Discussing bullying in the classroom requires teaching thinking strategies and scaffolding discussion.
There are opportunities within the curriculum and throughout the school day for learning about concepts related to bullying, and to foster positive, inclusive and proactive attitudes and practices.
Teachers can ask questions in relation to stories and issues to help students explore relationships, conflict resolution, prejudices and the implications and consequences of behaviour.
The classroom environment must be a safe and trusting place so that diverse student views can be discussed and examined.
Be sensitive to exposing the behaviour or personal experience of individual students. Be prepared to address potential disclosures of inappropriate behaviour, and to support students who have a strong reaction to the topic.
Community of inquiry
A community of inquiry provides the conditions for the formation of relationships of respect, tolerance, caring and concern. Members of a community of inquiry explore big questions about life. Understanding the phenomena of bullying requires deep thinking and questioning for all, and a community of inquiry provides a foundation for school communities to approach this exploration.
An inquiry approach seeks opportunities to challenge opinions and attitudes, e.g. "The better fighter you are, the better person you are" or "Their problem is nothing to do with me".
In a community of inquiry, all members of the group work together to reach a rich, shared understanding of significant concepts and issues.
Participants are required to think deeply, reason effectively and reflect on their own thinking and that of others. They are encouraged to take ownership of their learning and work collaboratively to come up with solutions to problems that are central to their lives.
The inquiry approach means that students are scaffolded and supported to develop and express their own questions and ideas within the group. This is an important part of developing skills for independent thinking and collaborative investigation and problem solving. The teacher will be an observer or an equal participant — intervening only in the group discussion when support is required.
When discussing bullying in the classroom, encourage students to
talk in general terms and about the whole school, using sentences such as:
- Some people might … and this could cause a person to feel …
- At some schools …
- There have been times when …
Encourage students to justify their comments and responses, for example: I think this because…
Justifying and explaining points of view will enable all members of the group to gain a deeper understanding of the thinking and reasoning processes that are taking place.
Teachers can use a large range of inquiry, reflection and further probing questions to scaffold and guide students' thinking, including questions such as:
- What do you think character X or Y might have been thinking/feeling (include peripheral characters for their perspectives)?
- What beliefs and values are held by the characters?
- What qualities do the characters value?
- Who/what are the influences that shape the story characters, yours and others' ideas, attitudes, opinions and values (e.g. parents, friends, family, culture, media)?
- What are the meanings of terms and concepts as relevant (e.g. identity, beliefs, social hierarchy, power, freedom, choice, justice, respect, tolerance, acceptance, diversity and inclusion)?
- What other options did they have for how they acted?
- Have you experienced a similar situation?
- What did you do?
- Have you witnessed or been aware of a similar situation?
- What was the outcome?
- What other choices could have been made?
- What are the possible positive outcomes for X, Y, Z options?
- What are the possible negative outcomes for X, Y, Z options?
- How might these negative outcomes be addressed?
Managing inappropriate personal disclosure
Say up front to students that bullying can be a sensitive topic to discuss in the classroom and therefore
respectful listening is particularly important.
Teachers should emphasise that this activity is not the place for students to share or resolve current personal issues related to bullying, and instead that students are encouraged to speak with the teacher or a school support person after the lesson.
It is possible a student will begin to disclose personal information or a teacher might sense that a student is about to make such a disclosure. Protective interrupting is a useful tool for teachers in these situations.
Protective interrupting aims to protect students from the consequences of revealing inappropriate personal information in front of other students.
In protective interrupting, the teacher acknowledges they have heard the student using words like 'That sounds important', but stop them divulging any further details. The teacher then suggests the student talks privately with them after the lesson or, if possible, ask the student if they would like to leave the classroom then to continue the conversation.
If a student should make a disclosure of bullying currently occurring, your role is to listen calmly, show support for the student, acknowledge what they have told you and, once the student has finished, discuss with them what you could both do next.
Ensure you are aware of your school's policy for dealing with bullying.