Home' Teacher : June-July 2011 Contents 36 teacher june/july 2011
Both programs recognise the link
between being an open, en riched person
and success as a dancer. They also recog-
nise that, in the real world, not everyone is
respectful and just, and that our students
may face instances of bullying.
Common to all forms of bullying, harass -
ment, discrimination and violence is the
abuse of power, where a more powerful
person or g roup oppresses a less powerful
person or group. Bullying typically ex tends
over time and takes many forms – verbal,
physical, relational and cyber. I n cases
of cyberbullying the bully can’t see their
target – and the emotional impact of their
bullying – or their potentially worldwide
Awareness of the destructiveness of bul-
lying in Australian schools has developed
over the past 20 years, yet despite all the
interventions a nd fina ncial input bullying
still occurs at an alarming rate.
Like any other school in Australia, the
ABS has its fair share of bullies and targets.
What makes the ABS stand out, though, is
its long-term com mitment to creating a cul-
ture based on respect and empathy. Cultural
change doesn’t just happen. There has been
a deliberate leadership choice to invest time
and money in providing students with an
opportunity to focus on life apart from
dance a nd academia, and on educating the
staff and involving the parents.
oh my god, there’s a worried parent
on the phone
That phone call from a parent about bul-
lying can fill a school with dread. Despite
the availability of resea rch articles, bully-
ing and harassment programs, and advice
on handling bullying situations , there is
rarely a simple solution and teachers can
feel powerless to make a difference. The
more that we learn about bullying the more
it seems to be a pervasive human behaviour,
particularly in competitive school and work
environments. The question then a rises, can
we ever stop bullying behaviours?
Our experience at the ABS tells us that
changing the behaviour of targets is much
more effective than t rying to change the
bully’s behaviour. We also know that pre-
vention is better than intervention , particu-
larly the type that helps develop a resilient
mental attitude, assertiveness, personal
power, belief in self and the courage to stand
up for oneself.
At the ABS, our aim is to decrease the
nu mber of targets which then decreases
the ways in which bullies can abuse power.
Our experience is backed up by well-know n
author, Evelyn Field, who says that the adver-
sarial approach to bullying doesn’t work.
Empowering targets and creating respectful
commu nities, says Field, is the way to go.
What makes a target?
Any difference in children – being a geek, say,
or being a ‘ranga,’ being fat, wearing glasses,
wearing the ‘wrong’ clothes – can attract bul-
lies to misuse power. Many ABS students
have experienced bullying before coming to
the school, just because they’re a dancer.
There are some people who, when tar-
geted by a bully, have the confidence to stand
up to them. These people retain their sense
of self and are able to feel and remain pow-
erful. For others, though, it’s not so easy.
These are the ones who get hurt because
they don’t have the inner strength to stand
up for themselves. They have no awa reness
of their own power and how they can use it.
For those who are hurt by bullies, the
impact can be enormous a nd long lasting ,
affecting the way they live, learn and play.
What we know is the importance of helping
these young people build healthy self-esteem.
The role of self-esteem
In competitive environ ments, ma ny young
people learn that what they do and how
well they do it is intimately related to their
self-worth. If children are constantly given
attention and praise by parents and teach-
ers for their achievements, they can begin
to think, ‘I am worthwhile when I achieve,’
‘People notice me when I achieve,’ ‘People
like me when I achieve.’ Conversely, when
they feel like they aren’t achieving, their
sense of self and the way they value them-
selves can be diminished and have a negative
impact on every aspect of their life. Then
everything becomes hard.
Although schools are there to help young
people achieve, curriculum demands focus
on academic results rather than emotional
competence , and what young people do
can become more important than who they
are. This has the potential to lead to low or
Josh* is 14 years of age and has been dancing
for six years. He first experienced bullying
at age 11 when his mates found out he went
to dance lessons – something he had tried to
keep secret for fear of their reactions. Josh’s
parents reported the bullying to the school
pri ncipal. After several unsuccessful attempts
by teachers to rein in the bullies, Josh was
eventually enrolled at another school.
For a short time life improved for Josh,
but things took a turn for the worse when he
entered secondary school. Despite Josh join-
ing in sporting activities and trying to be ‘one
of the boys,’ he once again found himself the
target of the bullies. A decision was made by
school staff to ‘protect’ Josh by isolating him
from the bullies. Although this meant that
Josh didn’t have to cope with bullying, it also
meant that he never learned how to stand up
for himself and also missed out on develop-
ing his social skills and empathy.
Josh’s parents were delighted when Josh
was accepted into the ABS. They believed
that now he would be surrounded by like-
minded young people and would feel safe,
but Josh’s learned helplessness mea nt that any
banter or i nnocent teasing by his peers was
construed by Josh as bullying. What Josh had
to learn was that he had power like everyone
else and it was up to him what he did with it
– he could let others take it away or he could
use it respectfully to stand up for himself.
At the ABS, CSC group sessions assisted
Josh to understand the importance of self-
respect, power and empathy. He partici-
pated in practical exercises to understand
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