Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bullying in schools by principals

I would say that this is an issue that will never go away.
In Canada, we are hearing stories about bullying and harassment by male RCMP officers, towards females. Workplace bullying, especially after the stories of student bullying, are increasingly in the media. I do not believe that this is anything new. Always it was so, bullies found any chink in one's armor. You were too short, too young, too old, stupid, smart, skinny, fat. They beat you up to build themselves up. Homophobia seems to be a small part of this. The result, in young people in schools, is depression and suicide. The result in the workplace is unproductive workers, lost work time, overuse of the healthcare system, and it takes a toll on employee, colleagues, staff and the public. Stress, lack of confidence, mistrust, anger, and angst.

It happens in all workplaces, from nursing (Rowe, M & Sherlock, H 2005, ‘Stress and verbal abuse in nursing: Do burned out nurses eat their young?’, Journal of Nursing Management, vol. 13, pp. 242-248.) to the public law enforcement institutions we have grown to depend upon:

  • Female Mountie (RCMP) alleges she worked in 'fear'

I have had a comment or two on this blog about teachers facing bullying by school principals, those who act as bosses, rather than leaders. This many years later, I still have nightmares about one principal, whom we called 'The Princess'.

Content to bully anyone she felt in her way, or who threatened her, she would yell at the alleged offenders in the hallway, in the office, or in the very public staffroom, whether parents were near-by or not. The Princess yelled at me, other staff, the Family Council chair.

When upset with something I had done, I demanded union representation. She told me she would then discipline me in the hall. My peers witnessed this, and were shocked. There was no evidence of assisting me in improving my teaching practice, only to punish, coerce, and look good at the Board office.
She favoured the younger, more malleable teachers over the rest of us.
She allowed favoured staff to control budgets, text books, organise fun events, which led to issues that resulted in ramifications for the rest of us.

She favoured the male teachers who were aspiring to be principals. Punishing me by changing my classroom and/or assignments 4 years in a row, it came to a head one year. She lost her temper in public, walked out of the school during the awards assembly, in a tantrum, leaving the rest of us to cope.

The Princess undermined my authority as a teacher, as did several principals. The new notion, about how desperately children need more exercise, has resulted in principals sending kids out for recess who have been kept in for extra help. Am I old-fashioned? Should an education preclude exercise, since many of these kids were active after school, and in organised sport? I made a decision, and even the students felt she was wrong.

Principals who bully do not hesitate to emotionally push and shove their teachers, but also their support staff. For example, the school Meal Program workers, custodians or Family Council parent reps.

There are ways to protect yourself 

  • I went through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), seeking counselling. My counsellor's comment? "Principal bullying seems to be on the rise. I have several clients complaining about this."
  • Keep an Aide Memoir. Write down each incident, with time, location, specific words said, and witnessed. Print it, keep it at home. Give it to your superintendent. I did. It then went to the Safe Schools department at the board office, where the case was said to fail to meet the requirements of harassment policy and procedures. There was no gender, race, or age bias. (We were both women, both white, and I was only older by about 10 years.)
  • Take time off. My adequate employee evaluation was not affected, but my students deserved having their teacher happy, supported, and healthy.
  • Get medical help. 
  • Look after your physical well-being. My health suffered. Look out for signs of depression or PTSD. Exercise, get massage therapy, learn relaxation techniques, eat properly. 
  • Transfer schools if you can – although that nearly backfired as The Princess was transferred to a school beside my new one!
  • Talk to your union. They were no help in my case. They did not know what to do about her, or with me. Transfer was their solution, yet The Princess affected school morale, the work climate, and student behaviour.
  • Fifteen Signs of Workplace Bullying 

There are laws in the province of Ontario. It is a universal issue, and one which must be addressed. You can read a case study from South Africa here.

  • Bill 168 - Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act (Violence and Harassment in the Workplace), 2009

  • Occupational Health and Safety Act

  • Health and Safety Associations and other health and safety organizations

  • Brochure

  • Fact Sheet

  • Guideline

  • Backgrounder
    • Rowell, P 2005, ‘Being a target at work: Or William Tell and how the apple felt’, Journal of Nursing Administration, vol. 35, no. 9, pp. 377-379.
    • Salin, D 2003, ‘Ways of explaining workplace bullying: A review of enabling, motivating and precipitating structures and processes in the work environment’, Human Relations, vol. 56, no. 10, pp. 1213-1232.
    • Sweet, M 2005, ‘Beating Bullying’, Australian Nursing Journal, vol. 12 (1), pp. 16-19.
    • [PDF] Workplace Bullying [Excellent resource] Workplace bullying, a form of interpersonal aggression, is not a new phenomenon. 
    • Bullying in the Workplace Canada Safety Council (May 2002)
    • Addressing Workplace Violence Glenn French and Paul Morgan (May 2002)

    Dear Ann Landers – you were right. Life isn't fair!

