School Wide Approach to Bullying/Mistreatment
The fundamental purpose of school is learning. Our entire school staff was responsible for the learning of all the students including those who challenged, misbehaved and generally did or said things that we would rather they didn’t. They are all our students, not just the compliant or high achieving ones. This was a contentious position to articulate to parents whose child may have been hurt by one of our challenging students, or mistreated by a peer.
When our own child is hurt we display an emotional response. We want to help the child feel better and not carry fear or anxiety about a future situation. Parents of these children often want some punitive consequence for the culprit that gives a strong message that bullying/mistreatment will not be tolerated. My experience has been that most parents want something done, although not a significantly punitive response.
My approach has always been to act in a way that reduces the likelihood of a repeat occurrence and teaches all the children involved the skills they need to solve problems in socially acceptable ways. We generally handled these situations with a combination of Collaborative Problem Solving® (as developed by Ross Greene and Stuart Ablon) and elements of Restorative Justice Practices embedded in the discussions with the kids. We approached it in a way that told the kids certain behaviours were unacceptable to us or “we do not behave this way at Palermo.” Our approach also made clear that we had a responsibility to teach all the students involved the skills they needed to behave responsibly without mistreatment/bullying of others.
Parents and teachers close to the problem often see mistreatment problems from a conventional perspective: the kids chose to act badly so some sort of consequence should be imposed to “teach them a lesson.” Sometimes what is referred to as a “natural consequence,” such as running out of time to play at recess because of excessive arguing about the rules, results from children’s challenging behaviours. At other times parents and teachers may impose a consequence such as staying in at recess or after school or missing a club meeting or team practice because of some inappropriate behaviour. Green and Ablon’s research into Collaborative Problem Solving® tells us that arbitrary consequences imposed by adults don’t teach the kids the complex cognitive skills they need to reduce the episodes of challenging behaviour. These consequences may make adults feel good that they are “teaching the kids a lesson.” What they are actually teaching the child is that adults are bigger and stronger and can impose their will. That’s probably not what is intended, as teachers and parents have their children’s best interests at heart.
Consequences do teach very basic lessons to younger children. Consequence can teach younger children that they should not bite, hit, run across the street or scream. Consequences do not teach skills necessary for problem solving, self-regulation, frustration tolerance or cognitive flexibility.
At Palermo School we used CPS Plan B conversations with kids to determine problems, identify concerns and then determine mutually satisfactory solutions. Restorative Justice focused questions were used to make the situation right for those who were harmed and bring closure to the situation.