This instalment of the article discusses ways the classroom can be made a more difficult place for children to bully others in, and other things that can have an impact on the amount of bullying in the class.
It tells the story of a psychology experiment that was done where conditions were engineered so intense hostility broke out between two groups of children, and then things were done that soon made them feel remarkably friendly towards each other. It gives a few suggestions for how friendships between antagonistic groups of children can be encouraged to develop at school.
Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the article contents and self-help article.
One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.
The task of the excellent teacher is to stimulate "apparently ordinary" people to unusual effort. The tough problem is not in identifying winners: it is in making winners out of ordinary people.
--K. Patricia Cross
When you teach your son, you teach your son's son.
The secret of teaching is to appear to have known all your life what you just learned this morning.
The only reason I always try to meet and know the parents better is because it helps me to forgive their children.
I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.
--Lily Tomlin as "Edith Ann"
The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called "truth."
In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day's work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.
This article is much longer than many on the Internet. It's written slightly differently to most articles. It begins with a very short story about someone finding out information to help her and some of her student teacher friends reduce bullying at the schools they end up teaching at, and the article's presented as if it's what she's found out. The character is fictitious - just a representative of others with the same problems, but the anecdotes she tells about things she's seen and heard have all genuinely happened to others.
If after browsing this article you'd like more detail on similar topics, try looking at the related articles on this website.
If there's anything about this article you'd like to comment on, Contact the author.
Go to the end of the article if you'd like to know the main sources used in creating it.
Before putting any ideas that you might pick up from this article into practice, please read the disclaimer at the bottom of the page.
A group of student teachers who've been doing teaching practice are talking together back at university one evening, and they all express concerns about not having been trained to deal with school bullying. They all say they've noticed a bullying problem in the schools where they've been teaching for the past week, and it's made them nervous, because there isn't any instruction on how to deal with it on their course.
They decide to try to find books on how schools can reduce and prevent bullying, so they can learn different techniques of handling it, in the hope that when they get to be teachers, they'll be able to tell teachers around them what they say, and get together groups of people who all want their schools to do more to tackle bullying, who might have good ideas about what might work to prevent it and deal with it that they can try to convince their schools to put into practise.
One of the students, Jackie, was bullied herself at school by girls who didn't dare bully her any more after she started physically fighting them. But she's still upset at the memories of her experiences.
She finds a book herself, and decides to read it and share what she learns with the other students. She looks through it over several weeks, thinking about what she'll say to them.
This book's meant to help with difficulties in primary schools. But I think quite a lot of what it says can be used or adapted for older children.
I'll show the other students on my course the book, and I'll say things like these:
The book says there are a lot of bullying situations we can prevent, if we observe for a while and work out what they are and then change the way things are done.
For instance, if there are always fights breaking out in the lunch queue because we tell the class to go and queue up and a bully always likes to push to the front, and other children push back and some end up getting hurt, we might stop it happening by asking them to queue up from then on in an order they'll think makes some kind of sense, such as with the children who sit in the front row of desks queuing up first, in the order they sit in, perhaps from right to left or vice versa; and then the children who sit in the desks behind them can line up in order, and so on. Then the bully will have a definite place in the queue, so they won't think of the queue as being like a free-for-all anymore.
The book suggests we think about certain questions to help us work out what's triggering off the bullying, in the hope it'll give us ideas on how to alter things in some way. Questions can include:
For instance, if one student enjoys picking on another one but doesn't pick on many others, and the two students sit together, they could be separated, by one being moved to a different seat from then on.
Sometimes, imaginative solutions could help. The book says trouble often happens when pupils are going from one place to another, or when they're between tasks, such as reading and spelling, and they're having to put books away and take others out and so on. One teacher brought some wind chimes into class, and whenever pupils had to change from doing one task to another, she'd brush her hand across the wind chimes and say they had till the wind chimes went quiet to get ready. They were all quiet because they wanted to hear them, getting quieter as the chimes got quieter.
We can pay attention to what goes on during the times when pupils are changing from doing one task to another, and if there are certain changes that cause more problems, we could try to work out what's going on at those times that leads to more problems than there are at other times. For instance, do children not have as much instruction about what to do at those times so they spend more time messing around instead of getting their new things out? Do the children play up more before lessons they don't like? If so, what could be done to make the children more enthusiastic? Do they play up more when they're more energetic from having played outside? If so, what could be done to calm them down in a way they'll hopefully take to before the lesson? Or are there other solutions? And so on.
Sometimes it might be difficult, though, to find out what's triggering off bad behaviour, without interviewing students involved, since we might be able to see fights breaking out but not have a clear idea of who said what to whom to start things off. Perhaps speaking to other teachers would be good, because they might have noticed particular pupils causing trouble in their classes who cause trouble in ours, so they might give us more idea of how it starts.
Sometimes though, if we can work out that there's a regular pattern in a bullying situation, such as if when certain children start arguing, one of them always ends up getting hit, we can make a point of separating them when such arguments start if we can. Or if a lot of bullying happens when the children first come in, before the classes start, we can ask them every day from then on to sit down at their desks as soon as they come in and give them some work to do immediately.
Some playgrounds are hives of bullying. If we try to campaign for good supervision in the playgrounds if there isn't any already, and we succeed, that will probably reduce the bullying there.
Having regular meetings with other teachers about what's working in their classrooms to reduce bullying and how they've been able to solve any new problems that have come up, or whether any of us have any new problems we'd like suggestions on solving, can help everyone.
When making rules about what will and won't be acceptable, it might be easier to remember and cause less quibbling between pupils and teachers about how worthwhile the rules are if there aren't that many of them. And it can perhaps give people a feeling of aspiring to something rather than being forbidden to do things if rules are framed in positive terms, such as, "Pupils will treat each other as if they deserve respect and dignity", rather than "do not" do this, and "Do not" do that. Discussions can be had with pupils about exactly what a rule means, for instance, name-calling and teasing isn't respectful. (We could maybe have some things like that in brackets under each rule).
And teachers can ask pupils for suggestions about what rules they think would be a good idea. It may be that if students have had some say in what the rules will be, they'll be more enthusiastic about sticking to them and making sure other pupils do, because they'll be proud of having helped to make them.
One important thing to bear in mind is that we need to be consistent in enforcing rules. If we allow one person to misbehave but tell someone else off for doing the same thing, or allow someone to get away with something sometimes but not at other times, pupils will get to expect to be able to get away with it, so they'll think it's not fair and protest when they don't. And if they think they can get away with it sometimes, they'll keep trying. If they never get away with it, they'll learn they can't so they're more likely to stop trying.
Rules might be difficult to enforce all the time, since we won't always see misbehaviour. But as often as we do, even if we find it amusing sometimes, it's best to always enforce the penalty we've decided will be appropriate for the rule breach. And it's best to have decided on the kinds of punishments the children will get very early on, rather than making things up as we go along, because children might be quick to complain that it's unfair if they think they're getting a harsher punishment than others got for the same offence.
It's important for teachers to always behave in a way that's as good as the way they expect students to behave in. If they shout at a pupil and say abusive things when it isn't really deserved, they can't really be surprised if pupils try to get away with doing that and protest that it's unfair if they get disciplined for it. A teacher won't be respected if they behave badly, especially if they expect higher standards from their pupils than they abide by themselves.
Also, if teachers say there will be a specific penalty for a certain rule breach, and then sometimes they don't enforce it, or give pupils some other punishment, pupils will start thinking the teacher doesn't really mean what they say, so they won't think it's so important to obey the teacher's rules. In fact, they might well start deliberately breaking them, experimenting to see how much they can get away with before the teacher does something. That's common behaviour.
As well as making sure our language is polite when we tell children off, it's best we don't make it sarcastic or unnecessarily critical or harsh. Children won't respect us if they think we're unfair or unpleasant, and more importantly, they won't get a clear message about what they've done and why it's wrong if we just hint by making sarcastic comments. If we expect them to talk to each other politely and with respect, we need to do the same with them, or they won't see why they should.
It's also important not to be vague in what we say. For them to get a clear message about what rule they've broken and why it's wrong, we need to explain it clearly. Just saying something like, "I expect everyone to behave in my classroom" isn't a clear message, because it doesn't explain what kind of behaviour we think of as good behaviour. Being specific about the kinds of behaviour we expect is better, such as saying we don't want any name-calling, or saying we want everyone to sit at their desks quietly and finish their work, and so on.
It's also best to be detailed. The clearer we are in what we say, the less room there will be for misunderstanding or children making excuses for not obeying us. So if we can, it's best to state clearly what we want, when we want it, and how we want them to carry it out. The book says that also, when we're talking to an aggressive child, we can sometimes have more influence if we take on an especially authoritative air, making eye contact, addressing them by name, standing fairly close to them, and waiting for them to show they've heard what we say before we go on to anything else.
It's also best not to expect that they'll want the same thing as us, for instance by saying, "I'm sure you want to behave better, don't you?" or "Don't you want to take a seat now?" If we ask things that call for replies, it's an opportunity for them to say no or argue with us. It's best to say exactly what we mean, such as, "I'd like you to take a seat now".
We can imagine how differently the children might respond to us if we're sarcastic or rude or patronising by imagining how different our own responses might be if someone else talked to us like that instead of speaking to us politely. Children aren't going to respond any better.
Also, some children won't be used to being treated with respect. People might often be rued to them at home. So they'll be rude to others because it's just what they've learned to do. They won't have a good role model to imitate and who can inspire them to want to behave better. We could be that person if we show them respect and give them encouragement when they're doing something good and when we know they can do better.
If they feel valuable, they're more likely to want to improve themselves than they will if they don't think much of themselves because they've been treated badly so they don't think they're worth anything much. If we can help them to feel optimistic that things can improve for them and that it's worth making an effort to improve their behaviour, there's more chance of it happening.
One way to help students feel valued is to give them some say in anything that goes on in the classroom they could have a hand in changing. Groups might even be arranged where the children talk about their concerns about bullying and decide on punishments together with teachers. If they think their concerns are being listened to with respect and they feel as if they're having some influence, they might be more likely to think their classroom's a place they can take pride in so it's a place worth behaving in.