    Another 'Dear Abby' gem!
    I used these with my Creative Writing classes!
    A teache roften acts a a wise and judicious parent. Also, pyschologist, social worker, and so on.
    I put many posters up in my classrooms. Here are two.

    10 Reasons for Swearing caused a lot of laughter.
    I recall walking into the weight lifting section of the gym one year. Two young men were using the "F" word every other word, as adjective, verb and noun. I walked over and told them that I had heard that word all day in the playyard and was really sick of it. They stopped. (You have to teach people how to treat you!)
    Two weeks later I walked in, same two men, and one said, "Shhh! It's the teacher!" and I had a peaceful half hour doing my workout!

    The famous *Ann Landers column below...
    she had wise words for all of us. This has been ripped off and attributed to various people, e.g., Bill Gates, but I saved the clipping from an ancient posting while I was teaching.

    Life is Not Fair

    Ann Landers stole itThis list is the work of Charles J. Sykes, author of the 1996 book Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can’t Read, Write, Or Add.

    Ann Landers was a pen name created by Chicago Sun-Times advice columnist Ruth Crowley in 1943 and taken over by Eppie Lederer in 1955.

    Behaviour charts - some suggestions

    I read an interesting comment the other day about a negative teacher attitude towards behaviour charts.

    I am all for them. With all the kids with whom I have dealt over the years, a chart takes some teacher time, but it really works well to allow the child to realize that they have had some success.
    lessons for educators
    The negative behaviours are ignored, and the positive ones are encouraged.

    Despite the laissez-faire attitudes on the part of some adults towards children, when they know better they do better.

    With all the focus on bullying in schools, this type of behaviour chart will encourage kids to understand the impact on those around them, it will improve the way others treat them, and school climate will therefore improve.

    I have had a lot of success with students using such charts. Behaviour modification is an easy way to encourage and reward expected behaviours. It improves the classroom climate, as well, as the other students notice when a child gets attention for negative behaviour.

    Behaviour Chart forMiddle School (Gr. 6-8) - this chart I have adapted from one the school coach created. She demanded that kids earn the right to play on teams. No matter how gifted the athlete, she showed them that she expected them to do their school work, cooperate with staff, get along well with others, and earn the right to represent the school in the community.

    This is how I managed the interjections of a students who ended up learning self-control. He felt good about himself when he did so. He told me his dad taught him to put an elastic band on his wrist when disciplining himself to refrain from speaking out. 

    We were planning to make a board game. In the meantime, one student needed to use the 5 paperclip method of self-control. He was allowed 5 interjections (one per paperclip) during the class. We had much fun, and he did very well. Originally filmed in 2004, this is the way to handle the kid who interjects continually!

    Behaviour Chart forPrimary Students (Gr. 1-4)

    Behaviour ManagementPlan for JuniorStudents (Gr. 3-6)

    Behaviour Chart forMiddle School (Gr. 6-8)

    Saturday, December 17, 2011

    Bullying programs

    There is much to learn about bullying. It begins with the office, includes principal, other staff, teachers, bullies, and ends with the bystanders.
    It especially includes principals who bully.

    Bully for you

    As Ontario ponders legislation to get tough on bullies in schools, researchers know more than ever about why kids behave like mini Machiavellis - and what can be done about it, writes Joanne Laucius

    If the secretary is rude to visitors within the principal's hearing, it's usually a sign that the climate in the school allows the staff to be disrespectful to each other and the students, she says. And that gives the students permission to undermine each other.

    One of the programs that has proven effective is WITS, which encourages students who are bullied to Walk Away, Ignore, Talk It Out and Seek Help. Developed by University of Victoria psychologist Dr. Bonnie Leadbeater, WITS is being used in a pilot program in partnership with the RCMP to prevent bullying in elementary schools.

    Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Healthcare in Toronto Schools

    An excellent article, with good news.

    A bold inner-city project brings medical care to kids at school

    From the Toronto Star
    One half day each week during the school year, physicians, pediatric specialists, a multilingual clinic coordinator and teachers work as a team to help families navigate language, financial, cultural and work barriers between them and the provincial health system.

