After more than three decades as a teacher Marg Armstrong is calling for bullies, their victims and both sets of parents to be brought together in the one room to address the negative behaviour.
Ms Armstrong, who has been in education for 35 years, will speak at the National Centre Against Bullying (NCAB) Conference at Melbourne’s Crown Conference Centre on July 28 and 29 focusing on the success of a “restorative” approach to bullying. NCAB is an initiative of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.
“Instead of punishment, a restorative process brings the wrongdoer and victim face-to-face, with other kids, parents and staff to determine what happened, who was affected and how, and how do we fix this,” Ms Armstrong said.
The process can involve between six and 25 people, and the experience can be confronting and far from comfortable for the bully.
“It’s not an easy process for the children affected or their parents. It’s not about having a nice chat. It’s hard yakka,” Ms Armstrong said.
“The kids are well supported, sitting between their parents usually; among the people who love them the most. The parents of bullies find it hard too because they are listening to a son or daughter talk about their behaviour and hearing its impact on others.”
Ms Armstrong said some schools were far better at dealing with bullying behaviour than others. She said the best way to develop a positive school and safe classroom was building relationships between parents, their children and students.
“Everything I do is about teaching. I want kids to learn something,” Ms Armstrong said. “Traditional methods of managing bullying behaviour don’t teach anything, but this practice teaches that I have hurt other people and I need to make amends for my behaviour.
“However, in some schools the basis of the culture is focussed on academic outcomes. This is because schools are under a lot of pressure to improve academic data especially numeracy and literacy, whereas you can’t necessarily measure culture in the same way.”
Ms Armstrong said very few restorative conferences did not achieve great results, but sometimes there is resistance from people or schools who don’t understand it; and some kids are suspended in the traditional way. The restorative process can achieve a range of positive solutions.
“Sometimes children agree to just leave each other alone,” Ms Armstrong said. “They also agree on how they will co-exist in same classroom. They may agree if they cross each other in the corridor they’ll just smile and walk by. Will they ever be friends? Maybe never, but generally when facilitated well, it stops the bullying.”
The Alannah & Madeline Foundation CEO Lesley Podesta said that restorative justice was a proven intervention which could often produce real changes in behaviour and culture. The NCAB Conference is a great opportunity to share this research and make it more widely available. The conference has such a positive reputation due to the input from researchers as well as teachers like Ms Armstrong who have been working at the coalface for more than three decades.
“The Alannah & Madeline Foundation works every day to implement world class programs based on the type of research highlighted at the NCAB Conference,” Ms Podesta said. “Studies such as this really do inform the work the Foundation carries out across its suite of anti-bullying programs.”
For more information go to ncab.org.au.
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