School should be a safe and supportive environment that does not tolerate bullying at any level but tries to foster teamwork, acceptance and understanding among its pupils and staff. Here are some ways teachers can help achieve this.
Promote cooperation. Ask for help in carrying books or in handing them out, clearing away after practical work, and by asking pupils to help one another.
Teach prosocial behaviour to ensure that the social skill level of the whole class is raised. This can be done formally by having lessons where social situations are discussed, and informally as certain situations arise. For example, if a pupil falls out with another child, you could help the two of them to settle their differences in non-aggressive ways and to apologize.
Praise all prosocial behaviour: cooperation, negotiation, compromise, conflict resolution and friendliness. Pupils could be given stickers for prosocial behaviour or have special ink stamps in their homework books: when they have collected a certain number, they could be exchanged for a certificate. Teach prosocial behaviour by example. Be kind to children generally and avoid picking on individual pupils. Be ready to listen and show respect by avoiding ridiculing wrong answers. Male teachers—and senior male pupils—can take a proactive role in stopping bullying behaviour by showing expectations of prosocial behaviour and by not using aggression when dealing with others. This can particularly help address the problem of aggressive boys.
Intervene before a situation escalates. Bring any conflict to a quick conclusion to limit aggression between pupils. If the conflict arises during a lesson, you could keep the children back at the end of the lesson to talk about what happened and how each of them could contribute to putting it right.
Take heed of what children say and how they look to spot trouble and show that you care. If a child has been crying or looks sad you could ask what is wrong when you are alone together—a victim may brush off any troubles if publicly asked what the problem is.
Connect with pupils. Show care generally towards pupils to make it more likely that children will take on board what you say. In return, children will show more care to you and other children in the school.
Vary the seating plan of the class or have some activities where pupils are grouped randomly to help new relationships form and to enable pupils to connect with many more children in the class.
Consider carefully the use of language in school so that you help prevent children being permanently labelled. Instead of having, for example, “Stop the Bully” posters, change the wording to, “Stop Bullying Behaviour.”
Give children hope by taking their concerns seriously. Listen to what children have to say and follow it up either personally or by referring the matter to a senior member of staff and checking with the children to ensure that they are being given the help and support they need.
Emphasise commonalities. Bullies and victims may have more in common than either of them imagine. They probably enjoy listening to the same music, watching the same TV programs, visiting the same websites on the net. They experience the same feelings when things go well or badly. They probably have similar fears, hopes and dreams. By breaking down perceived differences between children, you can help them connect with one another.
Be careful in the way you talk to children. Try to observe your own interactions with the children you teach to avoid some common unconscious pitfalls such as making negative comparisons, failing to give children a chance to explain their side of things, forgetting to balance criticism with encouragement, forgetting to look for opportunities to give positive attention to all children and gender stereotyping.
Children taught in an overtly caring community can flourish. Feeling important to, and respected by, teachers raises their self-esteem and helps them connect to the school and the education it provides. Children who believe in themselves will be more likely to seek help when things go awry—and take more care in their dealings with others in the school, thereby reducing bullying incidents.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Márianna Csóti is the author of How to Stop Bullying: Positive Ways to Protect Children in Your Care (Right Way, Constable & Robinson, CDN$ 11.24) from which this piece was adapted. www.mariannacsoti.co.uk.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s March 2010 issue.