I recently caught up with some school friends and we chatted about schools today and how different they are from when we went to school; my friends are all parents now, as am I, so it was interesting to exchange views on how we see schools and education, now that we have kids of school age. The one thing that was particularly obvious was that my friends are all nervous about the safety of their children, in particular when it comes to the use of social media and cybersafety.
The internet and social media didn’t exist when I went to school, so cybersafety wasn’t an issue. When I was at school, it you had an argument with someone it would play out in the schoolyard and then everyone would go home and it was normally forgotten by the next day. If this happened today, the argument would likely continue overnight, with others making comments on social media. By the next day, a simple argument might have escalated into something much more sinister, fuelled by online comments from third parties who have delighted in taking sides to stir things up.
Did we have to protect ourselves from adults back then? Yes. As we have seen from the recent Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, there has been and will likely always be a predatory element in society. It may have been more difficult in my day, as we were taught to respect our elders and never to question something an adult asked you to do. Today, children are more empowered to speak up and seek help if they need it, to question something if they feel uncomfortable. At our School we have designated Child Protection Officers; at Garnsey campus - Mrs Bullers, Mr Stephenson, Mrs Gladman and all members of the Executive.
What about bullying?
Is it more prevalent now than when I was at school? I remember witnessing some incredibly cruel and nasty incidents as a child, where certain individuals were routinely targeted for being different.
Bullying still exists today and it would be an untruth if I said it never happens at our school. It can be tricky to deal with in the social media age, however, I feel that, as education professionals, we are more equipped to deal with it and better at trying to find positive outcomes for all.
We have a restorative approach to managing bullying at Gippsland Grammar. This means that our goal in most circumstances is to attempt to restore the relationship between the bully and the victim: to help the bully to understand the impact of their behaviour and to try to assist them to develop empathy. This gives voice to the victim – and control. It doesn’t mean that there is no punishment and it doesn’t mean that people are not held to account. It means that we invest the time and effort into these events to ensure that they are less likely to happen again and that everyone learns from the situation.
The term bullying is used excessively in the media and throughout our society. It is very important that when we talk about bullying that we have a shared understanding of what it is.
What is bullying?
A person is bullied when they are intentionally exposed - regularly and over time - to negative or harmful actions by one or more people. Bullies are people who deliberately intimidate, exclude, threaten and/or hurt others repeatedly. Bullying is a clear form of harassment. It includes the use of electronic media or external networks.
Bullying is not …
An isolated dispute between friends, a shift in friendship groups or an isolated occurrence of misguided banter.
That doesn’t mean that we excuse one-off, misbehaviour just because it isn’t bullying. It simply helps us to be more accurate and clear with our use of the term.
For our students:
What to do if you feel that you are being bullied …
You should share your concerns with your parents and you should report the incident(s) to someone in the school community.
Identify an adult in the school community (a mentor) who you are comfortable sharing your concerns with.
Your mentor might be
- Your classroom teacher
- Your Mentor
- Your Head of Year
- Your Head of Campus
- Your sports coach
Your Mentor will
- Keep the matter confidential until you decide otherwise
- Meet with you as soon as possible
- Identify with you whether the behaviour constitutes bullying or not
- Ask you whether you have attempted to approach those who have caused you distress
- Discuss what to do next
Your Mentor, with your approval, may decide to
- Keep your discussions confidential and take no further action
- Meet with the person and yourself to hear both sides and discuss strategies to ensure that you are able to handle or avoid conflict in the future
- Participate in a restorative meeting
- Take some punitive action on behalf of the school to remove the student(s) temporarily or permanently from the school.
- Document your comments
If you are a witness or bystander (upstander) in a bullying incident you may decide to
- Report the incident and its details to a trusted staff member and your parents.
- Take time out to provide as much support as you are able to the person being bullied.
- At the very least walk away and take no part in further harassment.
Getting back to my conversation with my friends. I think that schools today - and our school in particular - are great places. They are not always perfect and things don’t always work out the way we would like, but we have learnt much from the past and we are doing a lot to equip our students, our teachers and our community with the skills to manage and learn from life’s challenges.