Student Bullying Guide for Schools
What is the number one social issue for students across Australia? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics CensusAtSchool survey reducing bullying in schools. Longitudinal studies have consistently found strong links between school bullying and mental health problems with victims at risk of developing depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. Similarly, perpetrators of bullying are also at risk of developing depression, anti-social personality and substance use disorders.
Given the prevalence of bullying in Australian schools, it is important to equip schools with student emotional wellbeing resources and emotional wellbeing activities, so students have the strategies to combat bullying, or cease bullying if they are a perpetrator.
Below you'll find information about a range of student bullying topics’ including the importance of student bullying programs in schools, empowering students shrough a strengths-based approach to bullying education, theatre as a bullying resource for schools and the key benefits of using theatre.
Plus, much more!
Read along or use the navigation to jump ahead.
Please also feel free to reach out to our team with any questions you may have, free call 1800 676 224 or to email click here.
A recent survey of 1,221 Australian primary school children aged 8-9 years old found that one in three were experiencing bullying at least once per week. A study by ReachOut Australia also revealed that 23% of 14 to 25 year-olds had experienced bullying in the last 12 months. Bullying is when people use words or actions to repeatedly, and intentionally harm another person and is often conducted by someone who has more power or influence than the victim. The bullying cycle perpetually disempowers the victim, who feels increasingly helpless.
There are a range of reasons why students might bully their peers, including social, emotional, cognitive and biological factors. They might bully to gain respect and social status, or because they are afraid of being victimised themselves. Or perhaps they have not developed appropriate self-regulation or friendship skills.
It is important that we work to understand the individuals who bully and help them to change their behaviour, rather than labelling them as 'bullies' or 'victims'. And while punitive approaches might reduce bullying in the short-term, they can stigmatise the person and fail to provide students with practical skills or the intrinsic motivation to change.
Australian schools are looking to more positive, strengths-based approaches to help them prevent and manage bullying. We have seen increasing interest in anti bullying programs that promote a supportive school climate, where respectful behaviour is reinforced by the whole school community and students are taught how to regulate their emotions and behaviour, speak out against bullying, and support those who are vulnerable.
Student bullying programs in schools can be highly effective in:
- Helping reduce bullying and poor behaviour, whilst improving the health and wellbeing of students
- Supporting children who have experienced bullying and helping students become more socially aware and empathetic
- Unlocking the thoughts and feelings students may be experiencing around friendship and bullying
- Providing clear solutions and skills that students can try in their own lives
- Validating students’ feelings and the realisation that they are not alone
- Demonstrating perseverance and resilience, giving hope to students
- Helping children that are bullying to see their negative behaviour and realise the damage they are doing to their victim or victims
- Providing essential skills on how to intervene safely to support victims
Topic 2: Empowering Students Through a Strengths-Based Approach to Bullying Education
The positive education movement
Humans are hard-wired to pay attention to the negative. This ‘negativity bias’ is an ancient survival tool that helps us remain vigilant and respond to threats in our environment. Parents, caregivers and teachers will know this bias all too well, often finding themselves homing in on children’s shortcomings and pointing out the behaviours they need to change. This is a normal human response – we do it because we want children to stay safe and do well in the world!But in the process, we can forget to acknowledge their strengths. Strengths have been defined as “pre-existing qualities that arise naturally, feel authentic and are intrinsically motivating to use”. Strengths may be personal attributes such as creativity, curiosity, honesty or courage. Strengths may also include an individual’s practical or technical abilities, such as athletic, musical, artistic or verbal skills.
A strengths-based approach is not about ignoring difficulties or dismissing uncomfortable emotions. Instead it is about supporting students to build resilience and flourish in the face of adversity. To practice gratitude for the things they have, rather than focusing on what they don't. This approach acknowledges that we all have strengths and weaknesses - nobody is perfect - and that we can grow by working to our strengths, building up our skills and learning from our mistakes.
Using strengths to help, not harm
One way to foster a more positive school climate is to work with the strengths of those who are engaging in bullying behaviour.In general, people are more likely to change their behaviour and put strategies in place when they are intrinsically motivated to do so, and if they’re more likely to achieve goals that are consistent with their strengths and values. Regardless of whether they are the target, perpetrator or bystander of bullying, students will feel more motivated to change when their strengths and potential are recognised.This can start with collaborative conversations with teachers, parents, school counsellors and wellbeing staff. Encourage students to identify their strengths: What makes them unique? What qualities do others appreciate in them? What strengths do they draw on to solve problems? Some students, for example, may use their sense of humour to put other people down and gain a sense of belonging. It is therefore helpful to name these strengths and help students channel them into more positive pursuits.