The book says the authors interviewed quite a lot of school pupils, and many said that something that was important to them was feeling as if the teacher was taking notice of them personally. Many didn't feel they were getting the personal input from teachers they thought they needed. With teachers being so busy, it's difficult to give children as much individual attention as we'd like, but students can appreciate it when they feel recognised for who they are.
It might sometimes be good to have talks with the class about whether there's anything about the way they're treated in lessons they'd like to change. Some might come up with genuine complaints or suggestions we could do something about.
Trying to help students feel valued could work positively for us as well as them, because if they like us, they might well do what we want more and respect us more, which might make our jobs easier.
If a child's misbehaving, we could ask ourselves if we think interacting differently with them might help. For example, we might speak to them with an antagonistic tone of voice without realising we're doing it, but it provokes them. If so, we could try to change that. Also, sometimes, as well as disciplining them, taking an interest in their lives can make them feel less like being aggressive because they feel more nurtured.
But then, naturally it's best to give attention to everyone else as well, as far as possible, beyond a hello and a comment on the work they've handed in, because if some feel resentful that others are getting all the attention, they might feel like playing up as well. It seems it's fairly common that aggression among students can be reduced if they feel we're taking an interest in their personal lives, for instance if we ask them about their family members, and then regularly ask how they are and what they're doing. If pupils think we care, they'll feel more as if they're in a friendly community, so they'll have more goodwill towards us so they might feel less like being disruptive.
Thinking of bad reputations reminds me:When my brother was at school, he was very often late with his homework. He often got detention. One morning, he met a new teacher. The teacher asked his name, and when he told him, he could tell by the teacher's face that he was thinking, "Oh You're the one who never does his homework I've been hearing so much about in the staff room!!"
When new children come into our class, we'll probably hear all about them from other staff members. We'll hear about the naughty ones, and might be tempted to judge them as naughty right from the very start and treat them with less respect from the beginning, being quicker to penalise their bad behaviour than we are with others. If they pick up on that, they'll probably be resentful and might be all the more naughty, especially if they think we don't expect anything better from them so they don't think it's worth being better behaved. A better thing for us to do than just thinking of them as naughty is to ask ourselves questions about them and try and find out the answers. Questions like: Why are they behaving the way they are? What do they want to get out of it? Do they want to be looked up to? Are they after a bit of fun? Do they want attention? Or what? We could have conversations with them where we try to find out what they're trying to get out of their behaviour. It may be that we can suggest ways they could go about getting it that are better than the ones they're using.
We could also try to look out for any good points they have. Even if it's difficult to find them, if we can, and we encourage them to develop them, they might start gradually taking a pride in doing well and pleasing us, so their behaviour and work performance might improve.
When telling a bully off, it's best to do it in private. While we do need to stop them in public since the bullying might well be done in public, any more in-depth talks with them are best done in private. If we do it in front of other people, they might feel humiliated so they might be angry and tempted to commit more bad behaviour. Also, they'll want to save face in front of the others, especially if they think they might get laughed at by them; so instead of listening to what we say and being willing to have a serious discussion with us, they might be trying to think up smart remarks or doing things to demonstrate that they're too cool to listen to what we've got to say, or that kind of thing. If they're busy worrying about what their friends will be thinking of them or planning what to say to us to defend themselves, feeling under especial pressure to do that because of the people watching, they won't be really listening to what we've got to say to them. And if we're trying to talk through their bullying with them to try to persuade them to change, it'll be important that we get their full attention if we want them to take in what we say and to tell us things that might give us clues as to why they're doing what they're doing so we can discuss how they can get what they want in better ways with them, and that kind of thing.
So at the time we want them to stop their bullying behaviour, we might say something short like,
"Mark, stop that now. The rule is that we don't call people names or say horrible things to them. I'll see you in my office later about how we're going to handle this. For the moment, carry on eating your lunch."
Another thing is that when a bully's been reported for something and we're having a private chat with them, it'll be important that we don't reveal who reported it, or the bully might just go after them afterwards in revenge. But also, since if we confront them directly about the bullying they'll likely just deny it, we could take other approaches. If we come across as looking to the future and trying to find solutions so the child can get on better with the person they bullied and with others, they might co-operate more with us than they would if they thought we were just on a quest for justice. So to stop them immediately denying what they did on impulse, and to stop them thinking we're out to find out every detail of what they did so we can punish them to the fullest extent they deserve, we could perhaps sometimes say, in cases of minor bullying, something like:
"I've heard that there are people who feel as if you're bullying them. Now I don't know what's really going on here, and you probably didn't mean to hurt their feelings; maybe you just wanted a bit of fun? But let's work out a way you could be better friends in future. It's nice to be friends with people, isn't it. What do you think you could do?"
That might work better with some children than with others, and naturally it would be dangerous to try such a softly-softly approach with serious bullying. But with minor kinds, we don't have to talk about the bullying as if it's the most important concern; we can mention it briefly but place the emphasis on ways we can brainstorm together as to how they can get on better with people in future.
One thing we need to be aware of is that some children just will never have been taught the skills necessary to behave as we'd like them to. If they come from home backgrounds where their family members are always rude to each other, they just won't know any different. We can think of it as a teaching opportunity. If we're nice to them, they'll have someone new to learn from who behaves in a way that's different from the way they might be used to people around them behaving. They just might try to imitate it. And if we show them how we'd like them to behave and they try, their behaviour might improve.
The book says that often, when a child's aggressive, members of the school staff try to find out why by looking into their background. Perhaps they'll find a family in dispute living in a run-down area with a high crime rate. They think they've found the explanation. But while looking for an explanation's far better than just blaming the child, the trouble is that it often stops there, leaving all the staff pessimistic that things will ever change. Instead, they could try to provide a substitute family environment as far as possible, one where the students do get the training and encouragement they're missing at home. If we can teach them how society expects them to behave, instructing them, and disciplining them fairly where necessary, while at the same time looking for things they're good at and encouraging their talents, and showing we care by being willing to listen to any family or other problems they're willing to tell us about, showing a friendly interest in their lives outside school by asking them how people close to them are getting on and so on, we can try to provide the kind of environment they should be growing up in, so they'll at least have an example of good behaviour to follow and will hopefully be encouraged to do more of what we want, as well as being nurtured more than they would be otherwise, which will perhaps help them feel less resentful at the world and so less aggressive. And the fair discipline will hopefully teach them more acceptable behaviour as well.
I read an encouraging news article about a school that managed to reduce bullying. It said there's a school that a few years ago had a bad reputation for bullying, but then they got a new principal, who made several changes, and now children feel "safe, respected and ready to learn." It says just five years ago, it was a scary place to be. One student said people were "more afraid than willing to learn", and that there was a hostile atmosphere.
But the article says now, students think it's much better. The first thing the principal did was to define a set of values he wanted them all to stick to, such as treating each other nicely, and he got the teachers to explain the benefits and importance of them to the children. He also created a "defender's program" where children would defend children being bullied, not by attacking the bully, but by standing up to bullies, saying something like, "Hey, that's not cool what you're doing. Don't do that". Some former bullies think that if they're going to be disapproved of by other kids in the class so much, they don't want to bully anymore.
The school staff also give the students a confidential questionnaire three times a year that asks if there's bullying, where it happens, what behaviours the bullies are involved in, and who the students are who are involved. They ask where the bullying happens so they can increase supervision in those places.
The principal, vice principal and school counsellor go over the questionnaires and identify any bullies who are repeatedly named. The idea isn't to punish them, but to make them aware that their behaviour is considered bullying and to try to work out with them why they're bullying in the first place. The principal has a talk with them, tells them they're on the list and asks them how they feel about that. He discusses with them what their bullying's really all about. He says some bullies change after that. Some are surprised to appear on the list. But with some, more strategies have to be tried before they stop.
The principal said there's been a "dramatic decrease" in the number of bullies named on the questionnaires, and some of the ones who were named before have changed and become the biggest defenders of other students being bullied.
Some of the students with younger brothers and sisters who'd recently started at the school were interviewed and said they felt happy their brothers and sisters were coming to the school now it had changed so much, because they wouldn't have as many problems as they themselves had when they were younger, when the bullying problem was bad.
We might have come to think of certain kids as just bullies, and maybe certain other ones as victims. But if we look more closely, we might well find there are many times when a bully isn't bullying but actually doing things we approve of and would like them to do more of. Likewise, if we think some students are always being victimised because they just won't stand up for themselves, if we look more closely, we might find times when they show they can stand up for themselves sometimes. In both situations, it can help if we can make a special point of encouraging the behaviour we want, and maybe giving a few friendly suggestions now and then on how it could be improved even more. If we praise them for what they're doing right, we might find they enjoy being praised so it makes them want to do the good behaviour more, and also helps to make them feel valued so they think it's worth making the effort.
For instance, if we notice a child who used to always be losing his temper hasn't lost it half as much in the past week, perhaps we could say something with a smile like,
"I see you've found a way to control your temper. I've noticed you haven't lost your temper nearly as much this week as you used to."
They might be pleased their efforts have been noticed.
We could also ask them admiringly what they're doing to help themselves behave better. For instance, if we asked that of a boy who seemed to be making serious efforts to control his temper, he might say that every time he felt provoked, he'd started telling himself that what the people were saying to him really didn't matter; the insulting things were only a few people's opinions. He might also say he was counting to five before responding so he was a bit calmer when he did. If we hear a child's using helpful techniques, we can congratulate them for it. If they feel their efforts are being recognised with approval, they might have more incentive to carry them on.
But we don't want them to carry on with them just because they think they'll get our approval by doing so. So we could point out to them the benefits they'll get from carrying on their good behaviour. For instance, we could say in a cheerful way to a boy who'd just told us about efforts he was making to control his temper, "I bet you'll start making new friends now."
Simple praise can be a good motivator sometimes, such as if we say, "You did well on the sports field today"; but if we stop praising the person, or praise them too easily so it doesn't sound as if we expect much of them before we give them praise, they'll lose the motivation they got from it at first when they assumed it was sincere. Encouragement that points out exactly what they're doing well can be better, because if they take pride in their own achievements because of the work they know they've put into them rather than because someone else says they're good, they'll have more incentive to carry on doing what they're doing, and more of an idea of how to keep doing well.
