The Evolution of Bullying
Over the last 20 years or so a lot has been written on the subject of bullying and although I’ve definitely read my fair share, I am no expert. One thing I have noticed is that, despite almost every school I’ve worked in having strong Anti-bullying policies, bullying continues to exist. As a teacher, I have witnessed many children struggling to deal with victimisation, harassment and discrimination on a daily basis. In my opinion, while school-wide policies may provide some assistance and protection in more ‘serious’ cases, a great deal of low-level bullying generally goes undetected.
The stereotypical image of a large, thug-like bully waiting at the school gates to beat-up his small, bespectacled victim was certainly never my (or, I think, most people’s!) experience of bullying, but it is the message I seem to get from many of the “Zero tolerance to bullying” school policies I’ve come across (or maybe that’s just me?).
Although I’m sure that this type of physical bullying does happen, what I see far more often are persistent, low level bullying behaviours. These present a much more complex problem for schools as they can be difficult to detect and deal with effectively, but still have a devastating effect on students’ sense of worth, stress levels and overall mental health.
So, what can we do?
Hmm… apart from acknowledging that, sadly, bullying is not just going to disappear from society? It’s a tough one!
How about taking the focus off bullying and instead focusing on resilience?
I know, I know… we’ve all heard the argument, or seen this ‘inspirational’ quote floating around facebook groups during anti-bullying week:
I don’t really know where to start when I come across things like this. While I agree with the sentiment, I have yet to meet a teacher who does not do their best to instil a sense of kindness, acceptance and respect in their students. But to think this is sufficient to eliminate bullying entirely, to me seems naive.
In life, people are not always kind and respectful, and I believe we should do our best to help our students learn to respond to this appropriately. Becoming resilient doesn’t mean that children will not experience pain (either physical or emotional) as a result of being bullied, but rather that they are better equipped to deal with and respond to others actions in a more positive way.
Taking a pro-active approach to building children’s self-esteem, engaging in conversations which acknowledge and celebrate difference may be worth a shot. The new ‘Buddy Bots’ resources from Teacher’s Pet might even be a great place to start!
As a teacher, I try to encourage my students to embrace their quirks and to see these as positive traits, instead of worrying what others think of them. I believe that sometimes showing some of my own ‘eccentricities’ in class, such as my love of Harry Potter (think, faaaar more than the normal amount), playing the accordion, video games and enjoying the odd round of Dungeons and Dragons helps them to see that being “cool” is over-rated. Everyone is a little bit weird in their own way, and that’s what makes the world great!