133 – bullyproofing our kids

If you have read any of my previous rants you may know that I have just finished a Mindfulness course and that I enjoyed it very much. I am really interested in Mindfulness and the theory behind it, and re-routing the neural pathways to form calmer more ‘green brained’ ways of being in the world. The course is just me dipping my toes in really – I have a long way to go – but it supports my pastoral goals for work and is a nice parallel path for me to look at alongside the Restorative justice course I am going to do in June as well as this other thing I was introduced to last year; the ‘Bullyproof’ theory.

You see, the thing I love about my Deaning job is the pastoral side of it. I think I have a knack for communicating with teenagers, and although I know a lot of my colleagues would rather I were more disciplinarian, I simply can’t see the benefits in punitive management of my cohort. I get far better results with my students if they feel like I am personally invested in their success and show them how pleased I am when they do well. When they are having a rough time which is affecting their ability to succeed at school – whether it be academically or managing their inter-personal responsibilities – I think it is my job to be  a safe person for them to come and work stuff out. A sounding board, or a safe place to vent while they process the negative emotions and figure out what to do next.Now – in no way am I an expert at managing this stuff, so my professional goals this year are tied to getting myself an education. Going and speaking to people who ARE experts. Attending seminars and courses, and consulting with my colleagues who are already good at this.

Naturally the pastoral team at school are my first port of call and they are invaluable in what they do for the school. I grew up watching my mother be VERY good at working with children and teenagers as a rape and sexual abuse counselor. I always knew I wanted to do something similar to Mum – I can’t fight it – this apple might as well be the tree in this case – but I know that for my own mental health I can’t do what she did. I want to balance the pastoral side of my expertise with the interest in education.

So, my TAI this year will be somehow linked to Mindfulness in education – but I am still formulating the question and how to implement that. I have two courses coming up – Restorative justice in Schools and Trauma-Sensitive Practice in Schools. Tonight I am sitting down with a paper entitled ‘On the Bus; An action plan for bully-proofing your school and classroom’ by Mark Cleary and Keith Sullivan. In a nutshell – and believe me I am only just attempting to get the shell off this nut – the theory works like this;

If we look at a general classroom situation we can break the group down like this; %5 of the group will be ‘Bully’. %5 will be the ‘Bullied’. %85 will be Bystanders. BUT another %5 will be the Bullyproof kids. Previously as educators/society we have tried to address the Bullied or the Bully when dealing with a difficult situation, we have looked at the reasons why kids bully each-other, what makes a ‘victim’ and how to empower the bystanders to support the victim. But we don’t usually talk about the bullyproof kid.

You know the one – this is the person who, when she sees someone being picked on doesn’t think about/or care about the potential for negative backlash on herself and says something like ‘Hey don’t say that about XXX that’s not cool’ or similar. Crucially this person is usually pretty popular within the group but not a follower and not afraid to go against the pack mentality. You might be a bullyproof peep? Or you might be friends with one. These people usually have a big group of friends and can be a leader – whether they are quietly confident or outwardly going about their business these folks are the key. In identifying the Bullyproof kid we can start to support the bystanders to feel more empowered to speak out against bullying behaviour and change the culture of the classroom or school.

The article I am reading has some great scenarios for teaching this theory and the ways that we can support the bullyproof kids, and to start to teach the Bystanders to be bullyproof too. Because we can’t ‘fix’ the ‘victims’. It is not as simple as telling a terrified kid that they should just ‘stand up for them self and it will stop’ or go and tell a trusted adult. This simply doesn’t work. And we can’t ‘fix’ a bully. Bystanders remain bystanders because they don’t want to draw the negative attention to themselves and risk becoming the victim. But if we show them that it can be done safely then we can empower them and start to change the culture of the situation so that the bully has no audience and gains nothing from picking on someone. Sounds simple huh? Ha ha. But the reading is interesting, and I am keen to get started on the practical.

Part of what the GD and I like about each-other, and also find so goddamned frustrating about each-other, is that we can be pretty bloody sure about what we will go along with and what we won’t. What is ok for our moral compass and what we will speak out about. And we can thank strong role models in our parents for this. I had a pretty great time at school (apart from about a month at intermediate school when this girl totally isolated me from the ALL the girls in nasty grrl pecking order crap shit stuff – but I totally got over that and don’t at all curse her name when I see her commenting on a friend of mines facebook posts – totally over it I promise). But ANYWAY, what I was saying is that I had a pretty great time at school and I have always been ok to say no to stuff I wasn’t interested in.

This has been quite frustrating to a few people as I was growing up. (I actually have a theory that that’s why she was so mean to me – I wasn’t interested in silly popular girl shit and had always kept the same friends so I had to be taught a lesson – all it did was confirm for me that I was right to avoid the drama ha ha). I wasn’t overly confident – don’t get me wrong – I would describe myself as wallpaper at school – just kind of in the background and going through all the same self-loathing stuff that all teens do. I just ticked along in the background doing my thing.

The GD is the same – he can be abrupt in his disagreement with you. He can be downright rude in fact, but he balances it with twinkly blue eyes and an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things long and boring so you forget you were offended in the first place and just try to hold on to your initial point. This makes for some pretty fiery arguments in our house – especially when we flat out disagree about stuff. But I wouldn’t respect him if he didn’t have a spine and vice versa.

Something I think about for us at home in doing this research for school; How to raise confident, bullyproof kids?

How to ensure that our boys not only are not bullied themselves BUT also stand up for those they see being treated badly as well? How to embed empathy in to our children whilst fostering backbone and mindfulness at the same time? To teach them about consent in all aspects of their lives – that it is theirs to give and their responsibility to ask for? That as long as their actions and interactions come from a place of kindness and without judgement – they will be doing ok? So, for now we have conversations with them. We point out unfair situations and talk about why it isn’t ok. We answer every question they ask us as honestly as we can – staying true to our values but explaining every time that other people think different stuff. I am on a personal mission to teach them about consent in direct relation to the kitten. It’s a work in progress. ‘Miaow means NO! Put the kitten down! He has a right to not want to be cuddled!’.

It’s a work in progress. And we fuck up all the time. But I am really enjoying using my brain again and getting in to the theory behind it all. I don’t think I could have done this last year with the brain fog I was suffering from – but the fog is lifting.

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