    The two-year project, a first in Ontario, came about in part as a result of disturbing numbers that emerged during hearing and vision screenings across Toronto public schools: 26 per cent of inner-city students either did not have valid OHIP cards (often they had expired) or had no health insurance at all.

    Another finding, one year into the project: acute infections are common but learning disabilities and increasingly, a range of mental health issues, are also being detected. Early detection is a critical first step in obtaining specialized diagnosis and treatment for conditions like ADHD or autism.

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    Dress codes for students

    Many, many schools are responsible for developing, creating and maintaining a dress code for young people who are unable to make wise decisions about what to wear! This is appropriate. Many school councils help establish a dress code. Lakehead DistrictTorontoDSB, PDF files: OCDSBSimcoe Catholic schools.

    In some cases, parents leave the house before their children, in others the children undress, or peel off layers to reveal unseen fashion statements. The recent trials involving cultural clashes, and a family (father, mother, son) who allegedly murdered their daughters whom they felt went beyond traditional values in terms of dress, demonstrate how strongly we must protect our children. Unfortunately, the media attention for this trial puts the wrong perspective on freedom to wear anything we want.

    In my teaching career I have taken our dress codes seriously, and find that many students do not understand it. As pop stars began to wear midriff-baring tops, and low cut pants, it revealed a whole new look with the young people. I was in high school in the mini-skirt era and it wasn't pretty!
    There are several issues that concern me:

    • Do you want your child's male teacher ogling her as she languorously stretches, in the full knowledge of what she is doing?
    • Do you want your sons watching the same move?
    • Does your child understand that the way s/he presents his/herself in public tells a lot about them.

    Dress codes are not limited to students. You cannot enter a place of work, attend a business or casual function without being aware that there are (or should be) dress codes. The sleazy, flesh-revealing, haute couture styles seen on anorexic models simply do not work for the majority of women in the majority of public places. Age-appropriate dress codes apply, as well. With body piercings, that truly gross me out when faced with this in servers or wait staff, I think we must reflect. I have found that staff members with body piercings influence the students to try this out for themselves, too!

    Out of respect, staff members need some internal monitoring system. In the new casual dress policies of the workplace, young educators need some guidance. I often ask students if they want me coming to school inappropriately dressed? How gross would that be?

    I had to counsel one of my student teachers, who wore low-cut pants that revealed plumber's crack. It was simply gross.

    I watched a young gr. 6 student who would roll down her yoga pants, while wearing a shortly cropped shirt, and stretch her arms ups, while the boys ogled her. Not only did she violate the dress code, but she engaged in behaviour that took away from classroom curriculum, abusing an occasional teacher, and convincing another student to steal. She was a pistol!

    To be in school, as in the workplace, there is a purpose that is hijacked if one is busy working on a persona, not on who they really are. We had punks in middle school who insisted on wearing their gang colours, and that issue had to be dealt with. Some young men like to wear outfits with slang, sexual innuendo, inappropriate language, and off-colour jokes. The young people are told to turn their t-shirts inside out, or they are sent home.

    No student was hurt by hearing the word no. It is a good lesson to learn!

    Countdown ideas for teachers during this holiday season

    I follow a couple of Ottawa bloggers. I read and write about politics, local education news, healthcare issues, as well as having fun sharing photos of cottage country in south east Ontario.
    Many cultures have count down celebrations in December, like the lighting of the Menorah in Judaism. I have spent many a wonderful December having students share their traditions, culture and values around this time of year. From pagan festivals, to Eid-ul-fitr.

    Many kindergarten and grade 1 classes count up to the 100th day of school. When I taught a split-grade class we were Reading Buddies with a French kindergarten. It was one of the best projects I have ever undertaken. My gr. 4/5s created skits, songs, and poems about the 100th day. We performed them for our buddies.

    I found a great idea by an Ottawa news blogger:

    @glengower Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Director of Game Entertainment for the . I own and edit . I play the piano.This is a largely fictional account of my life.

    He is a parent of young children and decided, rather that the $0.99 advent calendar with the Cheapmart chocolate inside, he was going to make a fun countdown project for his kids. Older siblings, as well as partnered classes, can help out.

    This works for Chinese New Year, Hannukah, and any other celebrations we talk about in our classrooms.

    Don't you love it?

    Many thanks to Glen Gower for permission to share his photo!
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