MindMatters Panel | Spotlight on Bullying

Marc Fennell:
G’day, my name is Marc Fennell and welcome to the MindMatters spotlight on Bullying.
Now, bullying in schools; it is just one of those issues that never, ever seems to go
away but we are going to take a crack at it today. With me are Adjunct Professor Ken Rigby
from the University of South Australia, we’ve got Sandra Craig from the National Centre
Against Bullying, Susan McLean from Cyber Safety Solutions and Lyn O’Grady from the
Australian Psychological Society. Before we start, I just want a show of hands; who here
was bullied in school? Right, okay. So, with that Susan, is it not just a part of everyday
life that everybody has had to put up with? If you had somebody in front of you that thought
that way, what would you say to them? Susan McLean:
That bullying is not an acceptable part of growing up. That no matter what anyone says,
words do hurt; they stay with you forever. And I think that it’s not part of adolescence,
it’s not part of school life, it doesn’t make you tougher or better or smarter or more
resilient because you’ve been bullied. It is a form of abuse and we need to take it
seriously. Marc Fennell:
So, do you think we need to change the way we think about bullying, as an industry? Susan McLean:
I think we’ve got to be very careful with term because often when you talk to adults
about bullying, immediately they do, “It’s a kid thing. I was bullied when I was a kid
and look at me now; I’m big and tough.” And we also need to make sure that we don’t
lump everything into bullying because there are a lot of behaviours that are mean and
nasty and disrespectful but they’re not bullying. So, making sure that we use the
terminology correctly because otherwise we dilute the seriousness of it. Marc Fennell:
So then Lyn, how do you break down the definition of what bullying is then? Lyn O’Grady:
We can talk about three different areas, really. So, we can talk about overt bullying which
is the physical, obvious bullying that we’re, perhaps, all very aware of and you can see.
Then there’s the covert bullying which is the much more hidden, so much harder to actually
identify and much more subtle, so the sneakier kind of bullying. And it can be exclusion,
it can be isolating, it can be rumours, whispering; just hard to pin down so it can be really
difficult to tackle. And then, of course, more recently with the advent of technology
we’ve got cyberbullying and that brings a whole lot of other areas of concern, as
well. And again, it can be online using technology, so the same sorts of behaviours and attitudes
but using technology to do that. Marc Fennell:
Is there one overarching strategy that you can take to tackle bullying? Imagine you’re
sitting in front of a room full of teachers right now and that’s who you’re talking
to. Is there one starting point that they should have? Lyn O’Grady:
I think the building of relationships within schools has to be really a conscious effort
and I think it has to be built into policies, it has to be built into practices, it has
to be built into protocols that teachers agree to following. And you then have people modelling
for young people the sorts of behaviours that they want to get back. Ken Rigby:
I think one of the things that – again, is coming out of a recent study – is that the
use of circle time, meetings which students can actually sit around with a teacher and
talk about the things that really concern them, and very often bullying comes up. That
kind of exercise, meeting of that kind, are very welcome to students; students say there
should be more of them. And they tend to happen in primary school but not secondary; I think
it should happen more at secondary. And it improves relationships, it gets people to
see that they’re very often all in the same boat and they should be helping each other.
It’s not a situation we should try to solve the bullying problem, but you’re improving
relationships; relationships not only between the students but also with the staff, with
the teacher, and making it possible for people to come together and to use the kind of strategies
that you’ve mentioned. But it’s a very important preliminary step, I think, a preventive
step, that I think there should be more of it. Marc Fennell:
What about when something does go wrong? When bullying has occurred? Lyn O’Grady:
There’s a lot of different efforts, I suppose, that schools have been going to for a long
time around this and some of them don’t work very well at all but others do. So it’s,
I think for a school to work out what is it that we need to put in place, well before
the incident happens. And there are approaches, whether it’s restorative practices or method
of shared concern. So, there are particular approaches that require investment in training
and resourcing teachers so that you’ve got some understandings, you’ve got people who
are well trained and well equipped to do that. So, it’s not necessarily something you do
at the time, it’s something that, again, is part of that whole planning, part of policies,
part of work with families and with students to know that will happen. Susan McLean:
And it’s not ‘one size fits all’. Marc Fennell:
No. Lyn O’Grady:
No, no. Susan McLean:
Because what works here, does not always work there. So, you’ve got to be aware of what’s
going to work best for you and you might have to change; this particular situation might
not actually work. Ken Rigby:
Look, I agree very much that it’s necessary to deal with different kinds of bullying in
different sorts of ways. There’s no one way of dealing with bullying because there
can be very serious bullying which people have been violently assaulted and in cases
like that it’s entirely reasonable to use some kind of sanction, indeed you must if
it’s of a criminal nature. The other extreme, there are certain non-punitive methods which
work extremely well. Marc Fennell:
Like what? Ken Rigby:
Well, there’s shared concern. This is a method that begins when someone or a group
of people are suspected of having upset somebody; suspected. There’s no charge, there’s
