EducationWorld is committed to bringing educators the practical tools they need to make good decisions, engage in effective leadership and implement strategies that work. To further this commitment, we have formed a content partnership with Stenhouse Publishers. EducationWorld is pleased to feature a variety of book excerpts as part of this collaboration. Check back frequently as we feature additional excerpts from Stenhouse titles.
The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 3 of Bullied Teacher, Bullied Student: How to Recognize the Bullying Culture in Your School and What to Do About It, by Les Parsons (Pembroke Publishers, 2005; distributed in the U.S. by Stenhouse Publishers). The book retails for $18 and is available on the Stenhouse Web site.
This excerpt addresses the limitations of common school bullying prevention approaches, and how improving school-level engagement and buy-in can increase the effectiveness of prevention efforts. See Creating an Anti-Bullying Environment: Understanding Adult Bullying for an additional excerpt from Bullied Teacher, Bullied Student.
Schools seem to favor one of three types of anti-bullying programs. The most common and least successful approach is a zero-tolerance program that implements an established and escalating series of sanctions or consequences if rules are broken. The consequences range from detentions to suspensions. School boards like this approach for several reasons: it fits the crime-and-punishment pattern with which the community is familiar; it can be written down and implemented in the same way in every school; in cases in which bullying in a school has an extreme or tragic outcome, the school and board can point to a concrete program as a legal defense against negligence.
Another widely used approach revolves around some form of problem solving. The students involved in a bullying episode are led through a process designed to promote understanding and empathy for all concerned. This type of intervention highlights why everyone acted as they did and encourages students to develop prosocial options for future behavior. This approach recognizes the dynamic of bully–target–bystander and attempts to address motivations and behavior in a relatively non-judgmental manner. Putting this theory into practice can be problematic. Developing empathy in bullies, especially when they are older students, is a chancy proposition, and convincing bystanders to intervene is equally perplexing. Since bullying hinges on a power imbalance, putting a target face-to-face with a bully simply reintroduces that power imbalance in a different context. Too often, schools with an existing conflict-resolution program involving peer mediation simply fold bullying situations into the same program. When the conflict involves a power imbalance, peer facilitators lack the insight, experience, and authority to equitably resolve bullying.
The third approach tends to merge the other two approaches, diverting less severe cases into a problem-solving mode and addressing more serious cases with sanctions. The critical flaw of these types of approaches to anti-bullying lies not in the programs themselves, but in the fact that they are grafted onto whatever else is going on in the school. Anti-bullying programs that are implemented from outside the school curriculum are doomed to follow all the other innovations that flare for a moment in a school’s consciousness and then die away from lack of attention. Anti-bullying has to grow from the inside out, as part of the foundation on which the curriculum is built. It has to be inherent in the fundamental principles that define all relationships in any school. And it has to apply to students and adults equally.
The following questions ask you to reflect on the current state of your school’s anti-bullying environment. With the values embedded in these questions firmly in place in your school, any firm commitment to anti-bullying will produce dramatic results. If these values are inconsistently represented in your school, no official anti-bullying policy will succeed for long. If you can’t answer in the affirmative to these questions, your school needs a major moral overhaul.
Do you agree that examining adult behavior is a critical first step in school bullying prevention? Join the discussion!
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