Train students staff and parents

The school that is serious about reducing bullying needs to develop ongoing training programmes for students, staff, principal, school board and parents. Although some schools prefer to use their own staff to save funds and reduce publicity, it is wiser to use a regular combination of school-based staff and external experts for training.

School-based training professionals:

• need to research bullying and attend regular external training programmes

• provide training in empathy, communication and assertiveness skills, social skills, crisis-intervention strategies, understanding violence and human rights

• demonstrate to students, staff and parents how to follow school procedures and intervene when they witness bullying, and

• make sure that the whole school takes the anti-bullying message seriously.

External consultants:

• need to be bullying experts from the fields of psychology and social work, educational organisations, university departments and child/adolescent guidance clinics, and

• provide the knowledge and skills that would take the average teacher or counsellor years to accumulate, simplify and incorporate effectively into their work.

Schools can create a broader perspective by inviting other specialists, e.g. lawyers, police, human rights speakers and drama groups - parents, staff and students pay more attention to experts who are explicit, confronting, and deliver a strong message using their professional presentation skills.

SOME TRAINING PARTICULARS 1. For students

• All students need to understand what bullying involves, their school's role, the target's and the bully's perspective, and their role as the peer group.

• All students benefit from learning how to support, show empathy, intervene and resolve conflicts.

• The majority of bullying incidents are witnessed by peers. When they intervene, they are successful 50 percent of the time.

• Students should show their displeasure and discomfort with bullying and disassociate themselves from it.

• They need to report the bullying without fear of being labelled, e.g. 'dobber', 'rat', 'tattletale', 'whistleblower', etc.

• When older students befriend or mentor younger ones - via buddy programmes, peer support groups, sibling support or peer counselling support - they can reduce or prevent bullying.

• Skills for students include self-esteem building, mediation, negotiation and conflict resolution skills, motivation, cooperative learning and problem-solving skills, stress management and anger resolution skills, empathy, assertiveness training and social skills.

• There are many learning styles e.g. poster or retort competitions, role play, educational dramas (conflict resolution, video recording, puppets, videos, films, audio visual interactive programmes, debates), board games, books, websites, martial-arts programmes.

2. For school staff

All staff, from the principal down, need to relay the anti-bullying message. They need to build a cohesive, responsible, safe school culture to provide a framework for programmes and policies so students can report without fear. Kids notice everything: staff need to be role models of respect and empathy, and not bully themselves. To do this, they need to explore any relevant issues from their past around bullying (at school or elsewhere).

They require training to understand, provide support and incorporate anti-bullying practices into the class, curriculum or other areas such as the school bus, camp, library, canteen and playground. They need procedures to help all children, such as obtaining the different perspectives of the bullying game, maintaining records, reporting any wrongdoing, and following all school guidelines. They require basic assertive communication and counselling skills to assist the target and confront the bully Staff need to:

• create a positive social climate and provide students with a sense of belonging, e.g. reward random acts of kindness, give prizes for respectful behaviours (such as in sport)

• foster activities which develop empathy, e.g. class discussion, circle time, circle of friends (for students at risk), focus groups, meetings, role-plays, games, worksheets and cooperative learning strategies

• develop classroom protocols, strategies, structures, rules, slogans and consistent reinforcement to reduce bullying, e.g. 'No put-downs', 'Be a mate - support your peers', 'DOB - don't obey bullies', 'Bullying is banned', 'Back off

• empower onlookers and peers to intervene appropriately

• structure the classroom so that bullies are under surveillance and targets are protected

• not ignore or say 'Do nothing or walk away', but protect vulnerable children and teach them how to protect themselves in future

• support children with limited social skills to join in school activities

• coach bullies and provocative students to relate with respect so that their behaviours don't boomerang back on them

• assist angry or scared parents while remaining firm, calm, empathic, neutral and respecting confidentiality

• refer the student for counselling within the school or externally if there is no improvement after three or four weeks, and

• discuss with the principal and parents if the child needs a new start at another school.

3. For parents

Bullying is a family concern. Schools that work systematically with parents will be more successful. Schools need to understand that although parents know their children better, they have their blind spots. They don't realise what their child is doing to be a target or bully, they can't acknowledge their child's limited social skills or emotional resources. They may deny their responsibility in assisting their children to alter their behaviours and acquire better social skills. Schools need to understand that parents can remain extremely angry long after their child stops being targeted and has made good friends. Parents and their children require validation. Schools need to educate parents of bullies that intervention can provide their child with the rights and skills to enjoy a normal life.

Schools need to:

• involve parents in the formulation of relevant policies and preventative programmes

• educate parents about bullying in all its forms, friendship skills, effective parenting and resilience-building in their children

• offer written material - books, handouts, contracts, seminars, newsletters, emails - and support and training, e.g. mobile phone/chat rules inform parents about bullying intervention procedures and protocols, including designated staff, maintaining contact and feedback (in person, by email, letter or phone), rules and consequences, and a timeframe for resolving difficulties

• organise parent-teacher meetings and make them more attractive via giveaways (e.g. chocolates or raffles) and services such as childcare or transport assistance; and maybe make them compulsory for unmotivated parents

• collaborate with parents who may otherwise sabotage the school's role and their children's needs

• involve parents at school via parent committees, playground supervision, mentoring, student presentations, joint projects and sports coaching, and

• refer children for internal or external assistance and, if all else fails, refer the child to another school.

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