no accusation. They’re invited one by one to talk about the plight of the child that
is having a bad time. And rather than accuse these individuals, you say, “Well, I’d
like to talk with you about what’s happening and how this person can be helped because
he’s really in a bad way.” And very often in a one-to-one situation with the right sort
of approach, you can get the suspected bully to come forward with some sensible suggestion. Marc Fennell:
What about the bullying that we can’t see? Susan McLean:
So, I think if in the school environment if you’re dealing with an issue of cyberbullying,
and every school has it. There is not a school in the world that does not have this going
on currently, to date, right now. But it’s not so much reading the piece of paper that
where ‘Mary’s called Sally a fat cow’, it’s not so much that because that would
normally manifest itself at school by a changing social cohesion in the class. You know, previous
friends are not friends any more, you’ll see isolation happening. So through that,
then when you have your conversation you can then find it was because, “I was excluded
last night online” or “Someone sent a nasty text message” or things like that. Marc Fennell:
Does technology itself play a role? Are there ways that the school can employ websites,
apps, something technical that can go some way to fixing cyberbullying or is it really
about culture and imbuing that sense of value and respect? Susan McLean:
I think that cyberbullying is not about the technology, it’s not a social media site’s
fault, it’s not an app or a device’s fault; it’s the person pressing the buttons. So,
it actually – it’s absolutely a thing where the person is in control. The technology is
the conduit; it’s allowing it to happen. Marc Fennell:
Susan, this is what you do; you work with schools and you work with families. What are
some great examples that you’ve seen where schools have managed that dynamic really well? Susan McLean:
Ultimately, parents want the best for their children. It doesn’t always come across
that way. It’s a very sensitive and emotive issue, so it’s about remaining calm. And
as Sandra said, the processes; knowing them. “If you come and tell me this, this is what
you can expect of me. Remember, you read it at the start of the year when you read our
policy manual.” So, you’re not winging it, you’re not doing it on the fly. Like
anything, if you lay the foundations you are going to reap the rewards. Marc Fennell:
Ken, I want to talk to you about families. What are really great examples of schools
using that relationship with families to get a positive result that you’d like to see
more of? Ken Rigby:
We’re finding that about a third of parents in a recent survey said they didn’t know
whether the school had a policy or not. Certainly, making sure that every parent knows what it
is, and that’s important. And the other thing too, of course, is being able to respond
to parents, parents know that the school is taking this seriously and they want input
from the parents. If your child is being bullied then, of course, the will parents feel very
strongly that he or she has a right to go to the school and to get things fixed. It’s
interesting, as far as cyberbullying is concerned, because I think there’s been quite a big
change recently. At one stage schools were saying, “It’s out there, it’s nothing
to do with us.” Lyn O’Grady:
I think it’s really challenging and it will depend on different schools and different
– there are cultural aspects to this, there are different ways that communities and schools
will operate within that. I think that the whole school approach to really helping staff
recognise that parents continue to play a really active role in the lives of young people,
so I think there’s still some confusion around that. But at the same time, we do need
to empower young people and we do need to help them to be able to make some of their
own decisions, make their decisions about at what point do they need to seek help. Sandra Craig:
We need to ensure that they’re welcomed in the school and that they’re part of the
relationship culture, and that’s also part of bringing them on board. Marc Fennell:
If there was one last thought you could leave teachers with – assume that they’re about
to run off to a class right now – one last thought that you could give them? Something
practical, something that they could do today. You will all get to answer this but we’ll
start with you, Lyn. Lyn O’Grady:
I think listening to students and being curious about what’s going on with them, so relationships.
But really listening and believing what they’re saying. Marc Fennell:
You got in with the relationships first; you’re giving them nothing else to go on here. Sandra,
what’s your one? Ken Rigby:
Well, I’d extend it beyond that and say, I think we all agree connections with parents
because parents care. I mean, they do actually care enormously compared with, sometimes,
teachers. They’re concerned about their own child and then – well, a lot about their
child – and they do deserve, I think, to be listened to perhaps much more than is the
case. So, better connections with parents, I think is very important, as well as better
connections with students themselves. Marc Fennell:
That’s Ken. Sandra? Sandra Craig:
That was what I was going to say. No. It’s really important – Marc Fennell:
A likely story. Sandra Craig:
It’s very, very important for teachers and parents both, to recognise the signs of the
bullying in their student or their child and to know what to do. Marc Fennell:
And Susan, the final word to you. Susan McLean:
Have policy in place, review it, make it well known and use it. Policy alone solves nothing
unless it’s actively used. And understand that these are real issues for the children
in your care and everyone has a role to play. Marc Fennell:
Thank you all so much for talking to us. Really appreciate your time and your expertise. There
is tons of resources on this website; click around, there’ll be links. And thank you
for watching.