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What Can Teachers Do When They Witness Bullying?
Bullying is ''a form of aggression
based on power differences,'' according to PREVnet's online document ''Bullying
in Schools: Guidelines for Intervention and Prevention'', which is aimed at
teachers and school staff. PREVnet, standing for Promoting Relationships and
Eliminating Violence, is a network of Canadian researchers and NGO
organizations housed at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. The document is a great tool for
educators to counteract bullying with active strategies.Bullying happens in many shapes and
forms such as physical or social bullying. It is a power dynamic that gets
reinforced over time and leaves the bullied in a very vulnerable position: they
have trouble getting out of it because they don’t have the resources to do so.
Bullying can happen everywhere, including schools, in which cases teachers act as first responders. Because ''teachers are the critical agents of social change in bullying programs,'' it is fundamental that they are aware of how to respond to bullying.
Ideally, teachers and principals should work together in dismantling bullying. Training is the best way to start because it prepares adults in charge at school to deal with confidence against bullying. Elementary school is the best time to talk about bullying because children are at an age where they are generally more accepting of authority. The school is also smaller than a high school is, making it easier to develop relationships between students, teachers and principals.
As a figure of authority and as their teacher, you have to make your students understand that bullying won't be tolerated in your class. If you witness bullying, you need to step in and have a separate conversation with both the bullied and the bully as soon as possible. Stopping the problem before it escalates will prevent a lot of damage.
The Guidelines for Intervention and Prevention recommends interventions with the bully that goes beyond punishment. Bullies need to develop qualities like awareness and empathy in order to realize that their behaviour is unacceptable and has negative consequences on others.
The bullied need to have interventions to protect them from abuse and to be able to create positive relationships within groups. Another way to prevent bullying is to ensure that children are in a spirit of collaboration and respect. As the adult, you are the model of positive relationships and should lead by example.
If you have witnessed bullying in your class, PREVnet suggests making groups in your class yourself instead of letting children pick their own. This will insure that you put the bullied children into positive environments rather than him feeling left out.
PREVnet writes that interventions for both the bullied and the bully are important, but the conversation needs to extend beyond that. It needs to touch teachers, families and communities in order to create a positive environment.
In fact, PREVnet writes that it is important to take into account the social dynamics of children's peer groups and how adults have a part in shaping children's experiences. It makes it important to be in contact with families, especially those that express concern about their children. The Guidelines also suggest asking parents about how the child is doing at home. It can be telling – a bully might be mean to his siblings, while the bullied might retract in his room.
Mental health professionals are another help for bullies and bullied children, especially as they go through high school and things get more difficult. PREVnet also writes that in high school, peer mediation and mentoring can help youth. It lets them take responsibility for their actions and change the situation they are in.
Whichever the case of bullying may be, it is important to do prevention and intervention, because bullying can leave ugly, long-lasting scars.
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