Have consequences for breaking the rules

Schools need to specify the rules of conduct and provide a fixed and escalating series of consequences for students who interfere with designated behaviour boundaries and disobey the anti-bullying policy. To illustrate the importance of this, one of the perpetrators of the massacre at Columbine High, Colorado was a bully who was never charged over a date rape allegation; nor was he ever booked for parking his car in the wrong spot every day

• Don't drive bullies underground. Sanctions need to reflect inappropriate behaviours expressed in politically correct terms, e.g. 'uncaring behaviours', 'forgetting social manners', 'phone misuse'.

• Warn the offender several times, suggest better strategies, use deterrents (such as push-ups, cleaning toilets), refer to a social skills or an anger management programme, exclude from a school function.

• Consequences could become cumulative throughout the school, excluding offenders from future significant school social events, sporting programmes, etc.

• After two or three warnings, involve senior staff, parents and refer for individual and family therapy.

• Further offences require discipline, e.g. detentions, a public apology, suspension. Schools may need to expel bullies who don't improve with family therapy.

The following example is to encourage schools to share their successes and to find new methods. Don't just adopt the latest trend. Teachers working at the ground level can be very creative and innovative as they find simple ideas that work with their children. For instance, Paul McBride has been developing a small, simple incident and observation booklet that teachers can use in the yard and maintain as part of the school records.

A success story

Some time ago, Karen McDonald, a primary-school counsellor, sent me a copy of her policies and programmes. The rules are firm,fair and final, and the amount of bullying at her school has seriously decreased. Each year students watch a video about the anti-harassment rules. They discover that offences for bullying are cumulative throughout their school days, and that these offences can seriously affect their participation in future sporting and other major social events.

When a child feels offended, she can report the incident, which leads to either a documented offence or a 'confront'. The child has a choice: she can simply report it, which means the bully receives a long-term punishment; or she can ask for a 'confront' with the bully in Karen's office, which leads to a scripted meeting between the target, the bully and Karen. This provides the bully with an opportunity to avoid trouble (i.e. a documented offence, or 'write-up') and makes school comfortable for the target, and also turns the tables so the bully has to watch her step to avoid a write-up and the accompanying consequences. Karen says, 'I empower the target to speak to the bully to tell her how she feels and ask her to stop. Then I say, "You are very lucky: X decided not to report you. You need to thank X, promise her it will never happen again, and promise that this meeting is confidential. If one of your friends finds out, I'll report you myself." I make the target swear to report the bully if she breaks her word. The bully thanks the target, makes her promises,and they shake hands. I tell the target that I will review the situation to make sure the bully is keeping her word. This forces the bully to blame herself for any offences, and it works.'

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