[He] has a [mark] on his face and at his previous schools he was cruelly teased because of it. ….
There has been none of that at Alia College – Parent of Year 8 & 9 boy.
School Bullying is worldwide and serious
School bullying is one of the major problems in traditional schools. Bullying is so common that you are probably unusual if you have not been bullied. It’s more a matter of how serious the bullying is, and how good your skills are at dealing with it. Once you become are a target it can be very hard to manage.
If even Miss Australia can assert that her bullying at school was a “nightmare”, then how can anyone expect to be immune? Even school principals get bullied. So do teachers, nurses, police officers, and plenty of others.
School bullying produces fear and isolation
Because of under-reported bullying, teachers are often unaware of bullying incidents. Parents only become aware of the problem when other factors arise such as school refusal, non-specific illness, stress, lack of communication, etc. Parents can know that the problem has gone when these things disappear and school work is back on the agenda.
Bullying and anti-social behaviour
Every year at least one student comes to Alia who has been severely bullied and/or has been school refusing. Alia College offers an environment which helps students to de-stress enough so that they feel comfortable and happy coming to school.
The generous and tolerant atmosphere at Alia has not been achieved by accident. It is the result of a thoughtful approach which involves listening to students without jumping to hasty conclusions, understanding both sides of any story, and being considerate of the feelings and intentions of all members of the school community.
Teachers avoid bullying students. Teachers are bullies enough in expecting projects on time, attendance on time, giving tests, and, above all else, writing reports and doing parent/student/teacher interviews regularly.
Teachers provide a clear example to students of reasonable and mature behaviour. However, there is no policy of ‘anything goes’: teachers guide students in their learning and maintain clear expectations. They insist that students attend all classes punctually, work steadily and complete assignments and homework when they are due. Tests are conducted regularly and progress is systematically reported to parents. In other words, teachers exercise leadership and professional responsibility.
Teachers at Alia try to make the rest of the school experience for students as cheerful as possible by not acting like jailers, or overzealous police officers trying to catch every infringement of a dress code. Students are appreciative of teachers who primarily aim to teach rather than to minutely control behaviour. They pass on this attitude to others in the school.
Parents often report that their children are much calmer and more cheerful at home only a short time after they start at Alia. Sometimes new students come to Alia with defensive or aggressive behaviours. Gradually they learn that the system here is different and they learn to join the group.
If you are keen, have a chat with the principal, Bob, but take care – he loves talking about such things. Just to whet your appetite, consider the following. There are many definitions of bullying but no firmly and widely agreed litmus test of where joking around stops and bullying starts. Here is a link to a nice summary of the difficulty of trying to tie down exactly what bullying is by Dr. Ken Rigby, a renowned expert on bullying.
Almost every bully insists that “It was just a joke” and that, “There’s something wrong with them because they just can’t take a joke.” Sometimes even standing up for yourself can lead to accusations of bullying. All of this makes it really difficult to use rigid approaches to try to deal with bullying. In fact, overly firm approaches themselves tend to make teachers look like bullies and so tend to validate bullying attitudes. At Alia we prefer our version of the Golden Rule.
Q: What is the Golden Rule?
A: It’s something like, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Oh! And pay attention to what those others are saying, about what you are planning to do to them, preferably before you do it.
The Golden Rule is not a simple solution. You can see considerations for and against it.
Alia’s unique solution.
Our students assert that we have bullying sorted out.
“The key to reducing bullying lies in schools embracing an ethos in which it is impossible for this sort of abuse to flourish”. — Professor Ken Rigby, Bullying in Schools: And what to do about it
Alia College was not started with the particular idea of fixing the bullying problem. Alia solved the bullying problem by concentrating on its main aims: really effective teaching, encouraging respect and responsibility, and the promotion of open communication. These approaches and the other methods we use leave students feeling really happy and confident. Instead of using tactics, policies, or the rule and punishment mentality, we set about developing a discussion ethos in which bullying wouldn’t make sense.
It is a bit of hyperbole for us to say that we have solved the bullying problem. That’s like saying you have the cure for cancer, because bullying is now seen as an intractable fact of life. So we should be clear that it is the students here who commonly say that the bullying problem is dealt with effectively at Alia. It’s what the students say (and what your own child says) that counts.
As with any school, Alia College has seen a wide spectrum of behaviour from fun, through to joking around, to borderline uncomfortable interaction, to bullying. There is no sharp dividing line at any point. What we have developed is a school style that can deal with matters in such a way as to satisfy the vast majority of students who state that they have been bullied.
Obligatory disclaimer: This is not some sort of offer or guarantee. Don’t send your child with intolerable behaviour here, and then claim that they got bullied after someone really lets them know about it.
The following comments came from a parent at the end of their son’s trial week (names have been ommitted for privacy reasons):
Thank you. For the first time since starting Secondary School, two years ago, my son was smiling when I dropped him off for school. [My son] has been a constant target of bullies most of his primary school years and all of his time in secondary school. He is a very sensitive child and suffered severe anxiety due to the bullying.
[My son] is an extremely intelligent boy but was having trouble succeeding due to his fear of attending school.
I have had him referred to several psychologists including the school refusal program which have helped on a temporary basis.
Since starting his trial at Alia, he has become a different child. He is happy, relaxed and eager to get to school.
I would like to thank all at Alia for allowing [him] a chance to concentrate on his education rather than just the fear of attending school.
You really do have a great school and I now have hope that [he] will be able to grow as a productive member of society and not an anxious child living in fear.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Why should we expect any better from Alia?
Q: We followed advice from [previous school] and persisted for over a year. Although we were very happy with the professionalism and care provided, the process didn’t work, and seems to have worsened. How do we know that your approach is any better?
A: Parents report that our approach works immediately. This puts you in control. Do a trial day. If you do not experience an immediate benefit then you need waste no further time or effort.
The Alia approach is suited to a range of students. These students immediately blossom and produce remarkable results.
Q: Which types of students benefit in this way?
A: Quite a variety. It is hard to generalise. Here are some examples:
- Well obviously the students who do not have any particular issues.
- Then there are the students who are capable and responsible, but creative, and who feel over constrained.
- Students with strong attitudes towards social justice definitely appreciate us. They are not necessarily immediately happy with Alia; but they become strong supporters of our approach as soon as they see a discipline matter being addressed. They find our non-punitive approaches to discipline very refreshing.
- Students with academic aspirations who seek teachers who engage realistically with their commitments and questions.
- Students with low academic standards as a result of gaps in their knowledge and who are not totally opposed to at least giving education one more chance.
- Students who have found their schoolwork or homework to be easy, but time-consuming or boring.
- School refusers or students who have been bullied.
- Students who wish to be able to take responsibility (when they feel ready) without being treated “like 5 year olds” as they say.
- Quite a few other types.