Teacher Candidates Present on Classroom Bullying at Leaders Conference

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ten teacher candidates took members of the Western community by surprise with a heart-wrenching dramatization of the harmful effects of classroom bullying. “Bullies in the Classroom,” a concurrent session at the 2012 Ignite conference, allowed staff and leaders across campus to share personal stories, common concerns, and information about bullying to ensure that schools will be safer for everyone.

Dean Vicki Schwean opened the session by describing types of bullying, potential victims of bullying, and the frequency of bullying in schools: “It happens more than you’d ever believe. Roughly 10-15% of children admit to being involved in bullying every week within a school or community.” Schwean also discussed the consequences of bullying, which for many are life long. “Many children who are bullied continue to experience mental health problems—including anxiety, hypervigilance, depression, PTSD, self-harm, and even suicide.” Moreover, few children receive specialized treatment (beyond the school system) for such mental health problems. As a result, Schwean observed, “many students are coming here to Western with them. They still feel depressed. They still feel anxious. And there may even be people in this room who feel that way as well.” Children who are bullies also need support, especially since such behavior can be a predictor for criminal behavior in adulthood. Western prioritizes mental health and anti-bulllying initiatives, Schwean noted, such as the new “Like Your Mind” website and the Faculty of Education’s CREVAWC and The Centre for School-Based Mental health, which will be unveiled later in the year.

Following Dean Schwean’s remarks, a screening of a short film by the Ontario Teacher’s Federation showed testimonies by victims and witnesses of bullying. The final message of the film, that “everybody has the right to be safe, strong, and free,” was reinforced with a list of concrete suggestions to assist students, teachers, administrators, and parents to create a positive school culture. As one child noted in his interview, a safe school is crucial to student success: “it makes you feel confident because you are in an intimidation-free environment. You’re not afraid of what people think of you. You can be yourself.”

After the film—and without warning—teacher candidates sitting in the audience rose and, one by one, delivered short monologues about how bullying impacted their lives as students, teachers, and parents. This unexpected, candid performance brought the effects of bullying to life, and it inspired an emotional and honest discussion among the audience about the personal and professional challenges surrounding the bullying within both classroom and workplace environments.

As they led discussion, the teacher candidates demonstrated their keen understanding of the issues and their knowledge of concrete and practical ideas for improving school cultures.One teacher candidate noted that it can be easy to overlook bullying in the classroom. “Sometimes you don’t want to see it. Meanwhile, the bully is terrorizing the students. If the students are mean to each other, but nice to the adults, it can be difficult to believe.” Another teacher candidate described witnessing a class activity in which her teacher advisor brainstormed about bullying behaviours with her students. “The branching exercise helped everyone to identify and prevent bullying because we came to a common understanding of it as a class.” Based on their practicum experiences, teacher candidates emphasized the importance of communicating about bullying with students and parents.

Dean Schwean added that bullying must be confronted directly: “the most important thing you can do is be consistent. The same kinds of things exist on the adult level. People can’t feel safe, can’t feel secure, and can’t trust anything around them. Even though it is difficult, it needs to be done.” Jane O’Brian echoed Schwean’s comments, but noted that there is now both legal and psychological support for bullied employees at Western. “It doesn’t matter what role we play. We can all be victims. It is only by bringing attention to others that we can assist them and prove them support.”

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Bullying