If you want to improve your understanding of school bullying and resources to tackle it, the best places to start is with the pupils in your school.
By engaging in structured and meaningful dialogue with pupils about their experiences of bullying and their ideas for how bullying should be resolved you will become more equipped to handle it.
Your colleagues and pupils’ parents also contain a wealth of information to help you address bullying. In my book ‘The Teacher’s Guide to Resolving Bullying: Evidence-Based Strategies and Pupil-Led Interventions’ I have used my research to create anti-bullying strategies tailored to pupil’s specific experiences of bullying for teachers to adopt. These approaches are likely to be more useful than adult-led approaches which children might not actively participate in or engage with. Here is how you can devise pupil-led anti-bullying interventions which are evidence-based.
A pupil-led framework
Firstly, observe how pupils interact with each other and school staff in class and in the playground. Whilst observing pupils consider when their interactions might constitute bullying. Observations can help you investigate children’s behaviour and generate relevant questions to ask pupils about their experiences of school and bullying. Ask pupils in small groups (of about five) about how pupils experience bullying, how school bullying is dealt with and how bullying should be dealt with.
To further enhance your knowledge, speak to colleagues and pupils’ parents about how pupils experience bullying. From this you can interview pupils, school staff and even parents about how to develop strategies to help deal with bullying amongst pupils. You can then work with pupils, colleagues and parents to implement anti-bullying strategies. This might involve facilitating pupil-led anti-bullying assemblies, reviewing and updating policies about bullying and behaviour, and establishing a support group for pupils who are bothered by bullying who want to join a mutually supportive group who they work with to address bullying.
After the anti-bullying strategies have been implemented it would be helpful to interview pupils, parents and teachers to evaluate and further develop them. Observations of pupils can be an additional tool to investigate whether there are improvements in how pupils interact with each other and school staff, and where improvements have been made.
Establish an anti-bullying advisory group
Establish an anti-bullying advisory group to help your school stay up to date with pupil’s experiences of bullying and develop bespoke strategies to deal with these experiences. An anti-bullying advisory group could consist of pupils, parents and teachers who meet regularly to discuss how pupils are experiencing bullying, and design and implement strategies to resolve this.
In the anti-bullying advisory group, particularly complex cases of bullying could be discussed so the group can work together to decide on what would be the most appropriate strategies. The anti-bullying advisory group could feed its recommendations into senior management. If your school is reluctant to establish an anti-bullying advisory group then bullying could feature as an ongoing theme to be discussed in staff meetings about pupils, and included on every agenda on the school council.
Connecting with Pupils
Provide children with diaries to write in regularly about their interactions with other pupils and school staff, and even their home life if they feel it is appropriate. Diaries can provide in-depth insight into children’s lives and what is important to them. You can learn about children’s personal experiences of bullying, how they are interpreting these experiences and the impact these experiences are having on children. Reading children’s diaries can also help you evaluate if children are changing their thoughts and behaviour throughout an intervention, and, if so, where the changes are taking place.
Walking interviews involve walking with pupils while interviewing them and can be used to investigate bullying. Some of the interventions that you implement can also involve walking, such as a walking support group. Walking interviews and interventions might make pupils feel more in control of the process than in traditional interviews and classroom activities. This might increase their engagement in the topics being discussed.
You might wish to walk with pupils to places which elicit certain feelings such as the playground or an isolation unit. Walking strategies can help to increase the participation of pupils and could be more inclusive than traditional interviews for certain pupils with special educational needs. A child with ADHD might particularly appreciate the activity that walking can bring as opposed to being sat down and feeling entrapped. Walking with pupils in the fresh air, and if possible, being surrounded by nature might help you connect with pupils more so that you can gain in-depth insight into their experiences and perceptions.
A system of dialogue
For schools to deal effectively with bullying, it is vital that school staff having dialogue with pupils is embedded into school policies and practices so that pupils can exercise their voice effectively. This can be partly achieved by developing a mentoring programme for pupils who persistently engage in bullying to learn how to behave more respectfully. One of the main reasons that children engage in bullying is to be popular amongst their peers and exercise social power over them.
By listening to pupils and ensuring their voice is heard, pupils are likely to feel empowered which can prevent them from exercising power through destructive means.
A mentoring programme can be facilitated by an educator who focuses on finding out why mentees are engaging in bullying and develops strategies to address the underlying reasons behind the bullying. Mentoring can be provided on a one-to-one with pupils and/or with pupils in small groups. From having regular dialogue with mentees generic recommendations about how to improve school policy and practices in behaviour management and tackling bullying might emerge.
Pupil-led strategies which support children to deal effectively with bullying focus on enhancing pupils’ personal development which has recently been included in the Ofsted School Inspection Handbook (2019). These strategies are likely to develop pupils’ character, confidence and resilience so they learn how to keep themselves mentally healthy, and flourish in school and society.
How to tackle bullying
- Change takes time and pupils might improve but then relapse. It is helpful to see the anti-bullying work as a constantly evolving and reflective process.
- Find out if children want to change. It is difficult to help children if they do not want to improve. However, if children are upset because they are constantly getting into trouble then ask them if they would like you to help them get along with their peers and/or teachers better.
- Replace bullying with something positive. Children might be frightened of losing respect from their ‘mates’ if they stop bullying. To replace this, help pupils use their power positively, for example, by including ostracised pupils in their games.
- Establish a supportive network. Find out who the pupils, colleagues and parents are who want to work with you to tackle bullying. If you are a member of a union they might be interested in supporting you to tackle bullying.
Dr Elizabeth Nassem is a lecturer in Special Educational Needs, Disabilities and Mental Health at Leeds Trinity University. Elizabeth has developed interventions to resolve school bullying based on her doctoral and post-doctoral research, including tailoring strategies to the specific experiences that children have. If you would like to contact Elizabeth, her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.