In our webinar on bullying and aggression, Dr Cara Swit explored how teachers can identify, prevent and address bullying and aggression, and talked about the common misconceptions that surround the issue of bullying. While the webinar was focused on issues of bullying and aggression in early childhood, many of the underlying principles and strategies for addressing and preventing bullying are applicable in primary and even secondary schools.
It is essential to start with a clear, commonly-held definition of bullying, and to be aware that aggression is not always bullying. Bullying behaviours are generally held to have four main characteristics: they cause harm, they are intentional (rather than accidental or impulsive), they are repeated, persistent and ongoing, and they are characterised by a real or perceived power imbalance (perhaps based on age, size, gender or social status). Any kind of behaviour can be bullying if it meets these four criteria. Aggression, on the other hand, may not be intentional, persistent or involve a power imbalance. It is important that teachers understand the distinction between bullying and aggression, because the label ‘bully’ is associated with negative stigma and can be very damaging, especially if incorrectly applied. Many students explore aggressive behaviours as a part of testing boundaries and determining what are acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. It is important to know students well and understand how they typically behave in order to be able to distinguish between isolated incidents of aggression and more intentional bullying behaviours.
Bullying can be prevented. Have a look at what proactive and collaborative strategies you already have in place to promote positive, prosocial and cooperative behaviours among students. Prevention is more powerful than intervention. Promote leadership while at the same time encouraging co-operative skills, and de-emphasise competition in the classroom, which may increase power imbalances between students.
Start by reflecting on your own behaviour. Students often look to teachers and peers, whether consciously or unconsciously, for guidance on how to behave, so be mindful of your own behaviours and what they may be communicating. Reflecting on your own behaviour can alert you to ways in which you may be modelling inappropriate behaviours, or communicating that some behaviours (such as social exclusion) are more acceptable than others (such as hitting).