When we practise the skill of problem-solving (see Bullying Prevention/Problem-Solving), we view obstacles and challenging situations such as conflict, bullying or abuse as opportunities to learn. We choose to adopt the optimistic assumption and expectation that individuals who bully or abuse others lack the necessary information to respect and include others and that they can and want to learn new behaviours and attitudes. Learning through problem-solving helps students prepare to face challenges and to overcome wariness and fear.

Equitable problem-solving connects to notions of fairness. As in bullying situations, power dynamics need to be taken into consideration and addressed. In addition, teachers can ask themselves questions:

  • Do any of the people involved in this situation belong to a social group that is perceived as different or that tends to experience discrimination in my school or community? If so, what information do I have about that community or group?
  • What kinds of assumptions are possibly being made, by myself or others, about the people involved in this situation?
  • What kinds of stereotypes may be influencing my own or others’ perceptions of this situation?

If anyone involved in the situation is operating from a place of misinformation, bias or dominant assumptions, these can be probed and explored as part of the problem-solving exercise. Strategies can incorporate ways of unpacking and examining our biases and assumptions, or seeking to correct misinformation.

As always, when responding to a situation involving any kind of abuse, be it bullying, racism, sexism, homophobia, or any kind of sexual harassment or gender-based violence, it is paramount to approach and work with each of the individuals separately. This protects the safety of individuals who may be vulnerable to abuse or discrimination (see James).