Message from the Principal
I am currently sitting in the lounge of an airport after having been to visit our sister schools in Qatar.
I am positively cringing with embarrassment as I recall an incident in my youth that I was wholly responsible for.
I have also just bumped into a parent who said very nice things about the newsletter pieces I write. I don’t feel like I deserve such praise, and especially not right now.
As a young man (around 11-12) I took part in a bullying campaign against another boy. His name was Mark, his “sin” was being uncommonly tall and skinny for his age.
I think it went on for about a year. Myself and a group of my friends must have made his life truly miserable. I recall now, and am ashamed, the day his distraught mother came to my house and talked to my mum. She was in the kitchen and was in tears. So was my mother.
I was raised very traditionally and I had done something awful to cause this. It was seeing his mum and my mum that made me realize it. Not, at that time, what I had done to Mark.
We (my friends and I) had simply dehumanized Mark. We didn’t think about him at all to be frank. We simply used him as an object of sport and bonding between ourselves.
Boys tend to do this. They rarely (though it does happen) plan their bullying.
Girls tend to plan and isolate and engage in more exclusion type bullying. “You’re not our friend” or inviting everyone but one girl in the class to a party or event. They are cleverer about the process and just as mean as the boys.
These are generalizations of course and each case is individual.
How does a school in today’s world combat this without turning our children into young people who are incapable of handling conflict or disagreement?
This is the only question I ever agree to talk about in conferences.
It is, oddly, all about the culture of the school and all about taking real time, and real work, to address each case.
I would never, ever, blame the victim. But sometimes working with them to address issues can help.
Let me try to give an example;
The culture of a school is created every single day. It is built by the people in it afresh and needs constant attention. It needs the teachers to address small matters before they become habits. It needs the Principal to smile at and talk to students. It needs Mrs. Lamb to be present, likeable but somewhat stern. It needs Mr. Cullinan to talk to the older students like people and not just numbers. And it needs every single member of our community to be part of something bigger than themselves.
Children are not perfect.
So when they make mistakes, when they become bullies, the school works with them to stop the behaviors swiftly and efficiently.
Educating them, talking in groups, talking individually, talking with parents. Showing them what they are doing, naming it as bullying, talking about how it effects the whole class and the whole school.
This takes time. Most children do not want to be called a bully and when this happens most will not want that label. Even if they are doing it on purpose they will not want to be seen in that light by a teacher they respect. Punishment is very rarely the long term answer. If we have got to that stage it is likely that the parents are supporting the bullying behavior and the only option will be to ask the student to leave. This is very rare but again does happen.
Equally, and somewhat controversially amongst my more PC colleagues, I strongly advocate working with the victim. I stress again, not to blame them. As a parent of five I know that some children are naturally more gifted in dealing with social situations than others. They will be popular, have lots of friends etc. They will be invited to play dates and parties. For others the rare invitation to a play date is like the sun breaking through a cloudy sky. It means the world to them. One cannot blame the rest of the world for this, though at times I am tempted. One can though work with children to equip them with social skills that they might lack.
This is controversial and I am often beset by (particularly young, childless) teachers who suggest that I am excusing the bullies. I am not.
Not for one second do I forgive my behavior with Mark. Not ever.
But…Had Mark been better equipped to deal with the situation, perhaps by making a joke of his own height, by joining in with “us” and becoming “one of the lads” he wouldn’t have undergone such an awful year at the hand of a bunch of unthinking stupid boys. His life would have been better.
I am not interested in the theory of dealing with bullying that is produced in some ivory tower or university. I am only interested in what makes school life better and safer for young people. It is, at least in part, my personal way of saying sorry to Mark.