When the systemic nature of bullying and inequity are denied, specific incidents are viewed as exceptional incidents within a school. Teachers and administrators can feel a great deal of pressure to ensure that everything appears to be “under control”, and may push back against or deny incidents of bullying and discrimination, since they fear they might be framed as failures or evidence of incompetence.
Such pressure to appear “perfect”, and to present one’s classroom or school as free of bullying and inequity can lead to a tendency to reinforce the school’s hierarchy and control. The school community may become divided into its component groups, with members functioning out of a spirit of territoriality, leading to power struggles.
In such a context, parents and caregivers may be perceived as unpredictable elements to be “warded off”. Schools may be afraid of relinquishing power and control to parents and caregivers. Principals may worry they will lose the support of teachers and other staff members, who may worry they will lose control over the work environment. There may be a perception that administrators need to juggle or trade off what is best for their staff with efforts to support and include parents and caregivers.
The pressure on administrators to be accountable and to adhere to protocol and policies is real and challenging. Schools will need to find ways of moving past this potential obstacle in order to foster an approach and climate based on cooperation. In reality, bullying and inequity need to be understood as systemic in nature and therefore inevitable. Evidence of “success” lies in constructive and positive measures for recognition, intervention and prevention. When bullying or inequity are reported – whether by a teacher, a student or a parent or caregiver – this needs to be viewed as a constructive action in the face of unacceptable behaviour, and not as a failure. Schools that report that they have no bullying and no inequity may well be missing something or ignoring important ways of creating safer classrooms and schools.