For instance, if we tell them we like a story they've written and say exactly why we liked it, for example the clever way they thought out the plot, then they'll have more idea of just what they're doing well, and will be able to take pride in doing similar things for their own sake, because they're more confident they're capable of doing a good job and have more idea how to.
It can be good to compliment them on even little things, if they're behaving better than they used to, because any little step forward is still a step in the right direction. An example the book gives is one where we might say to boys who are working things out in a more friendly way than they used to, "You looked as if you were having a hard time sharing, but you seemed to settle it quickly and in a friendly way". Or if a child's including another child in their games they don't usually want to play with, for instance, we could comment on it afterwards out of earshot of the other child and thank them for being so considerate.
We could also encourage students to develop their problem-solving skills by asking them questions that prompt them to think of solutions to things, where the solution will be quite easy to think of because it depends on their own creativity. For instance, if they're drawing a picture and one bit could be better, we could ask them what they might do if they decided to improve on it in a certain way.
When we tell a child off about something, it can be possible to remind them of the positive aspects of the rules while we're doing it. For instance, if we have a rule that people have to be respectful, and they know that means actively being nice to others, and we catch them calling someone else names, instead of just telling them to stop name-calling, we could maybe say something like, "Name calling goes against our rule about always being respectful to others, doesn't it."
The meaning of and reasoning behind the rule about respect will have to have been discussed with the pupils when they first join our class, so it doesn't just sound like a virtually meaningless word. If we can explain why we don't like name-calling, teasing and so on in our class, for instance because it means some people can feel hurt, and it breaches their right to be treated as if they're people who matter and deserve to be talked to as if they're worth something, then they'll understand what we mean when we talk about the kinds of things we'd like them to try to live up to.
That approach does allow them to make the comeback that the person they're teasing is a low-life who isn't important because of the way they behave, or that the other person started the name-calling; but we can tell them both to be respectful of each other.
We could even ask them to think of ideas that they can use to help themselves stop being so tempted to tease and name-call or bully in other ways in future. We could sometimes try to think of the name-calling and teasing and so on as being separate from who they are as a person, and with some, we could maybe even talk about it as if it's a thing that takes over them but which they can master if they try, rather than as a part of who they are. If we assume they'd like to get out of the habit, whether we're right or not, we could still make progress with them, because if they think we're expecting better behaviour of them and that we assume they're capable of better, at least some of them might try living up to better behaviour because they'll have more respect for themselves than they would if they thought we just thought of them as a low-life. That could be especially true if we praise them for efforts we discover they are making.
But anyway, if we ask them why they do what they do and then ask them to brainstorm with us how they could be less tempted to tease and name-call when they want to, and we talk with them about how to achieve anything they're trying to achieve by it, such as having fun or being looked up to, in healthier ways, we could be helping them develop their problem-solving skills as well as helping them improve their behaviour. Bullies often want to take out anger or to feel important; so if we talk with them about other ways they could try doing that and they try some new things, they'll be getting the same rewards as they did from bullying, so they might not want to bully anymore.
Some students might not seem to care at all about the feelings of others, hurting them without a thought about how it might make them feel. We don't need to write them off as hopeless cases. Maybe they're like that because their parents never showed them how to care about other people's feelings, or particularly cared about theirs. Whatever the cause, there are ways we can try to teach them to care more.
It's well worth remembering that the social skills they learn now are skills they might well carry with them all their lives. If we don't teach them, they might grow up with personality difficulties that might cause harm to others in years to come that they wouldn't do if we can help them learn new skills.
The trouble is that we won't have as much time as we'd like to teach them. Class sizes might be so big it's difficult to spend much meaningful time with any one pupil. And changes made in education policy can mean we're under so much pressure to get the children ready for the tests they have to do to prove the school's performing well that we don't have time to focus on teaching them other skills.
Actually, I know someone who got so stressed because she didn't have time any more to give individual attention to pupils who really needed it that she gave up teaching. At least, that was part of the reason.
The book says we might be able to partly work towards solving such problems if we can do things like inquire about, and if necessary campaign to get, special education classes for pupils with particularly bad behavioural or emotional problems or special needs, counselling for pupils with emotional problems, and alternative schools for pupils who are finding it difficult to cope in a normal school environment or who have problems the normal school system isn't really equipped to cope with.
It might sometimes be difficult to get that kind of thing with government cutbacks in education. But maybe it'll be worth trying to campaign for.
And we can at least do what we can about trying to help students ourselves.
One thing that might help is if we watch out for when pupils are behaving well, and try to work out what's happening at those times that isn't happening when they're behaving badly. For instance, perhaps sometimes, they might behave their best in lessons they're most enthusiastic about. If they do, we can try to find out what it is about those lessons that makes them so much more absorbing than others, and if it seems appropriate, see if we can alter others to include things that'll make the children more enthusiastic about those.
I don't suppose we can ever hope on our own to be a bigger influence than all the other things in the children's lives and turn their behaviour around and make them more caring. But if enough people try over time, we might start to have an influence. These ideas need to be spread around as far as possible.
One thing the book recommends is that teachers try to notice at least two good behaviours in a child for every bad behaviour. So, for instance, a child might call some of his classmates rude names, but he might sometimes work well with them in lessons he likes, and be especially good at one particular subject. So when we notice the things they're good at, we can encourage them, letting them know they're doing a good job. If they feel good about what they're doing, they might very well want to do more of it; and while they are, they won't be bullying.
We can help them get into habits of behaving well if we notice when they're already behaving well and try to increase the circumstances we notice them behaving well in. For example, if we notice the bullies aren't bullying and the usual victims are behaving more confidently and assertively when we organise certain games, we could try organising more like them.
Also, if we notice times when bullies and their usual victims do actually seem to be getting on with each other, and we work out what's creating the better feeling between them, if we can try to create more of what seems to be working, then the bullies and victims might start getting on so well the bullies don't want to bully their former victims any more.
An Experiment That Was Done With Children to Find Out What Helped Them Get On Better
I heard about an experiment that was done in the 1950s to find out the effects competition had on people. Two groups of boys were taken to a camp ground in America. At first, each group didn't know the other one existed. The members of each group were given several days to get to know each other and to decide the status of each boy in the group. Then they were made aware that the other group existed.
When they found out about the others, they became defensive about the camp facilities they were enjoying, wondering if the other group was "abusing" them. They started doing their work like tent pitching with more efficiency, because they wanted to seem better than the other group. They asked for competitions to be arranged between the groups.
Sporting competitions were arranged between them, with a prize going to the group who ended up with the highest score overall, with no consolation prize going to the loser. This was done to increase the tension between them right up to the end of the competitions.
When they first met, in the hall for supper, the groups called each other names and sang songs to put the others down. Some of one group said they didn't want to eat with the others.
The groups became so hostile to each other that they burned each other's flags and raided each other's cabins. The researchers helped one group to win the competition, unknown to the others. After the victory, the group who'd lost became so enraged they raided the other group's cabins again and stole their prizes. Each group had continually called the other group names and been abusive to them before, but now the behaviour got worse and it even nearly resulted in physical fighting. They held their noses when they were in the presence of the other group, and both groups refused to eat in the same hall as the other at the same time.
These weren't particularly badly-behaved boys normally though. They'd been specially chosen because they were considered mentally well-adjusted.
The researchers running the experiment first tried to calm things down by saying nice things to one group about the other and organising events where they could both meet under friendly conditions, such as watching a film together. But this didn't change their hostile attitudes to each other. In fact, several times, the get-to-know-you sessions resulted in food fights.
Something else was eventually tried, which did work.
The researchers deliberately created problems that it would take both groups to solve in co-operation with each other. They would have to discuss with each other possible solutions and then work together to solve the problems.
One thing the researchers did was to block up the camp's water supply with a sack so no water could get through. They told the children the water supply had been vandalised. The children, while all getting thirstier, had to investigate the cause of the problem together, trying to work out what it was and then discussing how to remove the sack and trying to get it out. Members of both groups suggested ways of doing it. Nearly all the boys from both groups stood together in a bunch discussing things. When the water finally came through, they were all pleased, and one group let the other group have drinks first, since they had had less to drink and so were thirstier. No protests were made by anyone in the other group.
On another occasion, they were told the camp bus had broken down and both groups were needed to push it up a hill. They also co-operated in sorting out the problem of a tree they were told was dangerous.
Another thing was that the camp organisers told the boys they had a choice of seeing two films, and they had to discuss with each other which one to see. After a few minutes of discussion, a boy from one group asked everyone to put their hands up if they wanted to see a certain one of the films, and almost everyone did. One group didn't decide they wanted to see the other film to spite the others. Then the camp organisers said it would cost $15, and after quite a bit of discussion between the groups, it was amicably agreed that both groups would put the same amount towards it with the camp organisers providing the rest. This was agreed even though a couple of boys from one group had become home-sick and gone home, so the other members of their group actually had to pay a bit more than those in the other group.
Co-operating together to work towards common goals made the groups much more friendly towards each other. In fact, they became so friendly that on the last day they were there, they ate breakfast and lunch all together, not in groups, and asked if they could all travel home on the same bus. When the camp organisers said they could, many cheered. On the bus, they didn't sit in their groups.
On the way home, they stopped for refreshments, and a boy from one group, a group who'd won a $5 prize for another competition that had been held at the camp, asked if they still had the money. Other boys from the group asked the same thing. When they were told they had, they offered to spend it on refreshments for all the boys.
It sounds as if that could be an inspiration to teachers. I wonder what we could do to help our kids feel more friendly towards each other. There's hostility between groups or gangs in some areas for no good reason. They fight and even stab each other for no good reason other than that they want street cred in their group, and they feel hostile to other boys just because they come from a different area.
Perhaps schools could help the hostility to melt away if schemes were organised where everyone had to help plan things to do and work together to achieve things. Maybe one thing could be fund-raising for various charities, where they all have to discuss with each other ideas for what they can do to raise money. And maybe they can work together to suggest and plan and help carry out improvements to things in the school. We could try to think of other things, projects to improve things or work towards something good that they could all be involved in together and that would end up giving them a feeling of all having achieved something good with the help of the others.
Even just discussions about things about our communities we'd like to improve, where the children all come up with ideas and talked through things together, might make them all feel more friendly towards each other. Teachers would have to keep control of the discussions though to stop them turning into arguments.
