Implement crisis management

Schools need a structure to intervene immediately if bullying is taking place -and intervene as soon as possible, like the referee during a football game, instead of hoping it will resolve itself. This reinforces the school's policy that bullying will not be condoned and that constructive action will follow. Students can then trust the school to support them and can report without fear. As one counsellor said, 'It's important for kids to know that they will be heard and supported, so if you go to Mr Fisher, it stops.'

• Schools need a variety of intervention methods at their disposal, to select what is appropriate at the time to deal with the bullying.

• There are at least two parties to the bullying game, and everyone needs to know that they will be given a fair go.

• Children sabotage if threatened. The goal is respectful resolution, not blaming and shaming.

• Beware of interventions that wrongly empower or disempower. This can happen in mediation if a teacher forces a terrified target to confront the bully or bullies and resolve their conflict without empowering the target with assertive communication skills or providing consequences for the non-empathic bullies. The bully can thus overpower the target once again.

• Non-punitive or restorative practices should replace punitive or retributive ones where possible.

• Confidentiality must be maintained.

• Beware of parents who seek revenge! This role model is unacceptable.

• Clearly, it is inappropriate to gather a huge cast when a simple chat between two 'friends' may suffice, or when an external referral is warranted.

• Training programmes will reduce bullying incidents as children develop mediation skills to resolve incidents themselves.

Methods for managing bullying incidents

Schools can be very busy, stressful places. Any teacher can be confronted at any time by a target in the middle of the corridor or in the playground. They need to identify an appropriate method to use at the time.

The simple approach

The teacher or student approaches the target or bully and finds out what is going on, e.g.'I've heard thatJulie has been saying mean things about you. How do you feel about that?', 'You have changed lately. What's wrong?', 'Why have you been away so much?', 'I've just seen you do/say something that's against our school rules. If you don't stop, you know the consequences.'

In most cases a warning should suffice. However, if the bullying continues, follow school policy.Schools may require a combined approach of peer mediation, conflict resolution and/or sanctions depending on the whole story.

Peer mediation

This involves older students being trained to intervene in the schoolyard or elsewhere. They can be easily identified by a cap or a vest. This method is useful when targets have the confidence to report and the mediator has the school to support them in following up difficult incidents.

The method of shared concern

This problem-solving approach is designed to encourage students to co-exist and take responsibility for their own behaviours rather than identify targets and perpetrators. The mediator gathers information from staff first, then meets each student individually and encourages each bully to show concern for their target. The bully is then asked for constructive suggestions about how she can help the target. This is followed by a meeting with the target to explore her role in the bullying game. Finally, the mediator conducts a meeting with the class orthe year concerned to build their social conscience and maintain improvements.

The no-blame approach

The teacher or counsellor acts as a mediator, interviewing the target first, then meeting the bully, her group, and others who could exert a positive influence,to relay the target's distress. They usually meet without the target. The students are not blamed, but are encouraged to become supportive and demonstrate responsibility for helping the target. The teacher follows up with the target and the group after a few weeks.

Restorative practices

This method is democratic, respectful and empathic. All parties involved are brought together,in small or larger groups,including targets,bullies,onlookers, staff and parents. A trained facilitator using a precise procedure conducts the session. Each person gives her side of the story and describes the impact on her. Then the facilitator structures the session to help participants resolve differences, repair harm and restore relationships. The focus is on developing empathy, dealing with conflict, teaching responsibility, making amends and negotiating solutions. The school system is also investigated and made accountable. An agreement or contract is made, and its progress is reviewed later on.

As this procedure can be difficult and time-consuming to implement, schools can also use a restoration philosophy, creating a structure whereby the target and the bully both express their feelings, and are then required to resolve their differences and create a fair resolution.

Legal action

Unfortunately, in a litigious society some parents sue and schools retaliate. It is a winning game for lawyers; everyone else loses, especially the child. Ideally, schools should resort to restorative practices or mediation to resolve a legal dispute respectfully. Most schools can't offer bully-free environments and comprehensive anti-bullying programmes, but nevertheless they must follow their own policies. If expert opinion is required, it can't be based only on the school's limitations in this area, as reflected by its policies and programmes, but also on whether or not it treated the child and her family reasonably and fairly in the circumstances.

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