Bullying: Prevention and Intervention at Toronto Waldorf School

Content

Overview
What is Bullying?
Responding when a situation arises:
    Parent's Response 
    Effective Intervention: The School’s Response
Parents and Teachers Working Together
Common Signs When a Child Is Being Bullied
Why Some Children Are Bullied
Why Some Children Bully

Overview

When people bring their children to Waldorf schools, many times they are drawn to the beautiful and harmonious classrooms. People feel safe in these rooms and comfortable to have their children spend their days in these spaces. In these beautiful surroundings, it is hard to imagine that bullying and aggression can happen.  

Yet it does because our children are human beings, and like the rest of humanity, they are learning to manage differences, handle conflict and power, come to terms with violence and aggression, and test their own human capacities.  

When a group of children get together to manage competing interests and personalities, it is inevitable, despite our best efforts to take preventative measures, that aggression will assert itself.  The question then is how do we successfully intervene when it happens?  

The goal of Toronto Waldorf School is to be proactive in building healthy human relationships and safe class communities that can provide a buffer against violence and aggression.  

When incidents do occur, we take immediate action to intervene effectively and transform the situation. Successful intervention transforms both individuals and group dynamics and inoculates the group against further aggression.  

Parents have an important role both in preventing aggression and bullying and in responding when a situation arises.  When parents and teachers work together on behalf of a healthy class dynamic, the children have the best opportunity to deal confidently with situations that emerge.

What is Bullying

Not all fighting, aggressiveness, teasing, name calling, etc. is bullying. In fact, much of it is not.  Sometimes children are in conflict with each other, sometimes they even fight physically, but it is not bullying. The essential quality of bullying is that there is a power imbalance between the aggressor(s) and the recipient(s) of the aggression.  One person can be physically larger or stronger than another.  They might have a larger vocabulary, or have superior verbal skills. They could be quicker, or more popular.  It could mean a group of people against an individual or smaller group. Bullying takes many shapes and forms, but it is always characterized by this imbalance of power.

Bullying many times doesn’t involve physical violence. It can be intimidation, verbal teasing, taunting, name calling, the destruction of another’s property, or telling untrue stories about another.  

Children who bully tend to focus their attention on those with a perceived weakness. There might be others who instigate the bullying, or who are in collusion with the aggressor.  Instigators are those people who get other people to do the dirty work of bullying. Colluders are those who are aware that the bullying is going on and are supportive of anaggressor’s actions. Many times people who bully do it in front of others in order to be seen as “powerful”. Those who are witnesses and do not do anything to stop the bully are called “bystanders”. We proactively combat bullying by empowering children to not be passive bystanders, but to intervene in bullying incidents or to report them to adults.

In bullying situations, we hold “colluders” and “instigators” as responsible for the bullying as the person doing the bullying.

Whatever form it takes, bullying is a destructive force that can cause physical, psychological and/or emotional harm to individuals and classes. It is incumbent on teachers and parents to work proactively to avoid bullying and to effectively address any incidents that arise in order to stop it. 

Responding when a situation arises

A Parent’s Response

Professionals tell us that 80% of bullying happens outside direct adult supervision. Because of this, it is important to build and maintain open pathways of communication with our children so that they feel free to come to us when something happens.  When a child does report an incident, it is important not to over-react.  This can startle a child and cause them to not tell of further incidents.  

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Listen to the story all the way through.  Ask questions if there are parts that you don’t understand. Try not to take sides or form opinions yet. Any emotional reactions will make it more difficult for a child to report anything else in the future. 
  • Assure the child you will help sort the problem out.
  • Contact the teacher involved, keeping an open mind as to what took place, and try to work through the situation in a spirit of co-operation. If the teacher is hearing about the incident for the first time from you, give them as many details as possible to help them with their investigation.
  • Above all, show the child a positive role model in demonstrating how adults can meet together and work things out in a friendly and open way. When adults come into conflict over these issues, it only adds to the child's fears.
  • If you feel for some reason that the teacher does not understand your concerns or is not taking the matter serious, contact the Chair of the faculty your child is in and share your concern.

