What role can schools play?
Individual responsibility paired with systemic support proves a winning combination for schools striving to reduce bullying and create school environments in which each student can flourish. In this way, we can shift from a culture that inadvertently tolerates and even encourages bullying, to one which is more humane, more respectful and well-prepared to thwart all forms of aggression, including bullying.
BUILDING A “SAFE, STRONG AND FREE” SCHOOL CULTURE
Effective bullying prevention is achieved when schools involve all their members in efforts to foster the development of a culture that encourages compassion, inclusion and acceptance. Creating such a culture is only possible when all members of the school community collaborate in efforts aimed at moving toward this vision.
In this kind of culture, all students feel a sense of belonging. They understand that teachers, the principal and other school staff are committed to taking bullying seriously. In this environment, the entire school community is mobilized to find creative and constructive ways of reducing and preventing bullying.
In order to create a safe, strong and free culture, it is essential that all members of the school community - students, parents and guardians, staff members – have access to systemic support, develop the necessary attitudes and skills and acquire relevant knowledge and information. This kind of comprehensive approach bolsters the efforts of teachers and other school staff to interrupt and prevent bullying. Students need to be able to count on coherent systems that will protect them when they choose to stand up for the rights of a bullied student. Examples of systemic support for students are: an anonymous reporting system; or a clear, coherent reporting and intervention procedure that is well known to all.
Systemic support is equally necessary for parents and guardians of bullied students, or of students who bully, as it is for teachers and other school staff. Intervening in bullying situations is complex and demanding and no one should be required to take this on without having had the opportunity to develop the necessary skills, and without clear directives and appropriate support
Such measures will greatly contribute to ensuring that bullying and all forms of aggression are not tolerated, and to guaranteeing that the rights of all students are protected.
COHERENT POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
Systemic support refers in part to policies and procedures that regulate the steps and actions that are taken during intervention in a bullying situation. This includes measures aimed at bringing about a change in the attitudes and behaviour of the student who bullied or who supported bullying.
Effective consequences for students who bullied or who supported bullying – or any other form of aggression – encourage reflection and generate the motivation to change and to repair the damage they have caused. This is more likely to occur when consequences are both equitable and coherent, and perceived by students to be fair, logical and adapted to the specifics of each situation.
It is important to remember that each bullying situation (that is, a situation where the elements of bullying – described in Step 2 of Module 2 – are clearly present) requires specific intervention that is tailored to its own unique dynamic. Students will be more likely to perceive discipline they experience as positive and constructive if the school’s policies and procedures take those specific dynamics into consideration in each bullying situation. Ideally, bullying prevention policies allow adequate flexibility and support for adults enabling them to use their discretion when assessing each situation.
Transforming a bullying situation into a learning opportunity can require a great deal of effort and communication as well as numerous interactions between adults and the students who are involved. That said, the active, respectful participation of adults in students’ social lives, overseen by clear and coherent bullying prevention policies (including a well-understood definition of bullying), constitutes a strong force for discouraging bullying on a daily basis.
THE CODE OF CONDUCT: A UNIFYING DOCUMENT
A code of conduct is an essential tool for the creation and maintenance of a healthy school culture. It is a unifying document, as well as a starting point for developing a set of coherent policies and procedures. As the foundation for the school’s plan to develop a safe and inclusive school culture, it is important that the code of conduct touch upon all aspects and levels of school life.
The code of conduct is most effective when it is a dynamic and living document. This is achieved through initial and ongoing consultation of all members of the school community. Periodic updates ensure that that the document is regularly improved and that it continues to reflect and respond to emerging needs from year to year. Inviting students to contribute to updates keeps the code relevant and thus ensures its ongoing effectiveness. Of course, schools can further increase the efficacy and relevance of their code of conduct and of all bullying prevention policies and procedures by integrating the guidelines for empowerment (see Step 2, Module 6).
ESTABLISHING HEATHY PARTNERSHIPS
A shift in school culture is the result of a comprehensive approach including a set of coherent measures, policies, strategies and activities that transmit and reinforce corresponding values and attitudes – leading to behaviour that facilitates bullying prevention.
Establishing healthy partnerships is a central component of this change. The school community includes a range of members: students, parents and guardians, support staff, teachers and administrators. Schools are also part of the larger community, inhabited by various organizations that offer expertise or relevant services.
Bullying is a complex social problem with no one simple solution. Schools are well served by bringing together the full complement of stakeholders and drawing on their respective perspectives, experiences and areas of expertise. This kind of broad collaboration for the development of prevention and intervention strategies can lead to concrete results adapted for a school’s specific context.
Bullying is an act of cruelty. We can make headway on the road to prevention when all levels of the school environment encourage students who are allies or unwilling witnesses to work in tandem discouraging cruelty and supporting and defending those who are bullied. Such an environment can help spur a fundamental change of heart and mind for those students who bully, as well as those who encourage, tolerate or support such acts. At the very least, the positive influence of the majority of students can create a culture that inhibits and thwarts intentionally cruel behaviour by a small minority.
This is only possible when a school’s culture is permeated at every level with values and messages associated with bullying prevention – for example, respect for differences, positive use of power and cooperation.