Building from Bullying. #1000Speak 20 March

A Peer Mediation Project

While I was a High School teacher, I witnessed a lot of bullying. Mainly seemingly minor incidents such as: name calling, hiding or stealing personal objects, excluding by ignoring, spreading cruel gossip, etc. More recently, cyber bullying also became popular, where the same actions were performed on social media.

Although teachers are often the first to identify these events, a great deal of bullying goes unnoticed by adults, including parents, because the bullies are devious, and they have many accomplices, or people who are prepared to turn a blind eye, and even take part in the torture by watching and enjoying.

I started a peer mediation project at my school, which I’d like to share with you today, because it helped with many cases, but first, I’d like to share a piece of flash fiction on this subject, which I believe illustrates the point dramatically.

****

Mary was Alone

Miss Smith wrote the five words on the blackboard: Mary was alone at home.
“Now let’s finish the story together,” she invited the students.

Mary trembled. It was happening again in broad daylight.

“Mary? Stop daydreaming. Could you give us the next line?” ordered the teacher.

How could she know the child was struggling with a recurring nightmare?

“Let’s give Mary some ideas to proceed with the story. Can I have a second line from someone else?”

Mathew put his hand up and spoke, “She saw him watching her from across the parking lot, opposite her bedroom window.”

“Sounds good. Does that help, Mary?”

She shook her head, thankful that her hair covered her tearful eyes.

“He took pictures of her as she undressed,” continued Mark.

“He shared them with his friends on Facebook,” volunteered Peter.

“Can you continue now, Mary?” asked Miss Smith.

“She’s a nervous wreck, because she can’t eat, sleep, or study.”

“Change that line for: ‘she enjoyed the attention she’d never had before’,” Luke smirked.

“How does the story end, Miss Smith?” Mary asked desperately.

“She tells her teacher, who helps her understand she’s a victim of bullying and needs help.”

“She better not, Miss. Teachers’ bedrooms have windows, too,” warned Shirley.

****

I wrote this in response to a photo prompt on today’s Flash! Friday Contest, check out the other entries here:

It is my opinion that children, including adolescents, cannot cope with bullies on their own. They need the help of understanding and experienced adults, especially teachers, and other students, too. I became interested in this topic after taking part in mediation training courses for teachers. Students at my school also took part in similar courses.

I realized we needed students in the school mediation project because students who are being bullied can be more easily identified by other students, and students can understand and relate to each other more easily and willingly than with an adult.

We established various stages:

Pre-Mediation

  • Building awareness, and making the mediators and project known to students. Mediators were allocated a room, a mail box, and information was given to the community.
  • Reception of information /cases. This could be done by means of an anonymous or identified written communication by a third party, or a personal request by someone who was experiencing it directly.

Both parties have to agree to take part in mediation.

This is the best part and the biggest drawback. You can’t force someone to take part in mediation, and I hate to admit it, but I believe that the worst cases can’t be solved by mediation, because the bully refuses to cooperate.Fortunately, once they agree to take part, 50% of the work is done.

We offered all parties involved absolute privacy in all proceedings and a reduced (or even no) reprimand if they agreed to take part and reached an agreement.

Stages to mediation:

  • Separate interviews. Peer mediators speak to each party separately about the events.
  • Joint discussion. Mediators guide a session where both parties speak in turns about (i) what has happened, (ii) how they feel about the events, and (iii) what they ask of each other.

Active listening is encouraged by asking each party to rephrase what the other has said, immediately after each intervention, to make sure they are listening and understanding each other’s feelings and motivations.

Surprisingly, we sometimes discovered that the victim was doing something, unknowingly, that the bully interpreted as an offence, or that the bully had got the wrong end of the stick. Amazingly many of the cases were, or had started as misunderstandings.

Closure. Finally, an agreement, which could be total or partial, was reached by both parties.

  • The worst scenario was that they agreed to ‘ignore’ or ‘keep away’ and not harm or provoke each other in any way.
  • The best scenario was a mutual understanding and a return to normal relations between both parts.

Post Mediation Stage

  • Students (mediators) follow-up informally to make sure the situation hasn’t worsened.
  • Students who insisted on bullying after mediation suffered harder disciplinary measures. This rarely occurred.