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Effective Intervention: The School’s Response

Early intervention is the most successful and appropriate way to prevent bullying. When a situation comes to our attention, the response of the school is to:  

  1. Guarantee safety of the children  
  2. Investigate
  3. Report  
  4. Remediate  
  5. Follow-up

1. Guaranteeing the Safety of the Children

The first response of the adults who become aware of the situation is to make sure the children involved are safe.  Any child who has been hurt must be attended to and both the recipient of aggression and the aggressor must be kept under direct adult supervision until the teacher has determined what has happened.  The recipient and the aggressor are interviewed individually and are never in the same room together when interviewed.

2. Investigate

Once the children involved are safe, the school begins to investigate and pull together as many facts about the situation as possible. In the kindergarten , the teachers are usually told by children when something happens, or they see it directly. This makes the gathering of information more straightforward.

In the Lower School and High School, the situation can be more complex.

A teacher or the school counselor will talk with the children directly involved – the recipient(s) and the aggressor(s). If there is a discrepancy in their stories, the teacher and school counselor will turn to others in the area who might have seen the incident, e.g., adult supervisors, other children from the class, children from other grades, etc. Finally the “truth tellers” will be consulted.  Every class has children of high moral integrity who are not afraid to “tell the truth” about what is really going on, even if it means their friends get in trouble.

From these many reports of the incident, the teacher creates a scenario of what happened, and tells it to the aggressor and the recipient for their reaction. After this, the teacher, usually with the school counselor, creates a report of the incident.

An investigation should ideally be completed in one school day. In the rare instances where this is not possible, the teacher must inform the parents at the end of the day why the investigation is incomplete and when it will reasonably be completed.

3. Reporting

It is always the responsibility of the teacher to report an incident to the children’s parents.  This is usually done after the investigation, except when a child has been physically hurt.  In this instance, a preliminary report is made informing the parents of the child’s injury, the action the school has taken to provide for the child’s safety and the impending investigation.  

At the end of the investigation, the teacher will report the findings to the parents and the Chairperson of his/her faculty at the end of the school day. The report needs to include a strategy for the continued safety of the children while the situation is being remediated. The Chairperson will alert the other teachers of the class as well as those on outside duty. If parents have concerns after hearing the teacher’s report, they should contact the Chairperson.

4. Remediate

Depending on the situation, the teacher may or may not have developed a plan to remediate the situation. In the Early Childhood, the plan is worked out by the teacher with the parents. In the Lower School and High School the plan is worked out with the aggressor and sometimes the class or student body to remediate the situation. Teachers generally consult with parents as well.

The goal of remediation is to transform a situation in order to make it impossible for the bullying and aggression to continue. Ideally, we like to bring about the transformation of the social dynamics of individuals and groups.  Remediation is like medicine.  There are many different approaches depending on what the illness is. The common element in all remediation is that the perpetrator(s) of aggression take responsibility for what they have done. This means taking concrete steps to make the situation right. 

Restorative Justice

The High School follows a model of restorative Justice. The aim of restorative programs is to reintegrate those affected by wrongdoing back into the community as resilient and responsible members. Restorative justice is a form of conflict resolution and seeks to make it clear to the offender that the behaviour is not condoned, at the same time as being supportive and respectful of the individual. Conflict resolution programs have been found to give students important skills in reducing harmful behaviour in schools.

We all know that social relationships are important for regulating social life. Our friends and loved ones have tremendous power to influence us. This is a central tenet of the practice of restorative justice.

To achieve successful reintegration the process must first involve the presence and participation of a community of support for the offender and the victim. This community would be made up of the people who respect and care most about these two (or more) people.

This community of support meets with the offender(s) and victim(s) in a conflict resolution process. The five principles underpinning the conflict resolution process are that:

  1. bullying and being bullied are ways of behaving that can be changed;
  2. confronting wrongdoing, such as bullying, is confronting a person’s actions and should not involve the denigration of the whole person;
  3. the harm done by bullying to self and others must be acknowledged;
  4. it is essential that reparation must be made for the harm done;
  5. both bullies and victims are valued members of the school community whose supportive ties with others should be strengthened through participation in communities of support.

5. Follow Up

In the days and weeks following an incident, parents are eager to know if the steps the school has taken are working. Teachers should provide enough regular contact to reassure parents that their child is safe or taking the appropriate steps to change his or her behavior.

