In this article, NIE Research Fellow and part-time school counsellor Dr Wong Hwei Ming shares some tips on how teachers can stop or prevent bullying from happening in their classrooms.
Have you watched the video of the bullying incident in a secondary school in Singapore? If you have not, here is what happened: A boy was seen hitting two other boys on their heads repeatedly. Another boy was seen dancing on the teacher’s table in the background while the bullying went on. The school is now counselling all the students involved and the adjunct teacher present at the incident has also been spoken to.
Becoming a Bully
As a teacher, have you wondered why some students are bullies? As a teacher, have you had to deal with bullies? How and what would you have done to stop or prevent bullying in your class?
What I would like to do in this article is to highlight possible reasons why a student might become a bully and some useful tips for teachers to stop bullying in their classrooms.
With my combined experience of 20 years as a teacher, an educational psychologist and a school counsellor, I have met my fair share of bullies in schools. I have discovered that very rarely, it is a simple case of a bully being a bully because he or she simply wants to or aspires to be a bully. There are often underlying reasons resulting in a student becoming a bully.
Very rarely, it is a simple case of a bully being a bully because he or she simply wants to or aspires to be a bully.
– Dr Wong Hwei Ming, Office of Education Research, NIE
Reasons behind Bullying Behaviour
For the younger students, sometimes, it is a learned behaviour from significant adults in the family. The students have seen these adults get their way using these behaviours and the students are simply copying the behaviours, not realizing it is not the right kind of behaviour when interacting with their peers. In other words, the bullying behaviours are a way of life for these students. Usually, I would speak to the parents to find out more about the family situation and work with the parents and student.
Sometimes, the bullying behaviour is a reaction to changes in the students’ lives, such as a death in the family, divorce between parents, new family member (could be a younger sibling or step-parent and/or step-sibling), relocation and others.
The adults may see such changes as part and parcel of life, but to a student, it is a major upheaval that is often beyond their control. These students thus react by bullying to retain some sense of control in their lives.
I discover that in such cases, the adults had usually neglected to explain the situation to the students, often thinking that students would not understand or that the students would adapt easily. Again, I would speak to the parent(s) and work with the parent(s) and the student.
Not knowing how to control their emotions and a lack of empathy are also possible causes for the bullying behaviour. The students cannot control their emotions and they will overreact to the slightest irritations. Sometimes, the students cannot understand or feel what the students who are being bullied are experiencing.
In such cases, I would work with the students on how to regulate and manage their negative emotions–usually anger–and teach them empathy through role play.
The students have seen these adults get their way using these behaviours and the students are simply copying the behaviours.
– Hwei Ming on where some students learn to bully.
Tips to Stop Bullying
From my personal experience, the above are common reasons why a student becomes a bully. I feel it is just as important to understand the reason(s) why a student is a bully while tackling the bullying behavior itself. Without understanding the reason, any course of action will only just subdue the bullying for the time being. It would resurface again later.
Here are tips for teachers to stop or prevent bullying:
- Pay attention. There are usually warning signs that point to bullying, such as lost or destroyed personal items, unexplained injuries, change in usual behaviours such as eating or sleeping habits, avoidance of school or other social events. Always engage your students on a regular basis and encourage conversation through open-ended questions.
- Do not ignore the bullying. Sometimes, adults/teachers tend to see bullying as a once-off or just harmless teasing. When left unchecked, bullying will and can become worse as you are sending signals to the student who is bullying that his or her bullying behaviour is okay. When a student feels threatened in any way, please take it seriously and assure the student that you are there for him or her and will render help.
- Do something. When you think there is a problem between students, intervene as soon as possible to prevent the situation from escalating.
- Be calm. As the adult or teacher, model to students the respectful behaviour you expect from them (and likewise, it will be the same respectful behaviours that the students are expected to show one another). Refrain from arguing with or shouting at the students. Please make sure everyone is safe and no injuries are sustained, explain to the students involved (the bully, the bullied and the bystanders) that such bullying behaviour is not tolerated and you plan to get to the bottom of it before deciding what needs to happen next.
- Deal with students separately. Speak to all involved – the bully, the bullied and the bystanders separately. Do not attempt to ask for facts or sort out what happened with everyone present. Do not allow the students involved to talk to one another. This will allow everyone to tell their side of the story without being influenced by what others might have said, or by what others might think of them.
- Hold bystanders accountable. Impress upon the bystanders that they have a responsibility to stop bullying when they see it happening. If they feel they cannot stop it, they are to report to a teacher as soon as possible. By not doing anything, they are condoning and encouraging the bullying.
- Listen with an open mind. Do not pre-judge and do not make assumptions. Always listen with an open mind. A “bully” may turn out to be the bullied who is finally retaliating against a bully.
- Get appropriate or professional help. Although teachers are frontline counsellors, be careful not to give advice beyond your level of expertise. Do not make assumptions. If in doubt, refer to the school counsellor.
- Anti-bullying policy or standard operating procedure (SOP). Be familiar with your school’s anti-bullying policy or SOP. If there is none in your school, it is essential to draw up one. A school-wide SOP will ensure that teachers treat and handle bullying uniformly, and send a consistent message to all students.
Impress upon the bystanders that they have a responsibility to stop bullying when they see it happening.
– Hwei Ming on how students can get involved to stop a bully.
I hope this article has been helpful in highlighting some possible reasons a student may become a bully and useful tips for teachers to stop and prevent bullying.