All these things could be things we could discuss with other teachers. Discussions among several of us might mean we get ideas from each other and end up with far more.
It was discovered that hostility only turns to friendship when children have success in working towards common goals. Failure would just lead to disputes among them. So what the children were working towards would have to be something that was guaranteed to succeed if it was going to have a chance of changing hostility to friendship.
If we're in the middle of a class and we realise it's going nowhere because people are messing around or falling asleep or just not paying attention and so on, instead of soldiering on trying to teach anyway, getting more and more stressed, we can stop for a minute and ask ourselves what we could do differently to try and achieve our aim of getting our message across better. For instance, we could think back to try and remember lessons where the children were giving us their full attention, and ask ourselves what was different about those. If it was something we can adapt for the lesson we're teaching that they're not paying attention to, we could start teaching it differently.
For instance, if we remember that the children tend to pay more attention when they're taking a more active role in the lesson, we could ask some to come up and help by doing various things, such as reading things or role-playing. For instance if we're trying to teach conflict resolution skills, we could call volunteers up to act out what we've been trying to tell them. For example, if we've just told them about a technique for deflecting insults, we could ask some of the class members if they could practice, with one pretending to be the one doing the insulting and the other one pretending to be the one brushing them off. That kind of thing.
If we come up with an idea we hope will solve the problem we're having with keeping the class's attention that day but it doesn't work, we can ask ourselves again what we could do differently, and try and come up with another idea to try. If that doesn't work, we can try another one if we can think of one, and so on.
We can encourage our pupils to use a similar problem-solving technique. For instance, we can suggest to them that if they're behaving in a certain way but they're not getting what they want or just feeling frustrated, they can stop and ask themselves just what they're trying to achieve by their behaviour. Then they can ask themselves if they could get what they want in a better way or more effectively if they tried something different. For instance, if someone's frustrated because another pupil has started using one of their pencils and they call that person names and say abusive things, but it only leads to a shouting match, that person could try to remember to stop and think for a few seconds and ask themselves how effective name-calling is at getting them what they want. If they decide it isn't effective, because after all, it only led to a shouting match and they didn't get their pencil back, they can ask themselves if they can come up with a better idea, perhaps thinking back to see if any have worked in the past for them. One idea they might think of is trying to ask for their pencil back nicely at first in the future, and apologising at the present time for being rude and then asking nicely, explaining that they need it.
If pupils develop the ability to work out better solutions like that for themselves, it'll equip them better for later life. They can use the same techniques with bigger challenges.
They could also use the techniques to help them with bigger challenges in the classroom, such as making friends, being well-liked and respected, showing respect for other people and so on. If they can be encouraged to brainstorm different ideas to try out to see if they'll help them achieve something they want better, they might become good at problem-solving and more successful at achieving what they want and so happier students.
We could prompt students to use the technique whenever we see them behaving badly. For instance, if we see a pupil calling another one names, we could tell them their behaviour's not helping them live up to the rule about how people should have respect for each other, and ask them what they could do differently to show respect for the pupil they're calling names. The answer might be as simple as not calling them names.
We could even encourage the pupils to tell other members of their family all about the new problem-solving techniques they're learning. Other family members might find them useful too.
They could even write notes on little cards prompting them to try and think of different things to do. For instance, they could have a few questions on them like,
Sometimes, people might lose sight of what they're actually trying to do in the heat of the situation. For instance, if a child steals another child's pencil and they start an argument, it might degenerate into insults about all kinds of things and the child who wants their pencil back might completely forget temporarily that what they really want is to get their pencil back. Or if a child wants to make friends and is aggravated that other children won't play with them, they might start yelling at some for not letting them play, and yell louder and louder the more the other children won't let them join in, and it might turn into a fight, with the child who wants to join in forgetting in the heat of the argument that they wanted the other kids to be their friends. So it can sometimes be useful if a child, or anyone else for that matter, can stop themselves and ask themselves, "What do I want to achieve here?" If the answer is, "I'd like to make friends with these people" or, "I'd like my pencil back", or any other such thing they've temporarily forgotten they were trying to achieve, they can ask themselves, "Is what I'm doing helping me get it?" If the answer's no, they can ask themselves, "What things could I do that would be more effective in helping me get what I want?" And they could try something different. If that doesn't work, they can think up and try something different again.
It's these kinds of skills we can try to teach pupils, as well as trying to learn them and use them ourselves. If we succeed in helping children learn them, they might come in useful all through their lives.
As for our efforts in dealing with bullying in our class, we can try and arrange to meet with other teachers regularly so we can all discuss what has worked for us and what hasn't. Discussing what we tried that didn't work will help us either abandon the idea or improve on it, and discussing what did work will give more of us new ideas for what to try in our own classroom.
If we get some good new ideas, our enthusiasm for teaching might well increase, if we've got sick and tired of trying to deal with bullying, doing the best we can but with methods that haven't really been working. And when bullying's on the decline, we'll be able to spend more time doing what most of us became teachers for, actual teaching.
It may be that as we start trying to implement stricter anti-bullying policies, it'll feel as if bullying's increasing, because we might face resistance to them from some bullies who don't think we're really serious and want to test us to see if they really will get punished. Also, as we convince children in the class we're going to take bullying seriously, more of them might report it to us. But it'll be important that we stick to our new policies, because after a while, the bullies will probably get the message that they aren't going to change our minds. The problems won't go away if we're inconsistent, insisting on good behaviour on some occasions and then not bothering on others. If we do that, the bullies will think there's always going to be a chance they'll get away with their behaviour so they'll keep trying it. But if they learn they won't get away with it any time we catch them, they'll learn it isn't so much fun any more so they might very well change their behaviour over time.
It's difficult for anyone to stop and ask themselves whether they're going about achieving what they want in the best way when they're in a high state of emotion. That goes for pupils and teachers, and everyone else. For instance, if a teacher's angry with a pupil, they might begin to shout at them, and be too carried away with anger to stop, even though they could tell in their calmer moments that what they're doing will just make the pupil feel humiliated in front of the class so the pupil will feel angry and just want to behave badly more.
If it's hard enough for teachers to learn to recognise when their emotions are making them act in an unwise way and change their behaviour, it's bound to be even harder for children. Still, if the class can learn about how people's emotions can carry them away sometimes when it isn't fair to others, and learn ways of dealing with them so they can control them better, it might help them change their behaviour.
Emotions usually do us good. For instance, if we feel fearful in a dangerous situation, they'll be giving us a useful warning. Someone who didn't feel any fear might do something reckless and risk their safety. But sometimes, because of the way people have learned to react to things or their temperaments, their emotions can be much stronger in some situations than they need to be, so they do rash things before they've really thought about it.
If, for instance, a child's growing up in a household where emotions run high and they get slapped quickly for the tiniest thing, they'll learn to expect that hostility is all around them. And they'll learn to behave in the same way as their parents, because children copy their parents, which is how they learn a lot of what they know. Because they're used to hostility, they might be quick to interpret other children's actions as hostile when they're often not, and react accordingly, yelling at them or hitting them and so on before they really think about it. They might even think a mere look or an accidental little bump in the hallway is a threat and react out of all proportion to the provocation.
For instance, if a boy has a book hanging off his desk and another boy walks past and accidentally knocks it onto the floor, the boy at the desk might leap to the conclusion he deliberately knocked it off, and jump up and knock the boy to the ground. The boy, who'd had no bad intentions, might manage to get up and walk off feeling shocked and embarrassed.
What might change the behaviour of the boy at the desk is if he learns to recognise that his emotions won't always be guiding him in the right direction and learns to think of several different possible reasons why other children might be behaving the way they are. For instance, he might learn to consider the possibility that a boy who knocks a book off his desk might have done it by accident. If he comes to think that when other children knock books off his desk they're most likely to have done it by accident, and that they might actually be embarrassed at having done it, instead of wanting to attack them when it happens, he might feel easy-going, and even reassure them they don't need to be embarrassed by telling them not to worry about it.
When pupils are taught to understand and feel for other people's emotions, it can help them become more considerate to others, because they come to care about the people more and can realise their actions have more serious consequences than they thought. The skill of feeling more for the emotions of others can be taught to some extent. Teaching it can be a good technique in the fight against bullying.
Researchers have identified several things that contribute to children growing up in a more healthy way. In fact, they identified forty. They say the more of them a child has in their lives, the more likely they are to grow up with a healthy outlook on life, to be more happy and successful, to be more resilient in the face of misfortune, and not to engage in risky behaviour such as alcohol and tobacco use, sexual activity, violence and other anti-social behaviour. They were less likely to have school problems and less likely to suffer from depression and feel suicidal.
Basically, the things that help children grow up with a better outlook on life and more successful are to do with safety, and spending time in an encouraging and nurturing environment:
It's best if children spend most evenings and weekends at home with their parents in routines that make them feel secure because they're predictable, doing things they enjoy as far as possible. Routines are good to some extent, because they can help people feel secure because they're not worrying about what's going to happen next.
It also helps if children develop an interest in helping other people and making the community they live in a better place.
For anyone, focusing the mind outwards onto acquiring knowledge and thinking of working towards achievements and doing things that'll make them feel valued and pleased with what they've accomplished, helps keep the mind healthy and helps it grow. It's much better than focusing it on yourself and your little world and all the worries about the day you have, because they can go round and round in your head till they get right out of proportion and make you more depressed and anxious than you would be otherwise. And if people stew and stew over little hurts they think they've suffered because of what others have done or said to them, and worries over whether those people might be a threat, planning to bully them, then thoughts of anger and anxiety can fill and cloud the mind till little incidents can seem like big things that need to be taken very seriously. When a whole group enjoys learning and doing new stimulating things, taking their minds off the little conflicts they might have with each other, they can become more positive and forward-looking in their outlook and achieve new things and go further with life.
Confidence will help them be successful. If they develop their own opinions and are confident and knowledgeable enough to stand up for them and engage in debate, speaking up for them well, that'll be a skill they can make use of all the way into later life. Likewise if they learn to take pride in being honest and in working hard at tasks appropriate to their age, and in developing good health habits and attitudes to others.
