Cordwalles curbs bullying

| November 7, 2010

By Simon Weaver

This destructive behaviour is evident in all our schools, in one form or another. Children who are bullied have their selfesteem battered and feel insecure, depressed, helpless and, in severe cases, suicidal. They are, under these extreme circumstances, unable to realise their full potential or make positive contributions to education and to society. As concerned educationists, we need to devise strategies to prevent and deal with this social curse.

What is bullying?

To deal with bullying, we first need to know what it is. There are two important components which, when combined, constitute bullying behaviour. First and most importantly, bullying is an abuse of power. The bully has more power and control over the abused, and the abused feels helpless in dealing with the situation. Second, bullying is associated with ongoing and repetitive patterns of harassment and abuse.

Ken Rigby defines bullying as “repeated oppression, psychological or physical, of a less powerful person by a more powerful person or group of persons”. It takes many
different forms. Krige, Pettipher, Squelch and Swart2 have identified some of the behaviours that constitute bullying and these include:

Physical

  • forcing children to do things that they do not want to do
  • taking other children’s belongings
  • demanding money
  • kicking, hitting and punching
  • tripping children up
  • silly pranks
  • damaging property

Verbal

  • teasing, mocking and taunting
  • abusive comments about one’s appearance
  • verbal threats
  • threatening and embarrassing gestures
  • insulting family members
  • name calling
  • swearing
  • writing nasty letters about someone

Psychological

  • spreading nasty rumours
  • leaving one out of activities
  • telling others to stop liking someone
  • trying to dominate a person
  • making a fool of someone

Bullying happens at all schools

in schools go undetected, as children are not comfortable with disclosing or ‘telling on’ the bullies. They fear that by disclosing information they will be targeted by the perpetrators, and their lives will be become even less bearable than before. This means that school authorities are often unaware that this destructive behaviour is being carried out, and therefore believe that bullying does not occur at their particular school. However, there is no doubt that bullying affects every one of our schools in some form or another, and we need to deal with it.

A further aspect that is important to understand is that incidents of bullying are perceived and experienced very differently by the two parties concerned. In the initial stages of the bullying process, the bullies may not believe or be aware of how their actions are impacting negatively on the victim. Comments like: “we were only playing with him” or “it was just a joke” are usually made by identified bullies.

Furthermore, the situation is complicated by the fact that the victim may, in some cases, overreact to what has happened.

It has also been seen that some pupils have a tendency to become victims and, by so doing, sometimes derive a sense of power by getting the bullies into trouble.

Reported cases of bullying may involve conflict rather than bullying. In these cases, the participants are waging a war of revenge against each other rather than abusing power in one form or another. Thus, the perceptions of the participants – and the often unclear distinction between bullying and conflict – make it very difficult to discern the true nature of incidents that arise.

Establish a preventative programme

It is for the reasons just outlined above that it is imperative that a preventative programme be established at schools. Children should be informed about bullying, and given strategies to empower them to deal with it in effective ways.

There are many things that schools can do to prevent this very destructive behaviour. At Cordwalles, we attempt to deal with bullying by implementing the following procedures:

  • Information

Through the life skills programme and assemblies, the boys are given a great deal of information about what bullying is, how to recognise it and strategies for dealing with the problem.

  • The school bullying policy

The school has a policy on bullying, which is published in each boy’s school diary. The policy outlines what bullying is, the rights and responsibilities of the pupils in this connection and what to do when incidents occur.

  • Victim empowerment

The boys are given strategies to use when they are faced with bullying behaviour. First, they need to inform the perpetrators that their actions are being hurtful and should stop. Second, they should try to ignore the taunts or teasing and stay away from the bullies. Third, the boys are encouraged to take action by informing teachers of the situation.

It is made very clear to the boys that disclosure is vital in fighting this social scourge. So often pupils are encouraged to fight back by their parents, but this only leads to further revenge attacks or to the bullies finding another victim. Disclosure is important so that the so-called bullies can be assisted and, at times, informed of their inappropriate behaviour.

If the cases of bullying can be dealt with earlier rather than later, then there will be less likelihood of the whole situation getting out of hand and causing serious damage and hurt.

  • The annual bullying survey

A survey is conducted each year to investigate the extent to which bullying is prevalent in the school. Furthermore, boys are asked to identify those boys who they feel are bullies. This information is dealt with very sensitively. The boys who have been identified as the bullies are then informed that they should be conscious of the fact that their behaviour may be interpreted as bullying behaviour, and that this should then be modified.

This is done as a preventative step so as to avoid further situations of bullying arising.

  • The no-blame approach to dealing with bullying

When incidents of bullying do occur and the school needs to act, then the following seven-step approach – which was used by Maines and Robinson – can be used to deal with the situation in a positive way:

• Step 1 – Interview the bullied learner.
• Step 2 – Arrange a meeting for all the learners involved.
• Step 3 – Explain the problem. Concentrate on how the victim may be feeling. Do not allocate blame.
• Step 4 – Share responsibility. Focus on resolving the problem.
• Step 5 – Identify solutions. Ask for suggestions from each learner as to how the situation could be resolved.
• Step 6 – Let the learners take action themselves.
• Step 7 – Meet them all again to find out how things are progressing.

  • Disciplining bullies

If a boy has been counselled about his perceived bullying behaviour and he still continues to bully others, he then needs to be disciplined in the appropriate manner. This type of behaviour cannot be condoned and needs to be dealt with severely. The perpetrators must be sanctioned so as to ensure that the behaviour is not repeated. In
some cases, the child may have to be referred to counselling. School communities must make a concerted effort to eliminate this abuse of power. There are many things
that we can do to make children aware of bullying and the rights they have to be happy, secure and confident while at school. If we are to do the best for our children, we need to confront this issue and create environments where they are all able to realise their true potentials.

Simon Weaver is the Headmaster at Cordwalles Preparatory School.

References
1 Rigby, K. (1996) Bullying in Schools – and What to Do About it. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers Ltd.
2 Krige, Pettipher, Squelch and Swart (2000) A Teacher’s and Parent’s Guide to Bullying. Auckland Park: Rand Afrikaans University.
3 Smith, P and Sharp, S. (1994) School Bullying: Insights and Perspectives. New York: Routledge.

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