Working with strengths to build resilience
It can be helpful for students to understand that the attributes that make them vulnerable to bullying can also be their greatest assets. For example, children who are sensitive can also be the most empathic and thoughtful. Sensitivity can be used to their advantage in social environments and is a highly valued quality in a friend or peer support leader.Educators and parents can help students identify their strengths and explore how these strengths can be used to build resilience. The conversation might start by identifying the strengths of someone they admire, like their favourite superhero, book character or sportsperson.They can then be encouraged to identify strengths they recognise in themselves. Resources such as Strengths Cards are helpful for facilitating these discussions. Students may also ask parents, teachers and friends what they see as being their biggest strengths - they might be surprised by what others see in them!
Ask students to reflect on a difficult situation they have faced, and the strengths they used to overcome it. Ask how they could use their strengths in the future, and which strengths they would like to work on.They might use their strengths to create "shields" to protect themselves from bullying, or flashcards to remind them of their capabilities. Simple exercises like these can help vulnerable students identify their own unique ‘superpowers’, and use them to build confidence, identity and resilience.
Drawing on strengths to be a positive bystander
When students witness bullying, they may feel powerless and believe they lack the strength and courage to act.A strengths-based approach can help students identify pathways to be a positive bystander. For example, many students won't feel confident enough to call out bullying in the moment but may feel comfortable supporting the victim of bullying after the event and assisting them to tell an adult. Others may have well developed communication and assertiveness skills and can use these skills to call out bullying when they see it.An appreciation of community strengths can also promote a culture of diversity and inclusion in your school. By celebrating the strengths of the community, whether that is cultural diversity, creativity, participation in charitable activities, sporting achievements or resilience in the face of adversity, schools can foster a greater sense of belonging and pride and build more positive relationships.A strengths-based approach can send a clear message to students: that everyone is valued, everyone belongs, and everyone can play a part in building a respectful school environment.
The importance of empathy
Research suggests that empathy is the key ingredient in forming positive relationships. Empathy helps us connect with others and understand their thoughts and feelings. This helps us know how to respond and engage with others.Our brains are wired to be empathetic. Even primates like rats have empathetic neural pathways.From infancy, we begin to develop affective empathy, which are the feelings we get in response to another person's emotional state.Underpinning the positive education framework is the practice of identifying and developing character strengths. Students are encouraged to identify their strengths, appreciate the strengths of others, and understand how strengths, including empathy, can be cultivated over time and used to obtain positive outcomes in their lives.
So how can theatre help students dealwith the far-reaching and negative effects of bullying and violence?
The power of story telling
Storytelling, drama, humour, role playing, and music have been used since the beginning of time to educate and engage. The use of theatre in education can help unite children in a shared experience and is a great springboard for opening-up discussion and assisting with social change; be it bullying, dealing with peer pressure or the consequences of risky behaviour including binge drinking and violence. Research and evaluation has revealedthat the "overwhelming majority of students demonstrate enjoyment and enthusiasm through watching educational theatre, are receptive and listen attentively, and can correctly identify the educational messages being portrayed". In this way, theatre gives strong and emotional lessons to kids, whilst entertaining them. Everybody wins.
St Patricks’ Boys College Michael Ilott, Director of Pastoral Care said that theatre offers an “alternative voice for students related to issues surrounding their wellbeing and development. Having to listen is one thing but having to engage in dialogue is where the student’s assumptions are really challenged. The young ages of the actors create an immediate credibility and they are on the boy’s level. It certainly opens their eyes to an important issue for young men.”
Leanne Walding, Student Support Officer at Lithgow High School, agrees that theatre is a great educational tool to encourage change: “Theatre speaks much louder than the written word." As Duval High School’s Welfare Co-ordinator, Jennifer Squires explains, the key element that sets theatre apart is its power to reach students on an emotional level: “Theatre often evokes an emotional response from the audience, and this helps students to then express these feelings to their peers and teachers. It puts into words what they are feeling. Domestic violence is often seen as a taboo subject but encouraging kids to talk about it will help them to know what is right and when things are not.”