If children can be comfortable around others and resolve conflicts well, it'll also serve them well through life.
It might not have occurred to many of us when we went into teaching, but teaching pupils conflict resolution skills, and to be caring towards those around them, is just as valuable as teaching them basic literacy skills, and it could serve them well all their lives. But children are far more likely to learn such things if the environment is supportive of them. We can do some things to try to make it more supportive while they're at school. We might not have much say over how they're treated at home, and their parents might be a far bigger influence on the children than us, so if they're bringing the children up in an unpleasant environment, there might not be much we can do about it. But we can give them suggestions as to things they can do to increase the support they give their children. If they didn't have a good family background themselves when they were growing up, they might not be deliberately bringing their children up in a non-supportive environment but might simply be doing the best they can with the skills they learned, which are less than ideal, because they didn't have the opportunity to learn really good ones when they were young. So some of them might appreciate suggestions on things they can do to increase the support they give their children. If what we say doesn't sound like teacherly instruction but like friendly suggestions, along with the reasoning behind them so they understand there is a good purpose behind the suggestions, some of them might take them on board, so their children will get to be more nurtured, and grow up better people.
The book gives several suggestions, and advises that we think of more ourselves along the same lines, and also that we meet with other teachers from time to time and ask them if they've got any good ideas.
Some parents might be very set in their ways and not open to change, so we might just have to accept that we unfortunately don't have much power to change some situations, and devote our energies instead to something we can do something about, such as what goes on in our classroom.
However, there might be ways we can influence some parents. Some might be grateful for little suggestions we can make to them, and pleased if they seem to be improving family relations.
We can explain to them all those things about how children are likely to be more successful and engage in less risky behaviour if they've got a number of things going for them. And we could ask if they can help to make those things realities in their children's lives.
It might be that we can also help the parents of victims of bullying. According to some research, regular victims of bullying are often people who aren't very good at standing up for themselves so bullies think they're easy targets and keep on being attracted to bullying them. Children who aren't very good at standing up for themselves can sometimes be children with loving supportive parents, but parents who have given them too much support in a way, doing things for them they're able to do for themselves really, so they get to be unsure of whether they're capable of doing those things for themselves. So they can lack confidence. And if they've been over-protected, they might never have learned ways of standing up for themselves, so they're at a loss when bullies start verbally abusing them. We could speak to the parents of both bullies and the usual victims, and tell them we have a new anti-bullying policy, and that we'd like them to help us put it into operation, saying there are things it would be good if they could do.
With parents of any victims of bullying we feel sure could stop a lot of it if they stood up for themselves more, we could ask them if they can think of ways they could teach their children to stand up for themselves. Perhaps we could suggest some. We can tell them we've noticed their children are being victimised, and encourage them to gently raise the matter with them about it and ask if there's anything they think they need. We could ask them how much their children do for themselves, and if we find out they don't do much, we could explain to them that children can feel good about themselves and more capable if they're given age-appropriate tasks to complete on their own and if they can feel helpful.
We could also ask if the parents could work towards increasing their children's confidence, discussing with them ways it could be done. For instance, parents and child could practice things they could say in response to being called names, and other things. They could brainstorm thinking up comeback lines together, for instance, and then role-play, with a parent pretending to be the bully, and the victim using the comeback lines. The parents could reassure the victims that bullies don't mean everything they say; if it gets a reaction, they'll say it some more even if they don't believe it, just because they think it's fun. So victims don't need to take what they say seriously. Even when bullies are saying something that's true, it probably won't need to be taken with great seriousness.
It's important that children feel able to confide in their parents about what's going on in their lives. Sometimes, either because they don't feel their parents are approachable or that they'll understand or that they're equipped to help, or even just because their parents are busy, they don't tell their parents about problems in their lives. It's important that parents talk to them and ask them all about school so they can understand the way they feel and what they're doing, and what problems they have, so they can talk them through with them and help solve them. We could write parents a letter explaining that, and requesting that they do their best to give their child the message they'll be there for their child to confide in whenever they need them. They don't have to do that by having a heavy serious talk with them. They can set aside time and make it light-hearted unless and until their child wants to talk, sending the message they care about their child and they're there for them by spending time, even only ten minutes every evening, giving their child some special time where they have fun together. Just being with a child in a friendly atmosphere might well help them start to think of a parent as someone they can feel free to talk over any problems they have with. And if the parent's setting aside time just for them, they'll know there's a time when they can talk to them if they want to.
We can suggest ideas to parents for fun activities they could do with their children if we can think of some. If the children get to feel their parents like being with them, it might well boost their self-worth. Children who've bullied might lose some of their interest in bullying as they take part in other enjoyable activities and feel cared for. If the child chooses the activity themselves, they'll be enjoying what they like most and might well get to feel as if their views matter more. Perhaps parents could suggest a number of activities and let their child choose from those. They could be various different games they play together, or other things they both like.
And we could suggest they could do projects together, such as putting together a family scrapbook with photos and little stories they all write about amusing things that have happened to them. Or they could do jigsaw puzzles together, or maybe draw pictures to stick on the walls of their home, or have fun drawing a big picture of the whole family, and so on. Perhaps the parents themselves might come up with some good ideas if we ask them if they can have a go.
Perhaps if parents can be fairly confident their neighbours aren't too bad, they can try getting to know them better with their children, so their children have other adult influences on them as well as them. It isn't just meeting other adults that helps children grow up more healthily. What can help is if those adults take an interest in the child and inspire them to better things, either by what they say or what they do. For instance, someone with a neighbour who was a fireman might start aspiring to be one himself rather than just making money by selling drugs or something. Someone whose neighbour used to be in a gang but left and now does voluntary work with teenagers might hear them telling inspirational stories about how they managed it. If a neighbour spends their weekends doing enjoyable activities they could interest the child in by talking about them or even taking the child on, such as going to railway museums or something, they might realise there's life beyond gangs and boozing, and want to be a part of it. And so on.
It's been found to be good for a child's well-being as they grow up if they have good relationships with other adults besides their parents. There are things we could do to help with that.
The book suggests that every term, or more than once if it's a long term, we make time to just have a friendly meeting with our students, not to talk about their work, but to find out how they're all getting on personally, to show we care about them as people, rather than just seeing them as students who it's our job to teach.
And if we can ask pupils a question or two about how they are and how their families are doing every day, especially possible bullies and victims, they'll hopefully start to think they're in a community that cares for them personally, so they'll start to care more about it and be more respectful in it.
We could invite other adults and perhaps older students in sometimes to try to build personal relations with our pupils as well to show there are people who care about them, such as PTA members, retired people or parents, who could sit with them during lunch or chat to any who look left-out in the playground, asking them about their lives.
If the students come to admire some of the adults they spend time with regularly, especially if those adults have good ways of solving problems or dealing with conflict the students learn from, the pupils might start imitating them and learning new skills that help them resolve conflicts and sort out problems better. That'll mean that not only are they better equipped for later life, but that if they have previously resorted to aggression to solve their problems, they might start using new and better ways of dealing with them.
We can also try to introduce pupils to other school staff in an informal way, in the hope they'll come to see them as approachable as well. Perhaps we could agree with other teachers to organise a get-together from time to time where other school staff talk about what they do in our class and have a few friendly words with pupils individually.
Also, we could try to arrange a mentoring scheme where older students befriend younger ones so they can help them and talk things over with them if they're having any difficulties at school and give them the benefit of their own experience.
As part of our anti-bullying campaign, if we ask pupils to come up with suggestions as to how they think bullying should be tackled, things each student can have a hand in as well as things the staff do, such as being diligent in reporting bullying, and other, more creative ideas, and we discuss all the suggestions with the class, and then put them into operation if they're good, it might help reduce bullying. If bullies come to feel as if they'll be disapproved of by the whole class if they bully because the whole class have been talking about ways of stopping bullying, and also if they themselves have made suggestions for ways to stop it that were discussed so they can feel good about them, they might start to take pride in being a member of the class who doesn't bully rather than one who wants to.
It's important for a child's academic development that their parents take an interest in their education so they're encouraged to do homework outside school and to think of education as a good thing. Some children won't get that, sometimes because their parents had bad experiences at school so they aren't enthusiastic about learning, or don't feel capable of giving their children help with their work. We might be able to go some way to inspiring parents to take more interest in their children's education.
If they're parents of bullies, they'll be used to teachers ringing them up or writing to them and complaining about their children's bad behaviour. They probably won't expect anything else. So they might be encouraged if we can find some things their children are doing right or well and make a point of telling them about those as well. If they start thinking more positively about their child's learning experience and see that we aren't just hostile to their child but we can see good points in them and want to help them develop more, they might start being more co-operative with us in trying to stop their child's bullying behaviour and helping with their learning outside school.
We could give them a phone number they can contact us on at the school and tell them we're willing to listen to any concerns they have. When parents with difficulties feel listened to, they can sometimes be more willing to co-operate with us in following suggestions we make for helping their child become less of a bully and more interested in learning.
Some parents might be busy and not have much time to spend on school matters, but we could invite them to write letters if they like, expressing any opinions they do have about things going on at school. Or we could send out newsletters to all the parents about what's going on every month or so that'll hopefully spark their interest, about what we're teaching, other things that have happened in the classroom recently, and the good behaviour we hope the children in our class will live up to. We can give parents ideas for how they can help with some things going on at school, and tell them about any upcoming events they can help with. It might be that the more included some feel, the more interested they'll be in what the school's trying to achieve with the children.
We can often remind them how important parents are in their children's successful education.
Children can see themselves as being worth more, and be more confident they can succeed in life, and so more motivated to try harder, which will mean they really are more likely to succeed, if they feel cared for and taken notice of by adults that matter to them. If they feel they aren't listened to, or their needs aren't being taken care of, they can feel discouraged and as if they're not valued. The book says both bullies and victims can often feel like that. If we ignore bullying, the victims might even think they must deserve it somehow. Paying attention to children's needs will encourage them to feel valued after all.
So it can help children if we treat them with respect. That would include doing things like being careful about the tone of voice we use when we're telling them off so it doesn't convey contempt or more harshness than necessary, and trying to form our own opinions of them rather than allowing ourselves to be prejudiced against any child because we've heard about their bad reputation. It might be a good thing if we're warned about their bad reputation if they have a tendency to be disruptive, but we need to remember it won't be the whole story. They might have good points that don't get mentioned very often but that we might see more of if we try to encourage them.
