No bullying this year… is that even possible? I hear you thinking. A few years ago I started a new job as a classroom teacher at a primary school. Soon I realised there was a lot of negativity in my group. Right at the start of the year, that was very unusual! Children were bullied verbally and physically and some were scared to be bullied. This all came to the surface after careful investigation was done. Of course, this whole process was quite time and energy consuming. It stirred up a lot of emotions and drained everyone’s positivity. Apparently many issues had not been dealt with in previous years, as many parents complained of unsolved problems with certain children and this loaded the communications heavily. It gave even tension between parents. It was how it was and I had to manage… on my own. It made me reflect deeply for a longer period of time. because something didn’t seem right! I had dealt with bullying before, but this was running deeper. What had caused this year 3 to become a dysfunctional group of children who were mean, aggressive or afraid? After some time, I figured out that there are a few important areas to work on to prevent bullying and support a healthy social-emotional school and classroom climate. They are in fact crucial for any school organisation to flourish. Let me share them with you.
As a teacher you must feel supported
The fact that I was new in the school and had been given a very difficult group, (which I understood later from the corridor talks, but this is more common than you think, giving the new one the problem group ) , taught me that the essence is that it wouldn’t have been a problem, íf giving this group was an informed decision, understood by the entire school team, but especially the teacher who is mainly responsible for every day teaching this group. The management team could have agreed that this particular teacher who is going to teach the problem group that year, will receive more support through less extra curricular tasks for example and is helped by a clear support plan. Then this teacher will actually have a fair chance to improve the functioning of this group. I believe transparency and honesty is paramount in the success of any school. To avoid escalation of social-emotional problems and as a result bullying, you need to work as a team; you need to support each other, be helpful and respectful and think of the interest of the whole school. Don’t compete, or think, I have an easy year this year. but succeed together for the Sake of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.
The teachers carry the school’s vision and mission
In my case, the majority of the children were used to a very strict regime with dominant teachers which meant that the children hadn’t learned many skills to contribute and help maintain a positive classroom environment. For example, they didn’t feel safe to talk about themselves, simply because they had never been given the space to do this. They had no idea of their own feelings and subsequently they didn’t respect the feelings of others, because classes were managed by oppression and aggression, not by a mutual understanding of how a classroom can function well. The given space for cooperative learning activities with an open minded and more coaching oriented teacher, was something they couldn’t cope with. Their negative behaviour could show up as they were no longer drilled and oppressed. Their intrinsic motivation and their social/emotional skills were not developed and now exposed. They were victims of actually a form of neglect in a way that the school and parents had not been able to train basic social and emotional skills and nurture a positive attitude. A school needs to have a clear vision and mission, how they view children’s development, how they learn and grow best, and plan clearly how teachers can understand this too and apply it. This also means that there are clear protocols/rules and ways of communication to implement this vision and mission of the school.
Teachers are committed and benefit from teacher training to follow through the vision and mission of the school
The mission and vision of the school must always be a work in progress, which means that it needs to be reviewed, defined and checked on implementation. You as a teacher need to be aware of the school’s mission and vision and must know how your school is making it happen. There must be goals for a certain period. Your planning, way of interaction with the children, teaching content, classroom setting, ways of learning, all have an impact and can contribute greatly to avoid problems and negative behaviour of children.
Involve children in the school’s vision and mission
If children feel proud of their school, have a meaningful school experience and can deeply understand why and what they do at school, they will be able to embrace support, try to help themselves and also help others to learn and grow. This is for sure a constructive way to build a healthy social-emotional school climate. If both student and teacher see their learning as a spiritual journey, in which they can develop and grow in their worship, their attachment to the sunnah, especially in their manner of interaction with others, their excellence in their deeds, and a strong awareness of the superiority of the hereafter over this world, they will be all able to progress by the grace of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala at their own pace and through their own efforts.
Kindness can be learned
Children need to learn to be kind too. Some children are naturally soft hearted and others need a little (or more) help from a teacher or a mentor to explore and choose one of the kind options. They need to be made aware of situations and think what is kind to do now? The children don’t need to be given all the answers, let them figure out what is kindness here, so they will learn to think about how to be kind. They need to know that you can learn kindness and that we all progress in our kindness. They must experience that little, kind gestures can mean a lot to others!
With the above I pray a teacher like you will inspire his or her students to be kind and caring. Next time I will write about ways how you can infuse your day with the teachings of the kindest person ever, the prophet Muhammad sallahu alayhi wa sallam. Kindness is indeed a vast concept, but it should be the spirit with which we design, plan and organise ourselves. To make our sincere efforts take root for the good, we need to cultivate kindness.
Rasullullah sallahu alayhi wa sallam said: “He who is deprived of kindness is deprived of goodness.” Sahih Muslim 259