Bullying – How you can create an anti-bullying climate in your classroom
Bullying may tend to take place out of sight, but by changing a classroom’s climate we can start tackling it in a meaningful way, says Holly Everett…
Whilst I was completing my teacher training, one of the students in my Y9 English class was being bullied by a group of girls in another set.
This student would often look visibly upset when they arrived at the lesson – I would catch snatches of muttering or muted laughter as the group passed by in the corridor outside, and sometimes overheard students making references to a certain WhatsApp group.
Whilst we had a ‘zero tolerance’ anti-bullying policy at the school, there were no real concrete actions I could take, especially as the student wouldn’t talk to me about what was happening.
The behaviour was taking place outside of the classroom, I had no real ‘evidence’ to take higher up, and even if I had spoken to SLT, I’m not sure what they could or would have done.
So I did what I could. I gave the student permission to sit in my classroom over lunchtime. I tried to create an environment where they could open up to me if they wanted to.
I attempted to speak to their peers about what was going on, but even the most conscientious students in my class seemed unwilling to talk about it.
Those that did just dismissed it as nothing, or at most, ‘A bit of a laugh’. I told my mentor and the class teacher, both of whom said they would keep an eye out.
Changing the climate
Teaching can be one of the most rewarding professions in the world, but also be really disheartening.
I don’t know what happened to that student in my Y9 English class. I came to the end of my placement, moved to another school to complete my PGCE and never heard any more.
I sometimes still think about whether there was anything more I could have done. Even after finishing my training and moving into my first full-time role, I’d continue speaking to many colleagues about the challenges of tackling bullying.
It can be hard for teachers, particularly those in secondary schools, to put a firm stop to bullying because unless the students concerned are in your tutor group, you may only have an hour or two of contact time with them over the week.
Bullying is far more likely to happen out of sight of teachers, and outside the classroom, often over social media. Much of its impact depends on the attitude of other students, the bystanders, whose reactions to what’s happening can hugely alter the course of a bullying scenario.
As I’ve grown in confidence and experience as a teacher, I’ve become better at changing the climate of the classroom – using PSHE lessons to teach compassion, resilience, and digital literacy in a way that engages all of the students in the classroom, not just those who have been subject to bullying.
Through doing this, I’ve been able to break down some of the intolerances, stereotypes, misconceptions and lapses in judgement that often escalate into bullying.
Part of the solution
I now apply the same approach in my role as head of education at the anti-bullying youth charity, Ditch the Label. I want to create resources that empower both teachers and students, so that we can all feel like we’re part of the solution in small, constructive ways.
I hope that other teachers like me can use them to start important conversations of their own about bullying and its related issues.
We don’t have to feel powerless, and we don’t have to rely on wordy policies that look great on paper but have little practical application. The change starts in our classrooms, and it’s something we can all be part of.
Holly Everett worked as a secondary school English and RE teacher before becoming head of education at Ditch the Label; the organisation’s free educational resources for teachers can be downloaded from dtled.org.