Friday, 29 November 2013

Bullying of all kinds

Thursday's Gazette featured the case of the bullying of a ginger head on it's front page.

It suggested the need to "Make ginger prejudice a hate crime".

This is a naive approach.

My experience as a form tutor in a secondary school suggests that this issue is being tacked back-to-front. Bullying goes on over every conceivable issue. Furthermore the way to tackle it, in my experience, is not to 'stamp it out'  or to propose new rules but to support the potential victims so that they can deal with it, with our support.

In a school, if you have good form tutors who know their kids well, they can spot bullying happening by seeing the change in behaviour of the potential victims. We used to have a brief but adequate twenty to thirty minute period at the beginning of each day. This was a time for 'registration', form notices, and general communications looking after the needs of the 30 students in your care. We were fortunate to have the same form of kids through the whole five years of their secondary studies. We got to know our students very well. A quick visual check of every person in your form every morning quickly showed up anyone who was behaving slightly differently to 'normal'.

How bullying is dealt with is extremely important. There is the 'stamp it out' syndrome. Some teachers dealt with bullying by going flat out to 'knock hell out of the bully'. "I made her cry" one teachers said, feeling very good about herself. For me this was a disaster. The bully would be even more angry and determined to bully others.

The result of coming down hard on the bully is that victims are afraid to come to the teacher with their problem - they will catch it even more strongly from the bully for being a 'tell-tale'. No, the way to deal with bullies is to support the victims and help them stand up for themselves.

Teachers can support their students in a number of ways.

First, one has to gain the trust of the victims that they are not going to get even more bullying if they report bullying to the teacher. What works is for the teacher in the first place to notice it going on. Approaching  the victim discretely, getting them to admit that they were being bullied which they will so if they can trust the teacher.  The teacher could then offer support and build a relationship where the victim had a friend to help them at all times. The next stage was to get the victim to agree to face the bully in private with the teacher as mediator.

This was done at an appropriate time which the rest of the class where unaware, maybe in the lunch break, and getting both victim and bully to face each other across a small table with me, the teacher at the side. Persuading the two to do this wasn't difficult if the whole concept was communication and not punishment. Bullies from my own form were quite willing, they knew they wouldn't get into deep trouble. The most difficult was to get the victim to face the bully. Having got both students to face each other, the victim was encouraged to tell the bully, preferably looking straight at them, how it felt to be be bullied. Getting this far was a major achievement.

The next was to ask the bully why they did it . "Oh it was only a bit of fun" they might reply. Then then they were asked if they had advice to give the victim. This novel approach worked wonders. At no point was the bully told off. They knew themselves it was wrong and their explanation didn't hold water. The bully then was asked to look after the interests of the victim in future.

The main achievement was that the bullying was out in the open: both victim and bully knew that a teacher knew it was going on and disapproved without condemnation having taken place.

Second the victim was urged to take action in class in my lessons if experienced any bullying. The could say in a clear voice that the teacher could hear, for instance: "Stop calling me a Ginger, I don't like it" "No you can't borrow my rubber". But never "Sir, sir, he's bullying me".

Always the victim must be encouraged to stand up for themselves and then find that it works.

If victims are suffering from bullying in any environment, schools especially but Facebook, email etc the most important thing is for the victims to be given the courage to deal with it themselves. Teachers may need to have this pointed out - good none judgemental support is so important.

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