The only drawback is that this works with ‘reasonable’ children who suffer or indulge in ‘routine’ or simpler cases of bullying, however, more serious cases which often go beyond the school walls need much more specialized and coordinated action with families, psychologists, social workers, and even law enforcement.

I’m convinced that the vast majority of incidents of bullying in schools, which I have witnessed, are not of the complex type, and therefore can be improved with peer mediation projects.

Have you had any experience of similar projects at your schools?

11 thoughts on “Building from Bullying. #1000Speak 20 March

  1. This sounds like something I did with sexual harassment in our med school. The problem is, a lot of the bullies are vicious and anonymous. Not sure what you do about that, but parents and teachers need to take a more active role in determining when bullying is happening and tracking down the offenders.
    Great short story – even teachers aren’t immune, And in the US teachers aren’t even allowed to defend themselves when a student attacks them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Serious bullying is very difficult to counteract, but in any case, the first step is telling someone, preferably an adult who has some authority. It’s impossible to deal with on your own.
    If the bully/student is under 18, they’re pretty much immune in Spain, too, so perhaps that’s why some adults/teachers look the other way 😦

    Like

  3. Hi Luccia.
    It is wonderful to read about the active steps that were taken in your school to combat bullying. I think mediation is an excellent process. As you say, often the parties are in “conflict” through an unintentional misunderstanding, and they just need help to sort it out.
    Your flash story “Mary was alone” has quite an impact and touches on a number of issues. It seems that the teacher realizes that the student Mary has some issues, so I wasn’t sure why she would try to highlight it in such a manner in front of a group. It seems the pack mentality of the student group didn’t make for a positive environment for discussing Mary’s situation. Why didn’t the teacher use a fictitious name and avoid targeting Mary specifically. It seems very unsympathetic to Mary’s situation.
    I like the steps to mediation you have described and the conclusion you have drawn about bullying and its “treatment”. I wondered though, you have said ‘peer’ mediators in the initial interviews. Perhaps I have misunderstood. I thought peers would be students, and that doesn’t seem quite appropriate to me for a role as important as this. Maybe you could show me that I’m wrong. I haven’t worked with teenagers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A few teachers were involved, but the mediation was carried out mainly by a group of students who had done a course on mediation, so they knew what they were doing. Most cases which worked out well were actually misunderstandings, the difficult cases don’t come out in the open, or else one of the parties refuses to mediate. That was my experience for about 3 years while I was supervising the project. I really don’t know if it continues. I’m teaching adults now, and we haven’t had any serious problems since I’ve been here.
      Regarding the story, the teacher had no idea Mary was being bullied. She didn’t pick on her on purpose, but the gang were so nasty and sure of themselves that they went as far as bullying her openly and even threatening the teacher. That’s a very serious case. I don’t think peer mediation could help much there unfortunately.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for giving great explanations to both my questions. The peer mediation program sounds wonderful. I’m pleased to hear you are not experiencing problems with the adult students. Perhaps they learned well while at school, from a teacher like you!
        Now that I understand Mary’s story better I see the subtleties more clearly. That group of bullies definitely need stronger intervention than mediation.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Very engaging post, even if the flash creeps the hell out of you for being so cruel and so likely to be echoed in reality. The peer group response sounds tremendous but I bet it took a deal of work for you to manage to make sure it functioned as intended. Well done you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, gangs and especially cyberbully gangs are the most harmful. Fortunately I’ve never actually come across such a nasty group at my school. but I’ve known others who have. Mostly I’ve seen isolated ‘guerilla bullying’ tactics which weren’t too hard to handle.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Enjoyed your horrible flash. It seems the teacher had no idea what she was getting herself into. My fear is that such scenarios can happen a lot when people (not just teachers) try to resolve problems without the training necessary to do so. That’s why your mediation project sounds such a good idea. It’s not only tackling the bullying in the here and now, but giving students the skills to deal with such problems in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment, Anne. You’re right. Students and teachers who took part in the mediation courses all said it gave them essential life skills. Active listening is invaluable in life. It’s easy to speak and have conversations without listening. We all need to make a conscious effort to listen.

      Like

I'd love to know your opinion about this post!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s