In the province of Ontario (Canada), the week beginning on the third Sunday of November is Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week. The goal is to promote safe schools and a positive learning environment.
School was not a safe place for the maiden last week. She was again a victim of bullying. In the past it has been words – but last week it escalated into a threat of violence. We have been down this bullying road too many times to count. She has missed school for a day here and there, a few weeks, a few months and even one complete grade. How do we break through the bullying behaviour?
Five years ago our school system adopted a process called restorative justice (RJ), which encourages offenders to take responsibility for their actions and aims to help them avoid future offenses through mediation. Offender(s) and victim(s) sit in a “restorative circle,” in which the student who has caused harm hears the views of peers. It is usually facilitated by a teacher or guidance counsellor. I have read conflicting reports on both the success and failure of RJ in decreasing bullying behaviour. I’m not convinced it works – as there have been more than one RJ circle with a repeat verbal bully who has continually targeted the maiden. And the girl who threatened to beat the maiden up last week has also been part of RJ circles for other offences. So you will have to excuse me if I seem a bit reluctant to jump on the RJ bandwagon.
Once I found out the school was going to deal with this latest incident (which had the maiden in tears, too afraid to go to school – and I might add no one from the school reported the incident to me – I found out because the maiden called home crying, asking me to pick her up from school) I refused to let the maiden participate. I emailed the Principal, indicated I would not be sending my daughter to school while this student was there and requested he deal with the situation.
In fairness to the Principal, he had not been made aware of the incident. The Vice-Principal, who is responsible for student discipline, did not see the incident as worthy of addressing I suppose. The bully was immediately suspended for a few days, (second time I’m aware of in last two months) and had to meet with the Principal. I believe he facilitated some type of RJ meeting, but my daughter was not there. I was assured there are strategies the school is putting in place (which due to confidentiality I am not privy to). Most importantly for myself and the maiden, is for the time being an adult will be in close proximity to this bully so that she will not have the opportunity to threaten or assault anyone.
As the school moves into a week highlighting awareness of bullying, I hope these girls will take time to reflect on their actions. The purpose of the week is to encourage students, school staff and parents to learn more about bullying and its effect on student learning and well-being.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Education bullying is: a form of repeated, persistent and aggressive behaviour directed at an individual or individuals that is intended to cause (or should be known to cause) fear and distress and/or harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem or reputation. Bullying occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance.
Schools are encouraged to use this opportunity to explain the different forms bullying can take. These include:
- Physical – hitting, shoving, stealing or damaging property
- Verbal – name calling, mocking, or making sexist, racist or homophobic comments
- Social – excluding others from a group or spreading gossip or rumours about them
- Electronic (commonly known as cyberbullying) – spreading rumours and hurtful comments through the use of cellphones, e-mail, text messaging and social networking sites.
Interestingly, I came across an article that cited a 2013 study (American) published in the Journal of Criminology, that revealed anti-bullying programs are having negative effects and actually making the bullying situation worse instead of better. In an analysis of 7,000 students from 50 States, researchers from the University of Texas of Arlington found that students at schools with anti-bullying initiatives may be more likely to become a victim of bullying. That is certainly the case for the maiden. Researchers found that in order for a bully prevention program to truly work it must change the school’s climate. This means changing values and expectations of youth, teachers and school administration.
The Ontario Ministry of Education talks about the need to make our schools a safe and supportive environment. Certainly the Principal echoed this in our exchanges. I just hope whatever measures are put in place will help these girls change their mindset and behaviour and not just move on to target someone else.
The answer to bullying is more complex and larger than my experience. I do believe the school needs to put as much emphasis on teaching compassion, respect and kindness as on other academic subjects. These traits are just as important to develop. A group called Key Club International has teamed up with Project Happiness, a nonprofit organization with the mission to inspire and empower people to create greater happiness within themselves and their communities. The resources Project Happiness provides are based on Neuroscience, Positive Psychology and Mindful Awareness.
According to the Urban Dictionary “breaking bad” comes from the American Southwest slang phrase “to break bad,” meaning to challenge conventions, to defy authority and to skirt the edges of the law. Bullies defy authority and skirt the edges of the law, so to combat them we need to challenge conventions. It is time for a new strategy. One that focuses on the positive – teaches children how to find fulfillment and joy in life. So they will grow up to learn to love themselves first and then love each other. Some have suggested by providing the focus on bullying we are educating the bullies to be better bullies. In the meantime, we all need to take a stand and do what we can to stop the pervasiveness of a bullying culture and cultivate a more mindful and respectful and accepting culture.
I’ll end with a video called Stand – an anthem to a bullying prevention, sung by Charleigh & Justin Gere.
And with a picture of students and staff from Rene Gordon Health and Wellness Academy who came together on the school playground to form a peace sign and demonstrate their commitment to promoting kindness and ending bullying.