Are schools accidentally encouraging bullying?

Bullying-@Eduwells 2As a deputy principal, it is my role to oversee the more serious issues that crop up with a particular grade level. That grade level just happens to be a lovely group of 350 14-year-olds. My experience and that of others in my school, know this to be the most challenging age for bullying and in particular cyberbullying. At 14, social media becomes an accepted norm for all, a growing number start to challenge the systems around them, and most start to seriously become concerned about identity and where they fit within various social circles. The statistics and my own experience both confirm it is significantly bigger problem for girls. To combat this, school policies and environment must have a holistic approach towards restoring relationships. For this reason, I have for a while connected bullying in schools with the need for a school restorative justice philosophy.

Feel sorry for Bullies

To start with, I have always surprised children by suggesting they should feel sorry for bullies.  Examples from around the world from the most challenging situations prove that human beings are not naturally negative. In my school, I make sure that students are very aware that their peers may bully in reaction to a negative home or school life. This year I have already had three students come to my office with the understanding that their bully needs help as opposed to punishment. Traditional punitive approaches are in themselves, a form of bullying. In that way, schools have to ask themselves: Are our punishments only exemplifying a place for bullying? A punitive environment encourages the idea that attacking the problem and demanding conformity will be successful long-term. A punitive approach is rarely interested in the strengthening of relationships and so does not reap long-term benefits. My suggestion here is that a school using punitive approaches to tackle poor behaviour, such as detentions, might be inadvertently nurturing an environment that increases bullying.

Not a quick fix

Developing a restorative environment takes time. I have witnessed myself the stark contrast between the confidence in which 14-year-olds argue online and their inability to discuss the matter face-to-face and resolve it. Teenagers and their parents need much guidance in developing open and transparent discourse about their behaviour online. Many parents do not have awareness or time to master these skills. In a rushed 21st century, the reality is that it falls to schools to develop open dialogue with their students and their families About dealing with conflict and having empathy for the lives that others have to lead. A community that understands restorative justice is one that will only strengthen relationships between all parties and significantly reduce bullying and negative behaviour.

Beyond blame

The reason I have always liked the video below and used it at school is that it removes blame and focuses on the contagious nature of negative behaviour. It introduces the topic as something the community needs to deal with as a whole rather than focusing blame on an individual. It seems to me that most problems in a school relate to a breakdown in relationships, be that between teacher and student or a student and their peers. Rebuilding relationships to solve all these problems must become a daily modus operandi for any school.


Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Deputy Principal in a New Zealand High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International keynote speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

This post is written as part of  The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.