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13 Oct 2010 14:21
Bullying happens to a greater or lesser degree in every school everywhere. In your senior management position, you could be dealing directly with bullying incidents on a regular basis.
As a member of the senior management team (SMT) you are intimately involved with and responsible for helping to create a harmonious working environment.
Bullied teachers are often absent from school. They can become mentally and physically ill. Bullied teachers can become ineffective in the classroom and make school a miserable experience for their unfortunate learners. Such teachers could leave the profession or go to a school where they know that bullying is dealt with decisively.
Attempts at bullying can happen to you, too. Think of the angry teacher who is unhappy with decisions taken by you or the school. They try to bully the SMT by threatening legal action or reporting them to education department officials.
Then there might be a groupie of teachers who sabotage SMT initiatives or improvement plans.
D Riley, in “Investigation of Staff Bullying in Australian Schools: Executive Summary”, writes: “Staff bullying relates to situations where an adult is either the perpetrator or target of bullying. Bullying has been defined as ‘repeated and persistent negative acts towards one or more individual(s) which involve a persistent power imbalance and create a hostile work environment’.”
Research has identified different ways in which teachers can be bullied. A sample of the types of bullying is shown in a study conducted among staff in Australian schools.
The top 10 types of bullying in descending order of frequency (the percentage in the brackets indicate how many teachers personally experienced a particular type of bullying) were:
In Britain, the types of bullying are not dissimilar. In South Africa, I’m unaware of any major research done on staffroom bullying but the types of bullying found in Australian and British schools will be found in ours, too. I add these five types of bullying:
Regulation bullying occurs when people are forced to comply blindly with rules and regulations even though there are often better ways of doing things. An example is when a teacher is forced to discipline a child who breaks a school rule in a specific way because of regulations. The teacher is denied the right to use professional discretion.
Legal bullying happens when threats are made about what will be done to a person who doesn’t comply with the demands of the bully. This type of bully is often in a senior management position. The bully threatens legal action such as being charged, a commission of inquiry or being given a written warning.
How quality schools cope
Quality schools work hard at creating a happy, productive organisational climate. The children enjoy school and the staff work well together. Any visitor can pick up the good vibes as they walk through the school gates.
Ordinary and poor-quality schools are often characterised by an inability to deal assertively with bullying. Sadly, these schools create an atmosphere that allows bullying to rumble under the surface and eventually explode.
Eight ideas to deal with this are:
Rod Smith, a family therapist who lives in the United States, talks of the “free passage” that we’re all entitled to, a life that is bully-free. Smith gives wise advice in this article:
Free passage ...
“Every person deserves free passage—the right to be unhindered in their daily life. To be free of bullying of all kinds, free of abusive behaviours, free of intimidation, manipulation and domination—to live as victim to none.
“If this is not your experience, it is time to muster the courage to do something about it. It is time to speak up. Begin small: choose a few selected and trusted friends and tell them the truth. Ask them to listen without offering advice, without attempting to rewrite or reframe your experience. Essential to finding freedom, to finding your voice, to gaining the self-respect required to escape the destructive web that comes with toxic relationships is the willingness to articulate your experience and name it as accurately as possible.
“Once named, the trap is easier to identify and an escape plan is easier to devise. While there is no one-plan-fits-all to rise above unhealthy patterns in relationships, silence is never the answer.
“Speak up. It’s the first step to freedom.”
The article highlights the first of the three crucial principles according to Harvey S Firestone (The Mercury, June 17 2010) on how to deal with a bully. His three principles are:
Further tips on how to deal with a bully are:
Should the situation be unresolved, some form of staff movement might be needed. It’s a challenge to the SMT to get behaviour modification from the bully. Alternatively, the bully doesn’t belong in the staffroom and needs to leave the school.
Sadly, when senior management is unable to deal with such a bully or is the source itself of the bullying, the innocent (bullied) person has tough choices: to live with the situation, go to another school or leave the profession.
Teaching is an exhilarating but exhausting profession. In 2010 it’s a profession in the midst of crisis. There aren’t enough teachers to meet the needs of the country. We need to ensure that we don’t lose our quality teachers. If we create happy, bully-free staffrooms, we can do much to keep them at the chalk face or whiteboard.
This is an edited version of a paper presented to the Naptosa Principals’ Conference in August in Gauteng. Richard Hayward is a former principal of two Gauteng state schools. Currently, he gives leadership and management workshops within the Quality in Education unit of SAQI (the South African Quality Institute). Presentations are done across the country. Poor schools are sponsored. For more information, please contact Vanessa du Toit (012 349 5006; email@example.com) or Richard Hayward (011 888 3262; firstname.lastname@example.org)
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