Building A Bullying-Free Classroom
Children will be children and arguments will always happen amongst pupils, but bullying is a longer-term problem and as many as 70% of children report seeing bullying at school. Being a victim or a witness to bullying can affect children’s mental health – and let’s not forget that the perpetrator can be victim too, when you consider the social, economic and environmental factors that might lead a child to lash out in this way.
Knowing how to tackle each situation is different, but there are a few ways you can foster an environment where bullying cannot begin. The environment you create as teachers in the classroom can have an impact on the confidence and resilience of the pupils in your care, helping them to help themselves at the same time as providing support when things get trickier than they can handle. Creating a place where trust and communication are key forces bullying out into the open, where it can be discussed and addressed, and the root causes on both sides can be examined.
We’ve put together a few tips to help you when working towards a supportive and open approach to bullying.
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Talk About It
Bullying happens when communication doesn’t. Bullies can often feel ignored and unimportant, or powerless to change their lives, and seek to gain attention, control or power through reducing that of others. Victims, on the other hand, may not understand that they are being bullied, or what to do if they are aware. Children who witness this behaviour may normalise bullying behaviour, or experience anxiety that it could happen to them. Bullying really is a rot that thrives in the dark, so the best way to stop it is to bring it into the light.
Talking to your classes during PSHE, carpet time or circle time is a great way to start, and you can make sure that your students know where the boundaries of behaviour lie. The line between a falling-out and bullying can be unclear to students, and helping them know the difference is key in empowering them to know when someone’s behaviour towards them is unacceptable. Drawing this line, naming the behaviour for what it is and giving children key phrases and knowledge to draw on can set boundaries for children and help them to know what’s OK and what is not.
See It, Say It, Sort It
Equip children with the knowledge they need to protect themselves from bullying if it occurs. Make the reporting procedure clear – in your school, who should they tell? What should they say they think is happening, and how will they be protected from any repercussions? Make the difference between reporting and ‘telling tales’ really clear. Make sure children know that telling is the right thing to do, and this applies if the bullying is happening to them, and also if it is happening to someone they know.
Role-modelling is helpful here too. Older children from the school could deliver a talk to younger ones – allowing them to learn from their peers, and explore bullying from an older angle too. Books, films and stories can be extremely powerful, too. This title from BookLife Publishing mixes fiction and non-fiction to tell a story of a child who was bullied, and how it was dealt with. Using books like this for class reading allows the teacher to identify bullying, and discuss the character’s approach – and they get to see a happy ending too. The friendly scrapbook style makes the title accessible and the approachable tone allows the children in your class to identify with the situation.
Cyberbullying might feel harder to tackle. You can’t see it in the classroom – but you can see its effects. Children are getting online at a younger and younger age, or may have older siblings at home who can access things they can’t, and aren’t always the best gatekeepers for the younger ones. Looking out for children becoming withdrawn or ostracised from the others without any obvious cause could be a sign of cyberbullying taking place. Cyberbullying can be worse than ‘traditional’ bullying as it doesn’t stop when the school day ends, and it can feel as if there is no escape. Make sure that you are referring to the online environment too, every time you talk about bullying – even if you think your KS1 class is too young, instilling a sense of what’s OK can only be a positive and empowering thing. Posters in your computer corner can act as a visual reminder too.
Call In Backup
It takes a village to raise a child – and it takes a team to educate one! Know who your A-Team are when it comes to bullying and it’s effects. Involve sympathetic parents if you can, lean on other teachers who might have proven strategies or have seen this all before, and know who you can call. If your school has a counsellor or pupil liaison, make sure the pupils know how to access that service and that it is there to help. There are external agencies such as the NSPCC and Childline who have lots of information for you, the parents and the children involved. Building a tool kit of books, strategies and people will have you armed and ready to fight bullying wherever it arises.
Bullying UK holds an annual anti-bullying week each year so keep an eye out for it and join in the anti-bullying movement.