Creating a Safe, Strong, and Free School

The benefits of empowerment-based bullying prevention strategies that strive to bring positive change to the school’s culture are emphasized throughout this Teacher Training Module (see Interrupting Bullying, Tools Not Rules, Mobilizing Your School). The following three pre-conditions for the success of a long-term and comprehensive bullying prevention programme are elucidated by Ken Rigby in his 2001 publication, Stop the Bullying: A Handbook for Schools:

  • a general recognition by the school community (staff, students and parents) that bullying is occurring in the school on a significant scale;
  • a widespread belief in the school community that peer-victimization at school can have serious consequences; and,
  • optimism regarding the outcome for a school applying new policies and practices directed toward substantially reducing the problem.

To succeed, a school community must be willing to examine itself and consider change with an open mind.

When teachers and other school staff engage in a long-term process to assess and change entrenched attitudes, practices and behaviours in a school, then develop and implement a bullying prevention action plan, the results can be remarkable. The following are success stories gathered from schools that have implemented such a process.

  • A few friends in a Grade 4 classroom took the initiative to become ‘witnesses’ in active defence of children who were being bullied, to help stop bullying. Each day these friends went around the schoolyard to see if there were children feeling isolated, left out or alone. If they found a child alone they would ask, “Are you alone because you choose to be or because no one will play with you?” If the child answered that it was because he or she was being excluded, they would then invite that child to play with them. They have continued to do this for many months.
  • The film Mean Girls, which illustrated the bullying behaviour of girls in high school, was an obsession for four girls in a grade 6 class. These girls created a notebook modeled on the film, called a ‘burn book’, in which they wrote down rumours about teachers, the school administration, and fellow students. They planned to photocopy the book and hand it out to all. Following the implementation of bullying prevention workshops for students, a number of girls approached several adults to tell them about this activity. They had been afraid to talk about it; they asked for help in stopping the group. The adults watched the film to understand the dynamic and an action plan was instituted with the cooperation of the teacher and the girls, using sensitization techniques. The girls’ classroom teacher acquired the book and was successful in helping the girls understand the impact of their behaviour in a constructive manner. The four girls thanked the adults for taking a supportive approach, instead of a response that included shame, punishment and suspension from school.
  • A student in Grade 7 was the victim of internet bullying. Her mother was very worried about it because her daughter often received threats. The student approached adults for support and together they explored strategies for blocking messages and practiced self-assertiveness training with the student in question. It turned out that this was not sufficient to respond to the situation, and the girl had to keep changing her email address. The student was encouraged to join the school’s Bullying Prevention Committee to help affect change at a school-wide level. She began to work on a bullying prevention calendar and she suggested that there be an art contest on the subject of bullying. She chose the 12 winning drawings for the calendar and sold the calendar to help with costs for a school trip to Quebec. The other drawings were displayed at the school, captioned with the words ‘NON À L’INTIMIDATION’ (NO TO BULLYING.) The girl is no longer the victim of bullying and is feeling very positive about herself. She is still active on the committee!
  • A Grade 9 student regularly bullied others and no one knew how to deal with him. It was well known that his father bullied him at home and that he was afraid of his father. This student was very good at basketball, but bullied other students on the team. The primary strategy used to change his behaviour had been to punish him by excluding him from the team. As a result, the student became increasingly frustrated and his behaviour deteriorated. Following the implementation of bullying prevention workshops within the school, staff became aware that if they continued to punish and exclude him, he would likely respond by punishing and abusing others. It was suggested that, instead, he might be given another opportunity to improve his behaviour and to use his power in a positive manner, perhaps by coaching others. A positive change might motivate him and improve his self-esteem. A special workshop was held for parents of students in his grade. As a result, staff had the opportunity to meet the father of this student, to make clear the importance of healthy parent-child relations and to teach positive parenting skills, such as strategies for conflict resolution and supportive interaction. The student’s behaviour underwent a major change as his life was altered. He volunteered to become a member of the school’s Bullying Prevention Committee to help positively transform the school culture.
  • A girl in Grade 11 was being bullied at school and at home by her mother. She had tried to convince the mother to let her participate in a school dance, unsuccessfully. The girl asked for help at school so that she could attend the dance. The adult in whom she confided asked her to identify her positive qualities, what she liked doing at school. She responded that she liked doing the school announcements and selecting music for the school radio station. With the girl’s permission, the adult approached the administration so that she might have an official role to play at the dance. The principal responded positively and wrote a letter to the mother saying that her daughter had been chosen to present the dance music and that her participation was badly needed. The mother acquiesced and the girl was able to attend.
  • A student in Grade 3 was having speech problems. She had difficulty speaking well and expressing her needs. Because of this, she was bullied by the other students in her class. Children laughed at her. She began to play with children in Grade 1. The girl finally sought help and spoke about her problem: how she didn’t like school, and that no one in her class would play with her. The supportive adult asked if there was one person who was kind to her. She mentioned the name of one girl in her class. Because she had difficulty speaking, the adult encouraged her to write a letter and ask that friend if she could play with her, while respecting the other child’s right to refuse. The adult spoke to the student’s classroom teacher who was very supportive and encouraged her to become a supportive listener to the girl. Gradually, the student developed an important friendship and the bullying subsided.