I read about a teacher who went to the school counsellor because one of his pupils kept being made fun of and spoken to disrespectfully and he wondered what to do about it. The pupil was slightly mentally retarded so she was slower doing things than the other pupils were. The school counsellor said he'd think about it. Before the school counsellor thought of a solution, the teacher found one himself. He thought about his own behaviour and realised he spoke disrespectfully to the girl himself. From then on, he made a point of speaking to her more patiently and politely. And he discovered that soon after that, the pupils started treating her more like that.
We can tell bullies and victims that our anti-bullying policy isn't just about penalising people; it's meant to help everyone in the class feel better about themselves and help them develop skills to do with getting on better with others that'll be valuable to them throughout life. If we notice they do seem to bee feeling good about themselves when they do something positive such as managing to hand in homework on time, knowing they did work well or having a friendly conversation with someone, we can tell them we noticed they seemed to be feeling good about themselves when they did that. If they reflect that it did feel good to do it, they might want to do things like that some more.
Also, if they get attention for doing good things, they might want to do them some more because they like the attention. Hopefully, they'll soon find they get other rewards from doing good things, such as having their weekends freer to play if they get their homework out of the way quickly rather than having the thought that they've got to do it hanging over them all weekend, so they won't just do good things because it gets them our attention. In fact, we can point out to them some of the benefits they must be getting from doing something good every time we notice them doing it. For instance, we could say something with an approving smile like,
"I notice you're making a real effort to be friendlier to the people in the desks around you. They might want you to join in some good games now".
If they find they enjoy joining in good friendly games with other children, they might find they get more benefit out of it than they do from bullying, so their bullying tendencies might fade away. One benefit they might get from bullying is attention. Everyone needs attention. It's just a human instinct to want to interact with others. More so for some than for others. But it may be that some people bully at least partly because it gets them attention in the most effective way they know how to get it. If we can help them get attention in better ways, their urge to bully might fade as they get their need for attention met by doing something else.
One way bullies can get attention they can be pleased with is if they can be encouraged to do things where they're given little responsibilities where they have to carry out things for their parents or the school, so they can feel proud they're contributing something good. We can allot students worthwhile classroom duties, rotating them among the pupils so everyone gets a turn. If we compliment them on a job well done, they might be encouraged to do such things more, and they'll get a feeling of self-worth from doing a job well. If they get good feelings from doing good things and feeling like valuable members of the class/home/community, their good feelings might feel better than the feelings of enjoyment they get from bullying, or they might think that if they're a valued member of the class, they don't want to bully any more because it'll ruin their reputation. So they might bully less and less.
We could encourage the children to get involved in activities outside school where they'll be doing useful things, and also where they'll be interacting with people in healthy environments so they enjoy themselves and learn useful things as well as feeling valued. For some, organisations like the Scouts might help them do that, or helping out with activities at their church or something. That could increase their confidence because they'll get more used to taking responsible roles and feeling valued.
Children might feel especially valued so their self-worth can increase more if they feel they're being of help to others. And if they enjoy it and develop the belief that helping others is a good thing to do and they want to do it more, it can help them become useful to society and those around them as they grow older.
We could discuss with our class the importance of doing things to help other people and organisations like the school. We can talk about why it's important to help other people, the benefits people worse off than ourselves can get from it, the need there is for people to help others because of all the people who need help, and the kinds of help children their age could give. What they did would have to be something that didn't put too much pressure on them. For instance, it naturally couldn't be trying to help other children with problems they hadn't been trained to cope with. And they couldn't spend so much time on it that they didn't have much time for themselves. But there are quite a lot of things they could help with, which would be different according to how old they were. Some could perhaps help younger pupils who are a bit behind in their reading or other skills. They'd need some instruction on how to do that, but some might like it. Volunteers from the class could perhaps visit a nursing home or children's hospital regularly and do things for the people there like talking to them, helping with little things such as bringing them cups of water, and drawing pictures and things they then bring in to give them. And they could perhaps do other things like helping to keep the playground clean every so often.
If any of the class do express a desire to help others and want to arrange something to do, we can express appreciation and pride in them for offering.
We could encourage them to take any enthusiasm they develop for helping others home with them to try and see if they can get their parents involved with things. For instance, we could suggest that families could get involved in sponsored events for charities, help in soup kitchens, and so on.
Children's learning can seriously suffer if they don't feel safe. If home or school or their neighbourhood doesn't feel safe or they've had a traumatic experience there, they'll be so focused on doing their best to make themselves feel safe that they won't be really able to concentrate on work. Only when they feel safe will they feel able to give their full attention to learning new skills and developing good relationships with people.
Naturally we can't do much about them feeling unsafe at home or in their neighbourhood, but we can try to make the classroom feel like a safe place for them. The book suggests we make a sign that says "Safe Room" and put it on the outside of the classroom door, and put another one at the front of the class.
I'm not sure how well that would work, but the idea is that it's meant to remind the children that the room is supposed to be safe. Perhaps in case it gives the wrong impression and people from all over the school think it's not a proper classroom but a place to go if they're looking for somewhere where they won't get bullied, we could instead put on the sign something like, "We aim to make this classroom a bully-free zone".
Still, the book suggests we tell students we expect the classroom to be free of bullying and that we will intervene to stop things when we see any bullying. It recommends we ask them to spread the word around to children in other classes that they can come to us if they have a problem with violence or bullying and we'll do our best to help them.
Having clear rules at home and at school is good for children. They might complain if they think the rules are unfair, but in general, they like rules. It makes both parents' and children's lives easier. For instance, if children come to accept that it's expected that they'll wash up every Tuesday, they'll get to it with less fuss than if they're never asked to do any housework but then parents get sick and tired that they don't do anything and yell at them. Or if children are always told off when their parents catch them hitting their brothers, they can actually feel more safe and secure than they can if sometimes their parents let them get away with it but sometimes they discipline them harshly, so the children can't predict what's coming and feel resentful about the times when they're disciplined because they're used to being allowed to get away with things. Even if they're allowed to get away with it all the time, they can still feel insecure, because it'll seem as if their parents haven't got their safety uppermost in their minds.
Also, children can become more responsible when they're used to their bad behaviour always having consequences, so they come to believe it's best to behave well.
It may be that we can persuade our PTA to organise parent-training programs. And they might be able to invite psychologists who can talk about parenting skills such as effective discipline, encouraging children's learning so they have a better chance of getting a good education and becoming successful in the future, and improving child-parent relations so stronger bonds are built between them. Maybe meetings could be arranged in the evenings or even perhaps at weekends, that parents could be asked to attend. The talks could be given at those. We could give the parents printed information to take home with them about what each talk said, and also send it to parents who didn't attend the talk.
Rules need to be enforced consistently if children are going to obey them. Otherwise, if a teacher tells them off one minute but then lets them get away with the same thing the next, maybe even looking on in amusement, the child will know that sometimes, they will get away with their bad behaviour; so they won't want to stop it, because when they want to do it, they'll always think that this time might be one of the times they get away with it. Only if they're told off every time a teacher catches them are they likely to decide it isn't worth it.
It's the same in the home. For instance, if a child has a tantrum because they want something their parents don't want them to have, and at first their parents don't give in but if the tantrum goes on for long enough or gets bad enough they sometimes do, then children will learn that what they have to do to get what they want is to make their tantrums worse and worse. But if parents always refuse to give in, the children will probably stop bothering to throw a tantrum over that after a while.
When children know they won't get away with bad behaviour in class so it becomes less appealing, for one thing, they have less of a distraction preventing them from getting on with work. So they can end up getting better results.
We could discuss making classroom rules with the children. If we reason the rules through with them, listen to suggestions they themselves have for rules and add them to the list if they're good ones, explain to anyone who disagrees with a rule why it's a good thing really, and change the rules we ourselves suggest slightly if any child happens to come up with a good reason why we should, and then put the finished list of rules up in the classroom where everyone will notice them a lot, the children might be more enthusiastic about obeying them than they would if they were just imposed from above and the reasoning behind them wasn't explained so the children weren't so sure about the purpose of them.
For instance, if we explain that we don't want swearing in class because it's usually used when people are saying something abusive towards someone else, and we don't want abusive talk in our classroom because other people can feel hurt or intimidated if they hear it, especially if it's about them or someone they like, and we don't want that because we'd like everyone to feel as if the classroom's a safe place where learning can be got on with without people worrying about what people around them are saying, they'll understand the reasoning behind the rule a whole lot more than if we just imposed a rule on them that said "No swearing".
It's quite likely that some of our class still won't agree with the rules after our discussion. After all, if they like misbehaving and the rules are there to stop them, they might argue with whatever reasons we give for having the rules. So we'll have to make the list of rules we decide on at the end of the lesson whether there are still children who don't like the idea or not. But still, even if they don't agree, if they know we've explained the reasons behind the rules and been prepared to listen to their views, quite a few might be more willing to obey them than they would if they thought they were just imposed by an authority figure for no particularly good reason as far as they could tell.
After we've finalised the list of rules to be put up in the classroom, we can tell the children we'll be watching out for people making an effort to stick to them, and say we hope to make a point of complimenting people who do. For instance, if one child's been used to trying to solve problems they have with other students by hitting them, and we notice them trying less unfriendly approaches, we'll compliment them. Or if a child's been used to swearing and belittling other children and we notice they haven't done it so much, we'll let them know we've noticed. Hopefully that'll encourage them to try behaving better some more. And then when we "catch them being good", we can smilingly mention in a friendly way any benefits we can think of that they must be getting out of their better behaviour as part of the compliment we give them, such as saying we bet that now they're not using their fists to try to solve so many problems, they're not getting so many bruises themselves. That way, they'll hopefully reflect that behaving well is actually in their best interests, and that it's good to behave better for their own benefit, rather than doing it for us so they might as well stop when they move up a class, as they might if we just told them we were pleased with them.
