This weeks’ Principal’s editorial is a long one! However, I question if there is a more pressing focus in schools as young men grow than the management and guidance of relationships as they grow from boys to men.
I commend to you the detail below regarding our direction and development in the space of bullying and harassment, and the management of relationships in the College.
Bullying harassment and student relationships at the College
In my early examinations of Villanova life for me as the new Principal investigating how student relationships were operating at the College and how, when they inevitably go wrong, that breakdown is managed was of highest priority. In every school the point of greatest failure is in relationships and their management as boys are at their most vulnerable, confused and challenged during their teenage years, as they leave behind their childhood and move toward maturity at vastly different rates and as once loved games, pastimes and friends rapidly become points of conflict and polarisation.
In a school of 1400 boys there is a myriad of interactions, positive and negative, everyday and as such this is the biggest challenge for our teachers and pastoral leaders. As such there must be a clear and definitive approach to relationship management and, when it reaches a threshold, bullying behaviour. Largely our teaching approach in the school, which underpins Augustinian education, is that of Relational Pedagogy. It greatly assists in creating a global school environment of positive and supportive relationships. However, as we live our daily lives anger, frustration, disappointment, and stress can see poor choices made particularly as we look to engage within and across our social and friendship groups. It is here where the nexus between relationship breakdown and bullying lies. As young men look to find their place and exert power or influence over others. It is here where we must intervene both proactively through structures and reactively through quality processes. It is in this space where our pastoral Leaders are doing further training and skill refinement.
I share with you the process for responding to relationship breakdown and bullying situations in the College. This will shortly be available to all families in pamphlet form from the College should you wish to access it.
At Villanova College we acknowledge bullying and relationships are complex and multilayered. In response our approach is informed by research and flexible in nature to respond to the needs of the situation and its participants.
The College maintains a ‘zero tolerance’ of bullying standard with College actions and response varying based on the particular set of circumstances presented. This doesn’t mean bullying won’t occur, it is a commitment that when reported the College will respond.
Our responses are designed to result in behavioural change and call on all stakeholders to own the problem and contribute to the solution.
Our intervention strategies look to create solutions to the issue rather than simply punish. Purely punitive responses fail in the intended action to improve the situation for the victim, strengthen their outlook and discourage the negative behaviour of the bully or bullies.
There are four important elements integral to the solution of bullying:
- The authority figures and their response.
- The victim, their actions and timeframe of reporting.
- The perpetrator and their outlook, reasonings and methods.
- The bystanders and their commitment to peace, justice and collusion or rejection of the perpetrators action.
Our approaches and responses to intervention are informed by Dr Ken Rigby’s “Bullying Interventions in schools.”
The six methods of intervention identified by Dr Rigby and to be utilised in College responses are:
Strengthening the Victim
This is a very important process in bullying intervention. It is essential but cannot be the only step. Victims need to both identify the why and develop/be given strategies to deal with challenging social situations. These ‘strengthening’s’ are physical, verbal and attitudinal (mainly confidence). This though can often be an ongoing commitment of the student, parent and College community which is its most challenging element. The work of Mark Dobson and Evelyn Field are excellent guides to work with students and families. Strengthening the victim will occur in all cases but can very rarely be the only response. It must be paired with further strategies.
Mediation is a strong and empowering process which sees the parties face each other and look to develop empathy and understanding. It is not always an appropriate first response but is always an option, particularly for older children. It does require a key skill set to ensure that it remains honest, non-punitive, focused on resolution and is future oriented. Participants own the process and must agree to involvement. While effective it is not the best way to deal with irrational adolescents who are emotional and not at a level of maturity to understand the purpose and practice clearly.
Restorative Conversations and Practices
Restorative conversations and practices are the most common way that the College will deal with bullying issues. It aligns closely with our Augustinian charism and global student support strategy. There is a clear structure and has a series of questions where the ‘wrongdoer’ self identifies their behavioural actions and choices, outlines expected and accepted behaviours and asks students to identify future choices. It involves parties individual responses and interacting face to face with an adult guide. The victim is equally asked to express their experience of what happened, why it happened and how the actions of the other made them feel. Encouraging those bullying to have a better understanding of their behaviour and its impact on others. It challenges students to act in honesty and with commitment to improve. Additionally, teaching social skills and developing character elements such as empathy, understanding and compassion.