Theatre caters to a wide range of different learning styles
Children learn in different ways and educational theatre can have a profound effect on some children when they see a familiar scenario being played out with clear solutions and skills that they can practice in their own lives. Students come to the realisation that they are not alone, and their feelings are validated through the characters on stage. They see the characters demonstrate perseverance and resilience and that gives hope to any child who may be struggling with similar issues. This is incredibly important when trying to tackle bullying, cyber bullying and violence, not only for the victims but, also, for the bullies themselves. For children that are bullying, they can see and feel how their negative behaviour is affecting their victim and learn alternative behavioural patterns which can help them change these anti-social, destructive and unacceptable behaviours. In addition, educational theatre programs about bullying help students understand how they can intervene safely to support others who are being bullied and not be a bystander or an enabler.
How theatre helps students learn
The International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People explored how theatre can contribute to the lives of young people and found that theatre can:
- Provide a greater understanding of the human condition
- Give children the tools to defend or challenge reality, learning to think through their emotions – feeling first and then thinking
- Present strong issues and situations on stage through abstraction and emotion as well as through content
- Enable a shared experience and connection with ideas
- Point to injustice or inequity and deal with emotion and feeling
- Offer intangible, lasting benefits to audiences
In this way, theatre in schools can have a significant role in helping students as they face many of life’s challenges.
How theatre helps teach empathy
Empathy and emotional intelligence are learnt through everyday interaction. It can also be nurtured through reading books to children, music, and, watching live theatre performances. When watching theatre, we watch characters interact, and experience certain emotions.A character worried about starting a new school causes us to worry about him starting school. A character feels rejected by a friend. This causes us to feel what it is like to be rejected by a friend. We are connecting with the character, while at the same time experiencing what he or she is feeling and thinking, as if we were feeling or thinking it ourselves.
Bill English from the San Francisco Playhouse, says that, "Theatre is like a gym for empathy. It's where we go to build up the muscles of compassion, to practice listening and understanding and engaging with people that are not just like ourselves. We practice sitting down, paying attention and learning from other people's actions. We practice caring."Just as athletes train to improve performance, young people can strengthen empathetic muscles by watching theatre, and practice caring about the characters and their stories.
A safe space to learn positive behaviours
Theatre is an opportunity for children to explore and mirror difficult and challenging emotions. A person can safely watch an actor bully another actor and can learn how both parties experience and respond to this situation. They can learn about the consequences.By developing a connection with the actors, the audience can experience this virtual reality in a safe space. They know the situation isn't real, but this does not undermine the strength of the audience's empathetic response.
Learning through imitation
Humans learn social interaction and positive communication strategies through imitating others. Infants learn by imitating their parents and siblings. School children learn through imitating friends.Theatre embodies social language and human interaction and provides a rich source of behavioural and language examples, which can be mimicked. Learning happens through osmosis; by watching positive communication skills in action, we embody them for later use.
Helps empower students
Schools and teachers are becoming increasingly entrusted to help equip students with the social and emotional skills required to make positive contributions to society. Theatre can help with student wellbeing by providing students with real-life and highly relevant experiences such as cyber-bullying, violent behaviour, exam stress, relationships, exclusion, risk taking, drug use and binge drinking. When it comes to such behaviours, students have choices; and empowering students to make the right choices is critical. Because it has greater personal value and helps students develop self-regulation and self-discipline.
Reinforces the school’s anti-bullying policy
For many school’s theatre programs are a pivotal activity to support their anti-bullying policy. Why? Because the programs are designed to encourage students to connect with one another, with the aim of helping students create a sense of belonging, which is crucial for overcoming student bullying. The stories delivered using theatre are not just about technical issues such as legal ramifications or how students can protect themselves online, but also about the emotional issues and the importance of fostering positive relationships. By helping students to embrace skills such as nurturing, empathy, concern for others, compassion and friendship, students are empowered to provide genuine support for each other.
The relationship between actors and students is beyond that of simply a ‘presenter’ and a ‘pupil’. Physically and emotionally, there's little separation between them and there is a huge amount of interaction, at a subconscious and conscious level. Theatre is enjoyable; and by bringing such a positive emotion to the experience, real learning and behavioural changes can occur. Students switch from analytical style-thinking to creative problem solving.
