What can teachers do to interrupt bullying?
SCENARIO: On the way to the staff room from class, you see Students 1 and 2 making fun of Student 3, while other students watch. Student 1 is mocking Student 3, using homophobic slurs.
Your reaction is quite common. You are attempting to deal with the situation constructively by gathering together the students who are involved and giving them the responsibility to resolve their differences. You may be imagining that this will give the bullied student an opportunity to voice her or his point-of-view.
In this situation, there is an imbalance of power coupled with an intention to harm someone. You need to be aware that Student 3 is unlikely to feel safe in the presence of Students 1 and 2. In such a context, there are not “two sides of the story” to consider.
It is important to work with witnesses as well. With adult support, and when they can do so in safety, many students will choose to become allies.
2You interrupt the bullying incident immediately in front of everyone present in the hallway by stating: “I don’t like what I’m hearing and seeing. This certainly looks like bullying and I will be speaking to each of you about this.” You then make appointments to speak individually to each of the students.
You are sending a message to all the students that this kind of language and behaviour are not acceptable. We know that most students hear homophobic insults several times a day. Many adults and students feel there is nothing they can do to stop the use of such language. When an adult publicly condemns such a slur, naming it for what it is – bullying and homophobia – and then follows up on the problem, they clearly demonstrate that they take this form of bullying seriously.
By taking this kind of action, you’ve involved all the students who were present and thus helped to interrupt the cycle of bullying. In time and with consistent intervention of this sort, there is a good chance that fewer homophobic slurs will be heard and that this kind of bullying will diminish.
It is quite possible that many witnesses are searching desperately for a way to stop this kind of bullying, though they may be too afraid or feel that they don’t know how. When intervening with witnesses, it is essential to determine who has played what role and who may have wanted to be an ally. It is likely that many witnesses in this category are extremely worried about the consequences of taking such a stand.
3You decide to resolve this problem by launching a whole school activity. You meet with the school administrators and the anti-bullying committee to explore the issue of homophobia.
This choice involves the whole school’s participation in new learning. The school has made a public commitment to respect differences and foster equity and inclusion.
The school’s resources are being put to use in order to prevent future occurrences of this form of bullying.
The problematic behaviour demonstrated during the actual bullying incident has not been resolved. Student 3 has not been provided with support and Students 1 and 2 have not been encouraged to take responsibility for their actions. The witnesses are not aware that the adult is unhappy with the situation. They may be unaware of their capacity to become allies, and of your role as an adult resource person to intervene.
✓Explanation of the recommended response.
Recommended response and explanation:The second and third answers are both recommended responses. Both contain important components of an effective response to a bullying situation. The second answer is a crucial first step. Engaging with all students who are involved in a bullying situation is critical in order to ensure the safety of the bullied student, enable those who bully or who support the bullying to take responsibility for their actions, and provide skills and support to witnesses who wish to become allies. Without such skilled and comprehensive intervention, broader school wide messages will ring hollow. On the other hand, the third response also constitutes a crucial step for long term and effective bullying prevention. Bullying prevention is possible only through activities that touch the whole school in order to develop a school culture that respects and welcomes differences and does not support bullying. (The first response could have negative and even dangerous consequences for the student who was bullied. It is a strategy best adapted to conflict resolution, an ineffective approach when applied to a bullying situation.)
Note:For information about systemic change involving the whole school and ways of addressing issues related to equity and inclusion, see Modules 8, 9 and 10.