yes, children who are bullied often share similar features. No, this never means that they 'bring it on themselves'. Bullying behaviour is owned by the person who bullies. Always.
Whole school approaches such as using a map where children can draw or color a 'safety' map of the school can be helpful in showing places where bullying may occur. Children are unlikely to go to a place where they do not feel safe. It is a reasonable bet that if children show on a map that there is an area which they do not feel safe in, that bullying (or something else which is undesirable) may be happening there.
Talking with parents, families, caregivers, students and community members about bullying is important. Make managing bullying everyone's issue, not just something that belongs to the child who is being bullied. Include information in newsletters, on school websites and during information sessions. Make sure everyone is aware of the school position on bullying, and encourage everyone to be pro-active in dealing with it.
Bystanders are often the key to dealing with bullying, particularly with older children. We know young children will readily tell parents or families about bullying, but not so with older children. In the later primary years and into secondary schooling, bystanders become more important. These are the people who are around when bullying happens. We know bullying is usually done with an audience. If there is no audience, there is no point. So engaging bystanders (those people who stand around and watch the action) changes the balance. The audience no longer enjoys, supports or condones the game. If children who witness bullying can become active in voicing their disapproval, or acting in a way which supports the child being bullied, the battle is almost won.
As a school, if you can develop and promote a culture which never accepts bullying behaviour, and which never sees the person being bullied as the cause of the problem, then it is likely the incidence of bullying will decrease over time. Along the way, you will be helping foster a generation which values and accepts individual difference, rather than seeing bullying as a way of stamping on anything or anyone which is unfamiliar or alternative.
Measuring the Results Of Anti Bullying Interventions
An important final step in dealing with bullying in the classroom or playground is to ensure that as a whole school community you undertake some research which clearly demonstrates:
- what the estimated rate of bullying was prior to any intervention or anti bullying strategies
- what the timeframe and target group was for the intervention
- what the estimated rate of bullying was after a period of intervention aimed at reducing the rate of bullying in the classroom and in the broader school community.
By undertaking this research, you are ensuring that any reduced bullying rate results can be directly related to actions taken. This makes it easy to see what is working and what is not.