But it's best if we also inform students that we will always penalize people for breaking the rules. And they'll be happiest if we mete out all the consequences fairly rather than sometimes giving them a punishment and sometimes not, or punishing some pupils more harshly than we do others. That would only breed resentment, and might lead to more disobedience as a sign of disrespect for and rebellion against what we're doing, because some children will be jealous if they got punished more harshly than others, or they won't think it's fair if they're punished for something they got away with the day before, because they won't see why they're not being allowed to get away with it this time.
It'll be good if we can tell other staff who work with our children, perhaps in out-of-school activities and so on, about the rules and expectations we have in our class and see if they'll agree to hold our children to the same standard, to reduce the number of places where the kids can get away with bad behaviour, in the hope that they come to think of good behaviour more as the expected norm, rather than just something that's expected in our particular classroom.
Ideally, family neighbours will look out for the welfare of the children, intervening to stop bad behaviour, and providing a place where the child can go if they need to talk over problems or need help. Often this won't happen though. But one thing we can do is to ask children to tell us all about the neighbourhoods they live in so we understand what kind of backgrounds they come from. We can ask them if they feel safe, and if there are neighbours they and their parents feel they can talk to, and extended family living nearby they could rely on for support. Then we could ask each of them if there is at least one person they could go to in an emergency, apart from phoning the emergency number, someone they feel confident would help them if they had a serious problem if they were around at the time. We could even suggest they go home and talk the matter over with their parents and the neighbour or neighbours concerned.
If they do find someone caring who will support them through difficulties and give them wise advice, they might not only learn good things and benefit by the support, but it's just possible they might also learn to be more like the supportive person, which will mean people around them will benefit in the future, because they'll be nicer to be around. Some parents aren't supportive, so their children won't learn from them how to be supportive to others; but it's possible they might learn it to a certain extent from other community members, which might go at least a little way to counteracting the influence of their parents.
Children learn a lot of what they know through imitating their parents. That includes their attitudes to dealing with conflict. If a child hits other children or says horrible things to them as soon as they get in his way, he might well have parents who do that with him or others, so that's what he's learned to do. He'll have learned all his life that that's acceptable behaviour, except if the parents do it themselves while telling him off when he does the same thing, in which case he'll have learned something different, such as that you can get away with it if you're powerful enough. Being around people who think violence is unacceptable will teach a child a new message.
It's good for a child to have role models they can learn good behaviour from. Even parents could be role models. Children might often not do what their parents tell them, but they imitate the way they act around them without thinking about it. We could write a note to parents saying we have an anti-bullying policy in our classroom and telling them about the rules we expect the children in our class to abide by, explaining that children learn a lot of their behaviour from parents, saying it would be nice, if they're willing, if they could try behaving in accordance with the standards of behaviour we want in the classroom themselves, so their children will imitate their behaviour so they'll learn to be better citizens. For instance, shouting, swearing, being dishonest in certain things, and saying disrespectful things about others around a child, will mean the child learns to do the same. Being kind and helpful towards others, and resolving arguments without them getting nasty, can mean the child grows up thinking that's a good thing and learns to do that. We'll have to be careful not to make our letter sound as if we're blaming the parents for their children's bad behaviour though. If the tone of what we say can be encouraging and enthusiastic as if we've got a good idea we're eager to share, and then we explain it well so they understand, and it sounds as if we're just making suggestions rather than accusing them of anything or ordering them to do what we want, some of them at least might think over what we say and have a go at trying to behave in a way that'll make their child behave better if they imitate their behaviour and get used to thinking that's the standard they ought to live up to.
That would include not disciplining their children in a way so harsh that it could be described as bullying, since that'll teach children bullying is acceptable. On the other hand, when punishments for bad behaviour are seen by children to be reasonable consequences for what they did, rather than over-the-top, or inconsistently applied so they sometimes get punished for things they were allowed to get away with the previous day or week, the main lesson they'll probably take away is that they're expected to behave well.
We could investigate and pass on to parents some tips on good conflict resolution skills, in the hope that when they argue, they'll learn to resolve things more peacefully than they might have done before, if they weren't the best at that. If they do, their children will learn by observing them some good ways of resolving arguments they can use themselves.
Also, if we notice a child falling below normal expectations of the kind of schoolwork someone their age should be able to do, or if we find out that a child's being expected to do more than seems appropriate for their age at home, we can discuss those things with their parents.
Children will be more likely to grow up into sensible responsible teenagers and adults if they spend quite a bit of time around other children who are sensible and responsible: children who don't drink or smoke or hang around with gangs or people who commit any kinds of crimes and so on. A healthy environment for children to meet up and do things together in is one where they're supervised in a safe place by responsible adults, to prevent any children being disruptive or engaging in bad or unwise behaviour. If they're involved in absorbing activities they enjoy, such as playing games they like, there'll be less chance of them being enticed into bad behaviour, because the opportunity won't be there so much.
Also, children who go around as part of a group are less likely to be victimised by bullies, since bullies tend to pick on people who are isolated, people who seem easy targets, perhaps people who haven't found a group of people to go around with because they're not so good at making friends so they're not as popular.
The longer such children remain isolated, the less they'll have a chance to practice the communication skills that could make them better at making friends and standing up to bullies, so they probably won't be as good at them as others.
Children can be taught the skills that can help them make friends better and stand up for themselves more. And when they're better at using them, the skills will hopefully stay with them into adulthood and get even better, and so help them increase their success in life.
One way we could try helping them develop them is by giving them the opportunity to learn by imitating others by being with them more, and by practising techniques that could help them, such as asking the kinds of questions that will get other people talking, such as ones that start with words that ask for explanations of things rather than straight yes/no answers, such as how, what, where, when and why. Well, questions beginning with those things don't always call for more than a one-word answer, but they often do. The children will also get practice chatting about interesting things going on in their own lives.
One way we could try it is organising what we could call "getting to know you times" once a week, where we pair up each of the children in the class with children they wouldn't normally talk to. We could try pairing up the most socially awkward or quiet children with confident chatty ones, without saying that's what we're doing so as not to cause embarrassment. We could pair up the same children with each other for a few weeks so they get to know each other well. Each week, they could do an activity together like playing a game, or they could eat lunch together, or talk about certain topics we could suggest for that week, such as asking each other what they do after school, what they like doing for fun, and so on. We could ask them to ask a question, and then to listen to everything the person they're paired up with wants to say before responding. They can each take turns being the one to ask the questions. We could monitor them all to see if they're getting on allright and that each one in each pair is talking happily, taking turns to be the questioner and the one who answers. It might be easiest on the quieter children if the ones to take the lead at first, asking the questions and then volunteering information about themselves when the other child has answered each question, are the more confident children. Then when the children seem to be comfortable together, there can be a week or two when we ask the quieter children to take the lead, being the first to ask the questions and volunteering information to the other one about themselves.
It may be that there are some children who don't know what to do with themselves at home so they get bored and irritable or they're more likely to go out and get in with a bad crowd. Also, in the classroom, if children are bored, they can be more likely to be disruptive. If children can do a range of activities, it'll increase the chances that they'll enjoy some and discover creative talents they never knew they had. Some children might not be that intelligent academically, but very good at other things. So if they think their lives consist of having to do schoolwork, they might not be happy and it might lead to irritability that can come out in bullying; but if there are things they enjoy and are good at in life, they can feel as if they can really achieve something worthwhile and there are great new things to learn about. If they find some things in life fulfilling and there are things they're having success at, it might help them realise they can do better in life than hanging around with a bullying crowd, or divert their attention away from any bullying they've been doing so they do less of it. And some victims of bullying might possibly gain more confidence so they're more willing to stand up for themselves so some bullies start thinking they're not so much fun to bully after all because they're not such easy targets any more.
Activities like art, music and drama can be enjoyable for children. If activities can be found where they can develop talents they might never realise they had if they were only ever doing schoolwork, they might become more optimistic about life and enthusiastic to focus on succeeding in life, even if the fun activity goes on for just a few hours a week.
Actually, my brother used to feel miserable quite a lot and that he really wasn't enjoying life, going to school where he got teased and then coming home and spending hours doing boring homework; but then he got involved with a couple of drama groups that were on in the evenings, where he had some fun, got some good parts in plays that increased his confidence, and made some friends, and he became happier after that.
If parents can be encouraged to find activities their children can join in where possible, their children's lives can be enriched. Perhaps there will be community centres near some of them or places like that that will offer affordable classes or activities. We could try to find brochures for such things and give them to children to take home with them to show their parents, who will hopefully think it'll be a nice idea to get their children involved with something.
If we can do some fun things in our own classroom, all the better.
Actually, I once heard that the crime rate drops for about a week when exciting new video games or books come out. I'm not sure how big the effect is. But maybe the more children learn to do creative things using their imaginations, the less they'll be bored, out on the streets with nothing to do, hanging around with groups of other bored kids, drinking, and wanting some excitement in the best way they know how, resorting to crime and other risky or harmful behaviour.
This book says it can do children a lot of good and can prevent them getting into risky behaviours if they can spend some time every week doing activities out of school hours, either at the school or elsewhere, where adults are supervising them and they do set things that have been laid on for them, rather than just being allowed to mingle with each other and create their own entertainment, which might involve picking on people and so on. If they're doing some kind of activity that takes up all their attention like rehearsing for a play or doing various exercises, there won't be the risk of that.
Also, even if they come from homes where aggression and irresponsible behaviour is the norm, if they spend time around children who are considerate and responsible, doing activities well-supervised by adults where they'll be fully involved in something so there won't be the opportunity for them to start fights, perhaps in an organisation like the Scouts or some other organisation, then they might well start to realise the way their family behaves isn't the norm after all, and think society expects better standards. If they get to admire children who are more considerate and responsible than them, they might want to be more like them and do harmless activities instead of what they might have been engaged in before, if they enjoy the ones they've been given to do. And if they know they're expected to behave better and they're given instruction on how they're expected to behave, they might learn better behaviour.
A lot of children who bully might come from families that just don't have the money to spend on nice after-school activities. But we could try speaking to a school counsellor or other staff to see if they know of affordable or free forms of entertainment and recreation children can get involved in after school, such as maybe athletics, music, or other things. The more they get involved in activities where they're around people who are providing examples of good behaviour, the less they'll be left to themselves with the risk they'll get in with a bad crowd or be exposed to the aggression of other children or family members.