Create Support Groups
The support group method is a seven-step approach that looks to engage the strength and values of the ‘group’ particularly the bystanders. The bully and victim are involved but the responsibility for resolution is with everyone.
- Talking with the victim
- Convening a group meeting
- Explaining the problem
- Promoting shared responsibility
- Asking for ideas
- Leaving it up to them
- Final meeting
The support group or ‘no blame’ method encourages communities to solve issues of bullying together, to agree to group goals and to support the community in achieving expected and accepted behavioural standards.
Method of Shared Concern
Is a complex method and approach but matches bullying itself – a complex and challenging social issue. It is a combination of mediation and the support group approach. The mediator works first, individually with the bully/ies and then with the group. It also may require greater intervention and direction from the mediator.
It requires the identification of the people involved and the group, the inclusion of bystanders, an acknowledgement by the bully of their behaviour, an explanation of the process and a clear statement of intent by the mediator to understand, respond and stop the circumstances and behaviour that is occurring.
The disciplinary approach is perhaps what may be considered the traditional approach.
It appeases parental and victim need for retribution however, it can fail to address in any transformational way the actions of the child/bully. As a first step response in dealing with matters of bullying and harassment it is not ideal but there will be times of extreme events where it may be the only and best option.
Where it is the first option in lesser or early stage bullying the likely outcome is transference to other children or a maintenance of bullying toward the victims with a change in the mode or method of transition and/or the identity of those bullying. There is a time and a place for a disciplinary approach to both create space between the victim/s and perpetrator/s and also to understand the situational factors. Equally there are times when the bully needs to be removed totally from the situation. This though is a likely final step.
The common element through all of the processes is:
- Bullying cannot be solved unless reported
- The bully must be called out
- The unacceptable behaviours must be articulated
- The victim needs to have a voice, be heard, be strengthened and be part of the solution.
When do we apply each method at Villanova College?
Each incident or report must first be investigated in a free and safe environment. This may see perpetrators, and even victims, required to spend time at home on suspension or on internal suspension. This is very much dependent on the situation detailed.
Teachers and Pastoral Area Leaders will make decisions on approaches based on situations and what is likely to have the greatest effect at long term solution and learning growth. The approach and practice will be discussed with parents of victims and bullies so that they are aware of our practice, the timeframe of events and expected outcomes or goals of the process implemented.
What role does the home play?
As parents are you having conversations with your son about acceptable standards? Every young man has the ability to be negative in their relationship with others. Even the quietest and most gentle child can fall victim to the lure of taking a higher place in the social hierarchy, or joining in on the ‘game’ of putdowns. Aligned conversations at home and school about empathy, compassion, understanding for others, the courage to speak and the courage to not be a bystander will all help your son grow into a fine young man. He will make mistakes, we all do, but how we respond and grow from the mistake is the measure of our maturity, growth and future success.
On behalf of our community, I wish all mothers a very enjoyable and special day on Sunday. I hope mothers receive the thanks they deserve for the support, guidance and love they provide.
Hold My Mother Close
Creator God, hold my mother close to your Heart
As we hold her close to mine. Let her know today and every day
How much we love her. Lord, comfort her mind and reassure her
that her motherly care was everything we needed and wanted
And that we love her dearly.
Lord, comfort her body as she ages and grant her health and
Vitality as she goes through her days here on earth. Bring all
Good things to my precious mother, dear God, and bless her
Every day, in every way. Amen
Mr Paul Begg, Principal
In keeping with the spirit of Reconciliation, Villanova College acknowledges the Yuggera and Turrbal peoples, as the Traditional Custodians of this land on which we stand. We pay our respects to Elders, past, present and emerging. This has always been, and always will be, a place of teaching and learning connected to country, culture and community.