Addresses issues without judgement
Using actors playing school students, the audience is given the opportunity to become more aware of their own behaviour through the characters on stage, whilst not singling out individual students. With different scenarios being played out, students get to experience how things can go wrong and how to get help for themselves or for a friend who might be struggling. Ordinary stories told in an extraordinary way.
Theatre is a fun and effective way of engaging with students
Unlike reading a textbook definition about difficult and challenging experiences and expecting young people to have the correct response, theatre is an engaging and fun way for young people to practice positive relationship skills.Kate Rufener, Grand Theatre youth coordinator, says, "kids who empathise with the characters they play, or watch, will learn and grow from these imagined struggles. And, unlike all other art forms, there is a unique and vital touch point between live performers and live audience. No television show or movie requires audiences participate in the experience the way that live theatre does."There is a certain magic that only live theatre can create which reaches out and grabs onto all young people; regardless of age, gender, background and religion. Plus, theatre is a great FUN way to learn too!
The Protectors is an emotional wellbeing resource that has been researched and developed in association with teachers and students. It offers concrete solutions children can practice to protect themselves from hurtful comments and negative behaviours they may encounter in the playground.Clear instructions on cyber safety are delivered in a fun, memorable way. Children will be able to empathise and appreciate the devastating consequences of cyber bullying. 'The Protectors' unlocks the secrets of body language and gives 'Protector Tools' to curb aggressive behaviour.
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The Human Race
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Bullying Programs for High School Students:
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Here is a sample of the positive responses received from teachers about how Brainstorm Productions theatre programs assist students with bullying:
“Fantastic performance! Engaging! Great message that was easy for students to follow and understand. Actors were excellent. Great after show discussion in the classroom. Teachers' resource pack was excellent, all of it has been very useful. Students loved it - best show ever!” - Kahibah Public School
“Engaged students with difficult themes of resilience, divorce, loss, bullying, rejection and letting go of things you love. 10/10.” - Good News Lutheran School
“Captivating! Children were engaged, amused and had appropriate emotional reactions to these convincing characters. Great answers in Q&A. Could relate to ‘real' issues and scenarios. Having ‘outside’ people, (two talented young men) assists in reinforcing the message. Song is a fun, powerful tool to remind children to resolve problems peacefully. 10/10.” - West Mackay State School
“Made a distinct change to the children the following day in the yard. Changed their perspective on dealing with anger. Loved the juggling! Actors are great role models! 10/10.” - Riverdale Primary School
“Wonderful show! Great skills to overcome cyberbullying, teasing and exclusion. Promoted resilience, kindness, respect and eSafety. 10/10.” - Gladstone Views Primary School
“Honestly this was the best performance I have seen. Professional, polished and engaging. These are the issues I must deal with every day as a parent and a teacher. Scary how this generation is addicted to screens! 10/10.” - Moggill State School
“Mind blowing! Students 100% engaged - they said it was awesome!! Great way to address impacts of bullying, aggression and anger on and offline. Relevant and age appropriate. Raised awareness of domestic violence and sexual harassment, and the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. Young male actors were outstanding role models! 10/10.” - Griffith High School
“Captivating! Girls were empowered and boys thoughtful! 10/10.” - Telopea Park K-10 School
“Highly recommended! Congratulations Brainstorm Productions, this is an extremely valuable student wellbeing resource, nothing else like this. Supports our school anti-bullying and cyber bullying programs. 10/10.” - Calrossy Anglican College
“Captivating! Fantastic, relevant content! A reminder that social media can be dangerous and hurtful. Amazing actors! 10/10.” - Bulli High School
“Students were mesmerised. Script was right onto the issues of bullying, manipulation, control, power, loneliness and isolation. Confronting, relevant! 10/10.” - Newcomb Secondary College
“Highly recommended! Engaging, informative, covered issues of cyber bullying, misuse of social networks to harass and manipulate. Great conclusion to our bullying unit. 10/10.” - East Doncaster Secondary College
To read more, click here.
Support is available for anyone who may be distressed: Lifeline 13 11 14; Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467. If you or someone you know requires immediate assistance, please call Emergency Services (000) or Lifeline (13 11 14). Other supports can be found at www.ruok.org.au/findhelp.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Under no circumstances will Brainstorm Productions or its employees be liable for any loss or damage caused by your reliance on information obtained from this site. It is your responsibility to evaluate any content provided and seek professional advice as appropriate. Never disregard professional advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site.