Sometimes, religious communities can organise regular events where children can have fun in a safe adult-supervised environment with other children who are behaving well. And some might give instruction in good behaviour. There might be people in those communities children can go to for good counsel and support. So if we find out a child is involved in one, we could encourage them to get involved in any activities they do that might be good for them.
But as well as doing activities, it's important for children to have some relaxing time bonding with their parents. It's important that they can spend time with their parents where they can feel safe and do relaxing things they enjoy with them. Since their parents are possibly the most important people in their lives, it can be a very good thing if parents can find a way to cultivate good relationships with their children, so children can feel confident of their support. It's important that children don't feel too time-pressured by doing too many activities; it's good if they have time to just relax and chat, with parents doing their best to make time to be there for them. There might also be hobbies the family can enjoy together, that'll increase warm feelings between them because they're all enjoying themselves together in companionship.
We could ask children what they'd like to do more of with their parents, and how they feel about the amount of time their parents spend with them ; and if some children say they'd like their parents to spend more time with them and they feel bad that they don't spend much time with them, we could tactfully tell parents how they feel and how nice they think it would be if they did more together. Or we could encourage them to spend more time with their children by telling them that can be valuable because it can help children feel more supported.
It can be especially important for children to have a responsible voice in their lives talking over things with them as they grow into their teenage years and the views of friends become more important. If their friends go out underage binge drinking, for example, it'll be easy for other children to get drawn into the scene, because they think it sounds fun and they want to be like their friends. Teenagers tend to think it's very important to belong to a group. If their parents are available to talk things over with them and try to keep them from risky behaviours, they will at least have someone important to them in their lives putting an alternative point of view to the one they're hearing from their friends, and that just might sometimes make them stop and think.
So we could try to persuade parents they could have an important role in their children's lives.
The book suggests we write a letter home to parents trying to persuade them of the importance of increasing parent-child bonds by doing things together as a family, such as preparing meals, maybe making cakes, taking walks together, playing games, or reading and discussing books or articles on various things.
Actually, something I've thought it might be nice to do if I ever have children, once they get to be near teenagers, is to have a couple of hours a week, perhaps on Sunday afternoons, that I could call the Learning Zone or something; and I'll look up articles on the Internet about subjects it'll be good for them to know about, such as scams they might fall for later in life if they're not careful and how to avoid doing that, and the dangers of alcohol, and all kinds of things it would be useful for them to know, and print the articles out, read one a week or something to them, and discuss them with them.
Perhaps we could suggest ideas like that to parents.
There was a television programme on once about people who'd never learned to read at school picking up the skill very quickly when different teaching techniques were used. So if anyone in our class is having real difficulty learning, perhaps we could research other methods of teaching them. For instance, one woman who'd struggled all her life to learn to read was given plastic letters as if they were shapes, and somehow that helped her understand them better, and she learned to read quickly after that. So maybe we could research what other methods exist to teach people to read besides the ones we're told to use.
Also, some children might get bored learning one way but become enthusiastic and learn better some other way. For instance, learning on computers might seem more interesting to some so they're willing to pay more attention to learning, or learning by playing games might help some children take things in more.
There was a programme on television called Kids Don't Count about how a lot of primary school children weren't learning maths very well because their teachers didn't even know how to teach it that well and the lessons were boring. Someone came in to teach who demonstrated maths using objects and games that the children could participate in, and their interest in maths grew, and some who'd said they didn't like it at all before decided they did like it.
If we think a child's having especial academic difficulties though, we can try referring them for testing and perhaps placement in special remedial classes. Some, though, might benefit if we ourselves or older students can find time to give them a bit of extra tutoring.
We'll also need to think about any special needs people with disabilities in our class might have. For instance, we could question whether a child with sight difficulties can see what we're writing on the blackboard allright or whether they'd prefer to sit nearer the front. Some children might be having difficulties but might not speak up and tell us because they don't want people to think they're different. Or they might assume we know about them but that we just don't care. So it might be up to us to check they're allright.
We also need to bear in mind that older students in our class might be more skilled at learning and better at sitting still and behaving than younger students. Students in our class can be nearly a year apart in age. So we shouldn't think younger children might have problems learning or behaving if they're not achieving so much or they're disruptive; it might simply be that they're younger and so not quite so mature as the others.
We could suggest to the children that they talk to their parents about what they've learned, and we could ask parents if they can ask them what the most interesting things they learned were, so their interest in learning will hopefully not fade away the minute they leave the classroom. If we can try and do what we can to make learning fun, it'll increase the chances that they'll stay interested.
If we can think of various different ways to encourage children to use their imaginations overall, and try to encourage parents to do that, then the children might end up having things they'd much rather focus on than being bullies.
Students can be encouraged if we show them we feel sure they can achieve a lot if they try. If there are students we don't expect much of for any reason, so we don't encourage them to try, and they're used to people having such attitudes, they can begin to think of themselves as being doomed to fail. They can think of themselves as no good at schoolwork, so they'll stop even bothering to try. Then they won't succeed, so they'll think they were right all along, and so will teachers. And every time they fail because they felt too discouraged to try, it'll confirm them in their opinion that they're no good at schoolwork. If they start thinking there's no hope, they'll lose interest in lessons, so they might start playing up and being disruptive, maybe picking on others.
If we can show all our students we believe in them, and that whatever level of learning they're at, we're convinced they can get better, then they might pick up some encouragement and even enthusiasm from us and try harder.
We could try thinking of each student, trying to think of what they might need to help them improve their behaviour and their work. Different students might be helped most by different things. It might help if we write notes in a journal on the needs of each one of them and how we might be able to help each one of them perform better. We could think of what, realistically, each student might be able to achieve by the end of the year, academically and as regards how they might be getting on with other students. We could write that down briefly, and tell each of the students what we hope for them, and tell them we're committed to helping them try and achieve it.
We'll have to make sure not to be over-optimistic or too pessimistic when we think about what they might be able to achieve; if we're too optimistic, we might discourage the students by expecting them to achieve something that seems unattainable; but if we're pessimistic, they might not bother to try and achieve more.
Some children can find getting down to homework much easier if they're in an environment without too many distractions, supervised by someone who expects them to get down to work, but who can help them if they need it. Some schools have homework clubs where a group or class of children sit doing homework while they're supervised by an older student. It can be much easier to get down to homework when you haven't got the temptation of chatting to friends, watching television and so on.
I remember when my brother was studying for exams, he wasn't getting on very well, and he said one of his friends told him he used to be as bad, just not wanting to get down to study, preferring to do other things. He got bad grades in things because he never felt like working. But then he started going to the library to do his study and homework. There were no distractions there, and he found he could work much better. His grades dramatically improved and he did much better in his exams than he would have done if he'd kept trying to study at home. My brother was impressed, but didn't follow his example. He got bad marks in his exams. I'm not sure if they would have been better if he'd studied somewhere with no distractions.
If we can get some kind of homework club set up at our school, it might benefit quite a lot of children. Some children might come from families with no interest in education so they're not encouraged to do homework at home; others might come from families where parents misguidedly do their homework for them so they won't learn so much if that carries on; and others might come from families who have trouble persuading them to get down to doing their homework, partly because there are more interesting things to do so the children are always doing something they like better. When children have a set time to do their homework so they can't keep putting it off all evening, and if they're being supervised, and they know it's an expectation that they'll sit quietly for however long the homework club lasts so they get used to it, then quite a few of them at least might find it easier to do their homework. And they might like the feeling of having the rest of each evening free to do what they want instead of having their homework hanging over them all evening till they finally make themselves get around to it.
The people doing the supervising will of course have to be people who don't allow people to play around. And if they're a student, there will have to be some higher authority available somewhere they can turn to if they have problems.
Even without a homework club, if we can try to persuade children of the benefits of doing their homework at a set time each day so they can get it over with and hopefully enjoy the rest of the evening, some of them might become more efficient at completing it.
When children have done homework on time, they're more likely to be able to follow what's going on in class. For instance, if their homework was to learn how to spell certain words and practice them, anyone who's bad at spelling and doesn't do the homework might be marked down for not spelling the words right after that, and if that kind of thing keeps happening, they might get discouraged and think they're not much good at learning; but they'd be more interested in learning if they could tell they were succeeding because someone had made sure they paid attention to their homework.
Note that if you choose to try out some or all of the recovery techniques described in this article, they may take practice before they begin to work.
If you'd like to email the author of this article to make comments on it, good or bad: Email the author.
If you email us, please use the subject line that's already in the email, since there is a spam filter that will otherwise treat an email as spam and delete it. Sorry for the inconvenience; it was put there as an easy way of weeding out and getting rid of all the spam sent to this address.
You might well not get a response to your email, but be assured that most feedback is very much appreciated.
Feel free to add this article to your favourites or save it to your computer. If you know of anyone you think might benefit by reading any of the self-help articles in this series, whether they be a friend, family member, work colleagues, help groups, patients or whoever, please recommend them to them or share the file with them, or especially if they don't have access to the Internet or a computer, feel free to print any of them out for them, or particular sections. You're welcome to distribute as many copies as you like, provided it's for non-commercial purposes.
This includes links to articles on depression, phobias and other anxiety problems, marriage difficulties, addiction, anorexia, looking after someone with dementia, coping with unemployment, school and workplace bullying, and several other things.
The articles are not meant to convey the impression that they're giving personal advice to you. They are meant to be taken as they are represented - someone's thoughts on how they might solve their problems, based on the self-help books and articles they have come across.
The author has a qualification endorsed by the Institute of Psychiatry and has led a group for people recovering from anxiety disorders and done other such things; yet she is not an expert on people's problems, and has simply taken information from books and articles that do come from people more expert in the field.
There is no guarantee that the solutions the people in the articles hope will help them will work for everybody, and you should consider yourself the best judge of whether to follow their example in trying them out.
Go back to the contents at the beginning.
If after reading the article, you fancy a bit of light relief, visit the pages in our jokes section. Here's a short one for samples: Amusing Signs.
(Note: At the bottom of the jokes pages there are links to material with Christian content. If you feel this will offend you, you're advised not to go there.)
To the People's Concerns Page which features audio interviews on various life problems. There are also links with the interviews to places where you can find support and information about related issues.