Bullying can involve complex changing roles amongst young people and the story may not always be immediately clear. When a report of bullying is made, it’s important to collect the details from all the individuals involved and from witnesses. Avoid making assumptions about who would and wouldn’t engage in bullying; we know that even supposedly ‘model’ young people are capable of bullying.
You also need to be aware that every conflict between young people is not necessarily bullying.
Interview the young people accused of bullying separately so they don’t have the opportunity to make up a story. You’ll know how the friendship networks operate in your school and you can use this as a way of assessing the accuracy of what is being said.
Of course, an important part of responding effectively is being familiar with your school’s policy and procedures for responding to bullying.
WHAT DO I SAY TO THE YOUNG PERSON WHO HAS BULLIED SOMEONE?
Explain to the young person what they are accused of doing and the distressing impact it has had on other young people and witnesses. Using open questions, ask the student who has bullied others what happened. Listen to the whole story first, and then ask specific questions to clarify details.
Ask the student accused of bullying to write down what led up to the incidents, exactly what happened, who was there – other young people and adults and what these witnesses did. You may need to challenge denials or passing it off as ‘just a joke’.
Once you have established that the issue is actually bullying, you should say clearly: “What you have done is bullying and our school does not accept this behaviour”. Ask them to think about how their behaviour breaks the school rules, for example, rules related to respect or kindness.
Cyber bullying is a type of bullying. If the cyber bullying happened at home, but it has impact on school life, then you need to respond to the student in the same way as other types of bullying. Tell the student that some cyber bullying is so serious that it can land them in trouble with the police.
WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP THE YOUNG PERSON LEARN APPROPRIATE WAYS TO BEHAVE?
Effectively dealing with bullying means more than dealing with single incidents – the school culture is where you can effect lasting changes. Use the wide range of available classroom materials to teach young people how to behave with others and conduct respectful relationships. Include young people in the development of classroom expectations about how young people should behave toward one another. Take full opportunity of those “teachable moments” that allow you to explore the topics of tolerance, inclusion, diversity and respect. Set aside time weekly to engage with young people in guided conversations, for example, Circle Time, to keep you abreast of any potential friendship issues.
AT WHAT POINT SHOULD I CONTACT THE PARENTS OF THE YOUNG PERSON WHO HAS BEEN BULLIED?
Parents are key players in dealing with a student who is bullying others. Use your judgement about when you should involve the parents or carers.
Communicate the school’s expectations for behaviour to the parents and reinforce that consequences will be applied. The appropriate consequence will vary case by case. In consultation with senior staff, you need to make this decision based on the seriousness of the behaviour, the consequences outlined in your school’s behaviour plan and using what we know works.
Research tells us that using punitive approaches as a first option or even alone can be counter-productive. Approaches that focus on rebuilding peer relationships and teaching children more appropriate ways of resolving conflict, like the method of shared concern or restorative justice, help to build a positive school culture that supports all young people.
Young people who bully often go on to have negative learning and social outcomes, so your first responses and ongoing support to these young people are very important.