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Parents and Teachers Working Together

Tips on how to bring an incident or suspicion to your child’s teacher

1.     Report Early

Research shows that the best prevention for bullying is early intervention. It is most helpful for teachers to investigate and deal with issues that are current. While we recognize that some parents do not report some incidents right away because they think they are trivial, or don’t want to bother the teacher, or want to see if it continues before they ‘complain’, it is helpful to talk to your teacher early on and not let issues build up. Emotions tend to build up as well when we hold concerns, which can make them difficult to manage when a bigger incident comes along. One key to successfully managing bullying is for the adults to be able to manage their feelings in volatile circumstances.

2.     Suspend judgment

When your child brings up an incident of something that has happened, it is also helpful for your child’s teacher if parents can suspend their judgment on both the situation and the children involved.  This, admittedly, is hard at times. Writing down the facts, especially where and when the incident happened and who might have been there to see it is very helpful for the teacher’s investigation.

3.     Arrange for a time to hear back

When you speak to your child’s teacher, get an idea of when they plan to investigate, and when you might hear back about what they have found out.  If you have not heard from the teacher by the specified time, give him, or her, a call to see what progress has been made.

4.     Asking for More Help  

If, for some reason, you continue to have concerns after you have spoken with your child’s teacher, or after an investigation, please contact the Faculty Chairperson.  This person can act as a third party to help to clarify conversations and make sure investigations are thorough and remediation appropriate for a given situation.  When contacting a Faculty Chairperson, it is helpful to write down what you have heard from your child’s teacher and what your specific concerns are. The Chairperson will likely arrange to meet with you and your child’s teacher to sort the situation out. 

Common Signs When a Child is Being Bullied

Many children are embarrassed to tell an adult when they are being picked on, or are afraid it will make things worse. For this reason, it is important to know some of the common signs of how bullying effects children, and to speak with your child’s teacher if you have suspicions or concerns.   Here are some telltale signs to look out for:

  • Reluctance to go somewhere (where the bullying is happening) particularly school;
  • Very easily upset, crying easily;
  • Loss of confidence;
  • Change in sleep patterns and appetite;
  • Clinging to you at home or reluctance to go out into the playground at breaks;
  • Anxiety about games and sport;
  • Anxiety about school trips and other unstructured school time;
  • Reluctance to speak up or have their work shown to the whole class;
  • Sudden out of-character outbursts of temper or violence towards class-mates, siblings, parents and teachers;
  • Transference of teasing and bullying onto younger siblings.

If you notice these behaviours in your child, contact your child’s teacher and set up a meeting as soon as you can in order to share your observations. It does not necessarily mean your child is being bullied at school, but it is important information for your child’s teacher to have so they can help to discover potential causes for these behaviours.

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Why Some Children Are Bullied

Studies of bullying have determined that certain types of people tend to be the targets of bullying.  Some common factors included children who:

  • Have unusual names;
  • Are brighter or slower than others;
  • Are poor at games;
  • Have a physical defect;
  • Have a different accent;
  • Have unusual dress;
  • Have unusual habits;
  • Are of a different colour of skin;
  • Have a different appearance;
  • Would rather be bullied than ignored;
  • Have no place within the peer group;
  • Are a ‘Cyrpto Bully'. They get bullied in order to get the bully into trouble (In this case the‘victim’ is the bully.)
  • Gain sympathy from the group outside the bullying;
  • Accept the role.

Those who tease and bully want to get a response. They tend to provoke those who respond. Children who respond most dramatically are “fun” for the aggressors to provoke. Characteristics of these children are:

  • Sensitive;  
  • Highly strung;
  • Emotional;
  • Easily upset;
  • Have strong feelings.

 

Why Some Children Bully

Studies of why some people bully have identified some underlying factors.  Here is a short list of some attributes people who bully have in common:

  • Low self-esteem;
  • Feeling they are bad, undervalued;
  • Isolated;
  • Threatened and cover up by seeming to be powerful;
  • 'Best form of defense is attack';
  • Feeling small inside and covering up;
  • Learned, tolerated and accepted behaviour from home;
  • Deprived of warmth, attention and love;
  • Need to gain prestige amongst peers, boost self-esteem and confidence;
  • Aggressive behaviour in order to gain entry or raise status in the peer group;
  • Lack of distinction between leadership and dominance;
  • Encouraged by others who consider it "just a bit of fun";
  • Good verbal ability that is used in sarcasm and ridicule;
  • Lack of academic, artistic and social success.

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