Speaking About Bullying

 Crisis in the International Classroom

Bullying is a deservingly hot topic right now. It is not just physical aggression such as a kick or a surreptitious pinch. It is also behavior such as purposeful exclusion and saying hateful words to others. Bullying behavior is not just direct meanness, but also indirect meanness, such as when a child or group of children tells everyone not to play or interact with one child. Bullying is also destroying a child’s reputation and likeability via the Internet, know as cyber bullying.

 In a Bullying Questionnaire (Dr. Dan Olweus), 524,000 American elementary, middle, and high school students responded, anonymously. Nearly 20% of elementary school students reported they had been targets of bullying behavior at least two or three times during the past month and in that same study, between 5% and 10% of elementary school students admitted to bullying others two to three times in the past month.

It is especially alarming to learn how little we teachers know about bullying that occurs among the students we teach. In a Canadian study, researchers observed behavior on the playground and in classrooms, and recorded an incident of bullying behavior on average of every seven minutes. Adults intervened in only 4% of these incidents. Even more amazing is the fact that when they observed classrooms, researchers noted that adults intervened in only 14% of the incidents that happened when they were present, while 71% of these same adults reported that they “nearly always” intervened in bullying incidents.

ISR would like to start the Bullying Conversation here. Does your school have a policy in place to deal with Bullying, including Cyber-Bullying? Do parents and administrators get involved with identifying and stopping those who bully at your school? Have you found techniques that work in your classroom and/or the social areas of school (hallways, cafeteria, playground) to prevent bullying? Do you, as a teacher, see an increase in Bullying amongst international students?

Weigh-in now with your thoughts on Bullying in International Schools: Scroll to read/post comments

19 thoughts on “Speaking About Bullying

  1. In teaching for many years nationally and internationally, in both private and public systems and it is my observation that bullying frequently occurs more in schools where staff bully other staff. Akin to the ‘trickle down’ effect kids pick up on the power dynamics, the unhappiness of the bullied and absorb the powerful energy and techniques of adult bullies. They see adults getting away with their abuse of power bullying other adults- in addition to students. Plus the kids who feel ‘entitled’, the kids whose egos are untrammelled by moral authority or discipline, the angry kids powerless or without value at home, visit their emotional revenge on others. I’ve worked in several international schools in a number of different cultural settings and the only difference is the degree of open bullying, much is subtle, much is well hidden especially in Asian cultures. All kids suffer the painful results of being bullied but in Asia the kids suffer in secret, they learn early to hide their emotions as it is culturally unacceptable to show them. It is an epidemic in all places where the value of a human being is less than the value and force of the bully’s ego whatever their age.


  2. I am doing some research for a presentation to BAISC schools in January. I am specifically looking at types of bullying used by international students that we may not recognise here in the UK as bullying due to cultural differences. I am interested in same race bullying, inter-racial bullying and how teachers may be inadvertently bullying or adding to a victim’s predicament through lack of cultural awareness.
    Anything that you think is relevant will be gratefully received.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The international schools I have worked in have all had official anti-bullying policies that reflect the IB Learner Profile; however, the degree to which anti-bullying rules are enforced seems to be completely dependent on the director and the administrators. In one school, the biggest bully was not allowed to be disciplined by teachers, because his father paid the headmaster’s golf and country club fees. At another school, the Draconian principal’s ultra-jock son was granted free license to bully, and depending on the school and its leadership, children of board members do not always have to follow the same rules that others do. To reiterate previous comments here, the most bullying I have witnessed has come from insecure/incompetent managers. Since most international schools are independent businesses, they do not have to answer to a national education system or government, so schools have a tendency to be only as ethical as the people running them, and it is indeed a real crap shoot sometimes.

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  4. We had a problem with a four-year-old bully at the last international school where I worked as the Primary Teacher/Acting Principal. He was not in my class, but I worked very closely with the teacher and parents of both the bully and the girl he was bullying, and the situation improved. There is always a reason why a child bullies others, and to get to that reason and address it is better than punishing the child or ignoring the problem.


  5. There is no silver bullet for such a complex social problem. Trying to define and label bullying behaviours simply causes divide amongst staff and leadership and any thought of consistency goes out the window. As one respondent commented – using graded and predetermined sanctions makes mountains out of social molehills and people’s needs go unmet. As a consultant delivering Restorative Justice programs to public and independent schools a whole school shift is needed in how it views bullying. It is critical that leadership walks the talk by modelling the behaviours expected from students, staff and parents – this means reducing power harassment and increasing professional respect and collegiality. First and foremost bullying should be called for what it is – antisocial behaviour that causes harm to people and relationships. Proactive and visionary schools that adopt Restorative Practice are seeing significant reductions in bullying behaviours and as a result gain the benefit of increased social capital and academic outcomes.

    Forget gimmicky strategies and single unrelated initiatives. Addressing anti social behaviours including bullying and cyber harassment can only be brought about by strong leadership that is prepared to commit resources, time and money over the long term.

    IB schools have a significant responsibility to walk the talk as espoused by way of IB philosophy and values. Leadership reflecting the Learner Profile through strategic planning and implementing complimentary philosophies such as Restorative Justice is a good beginning to this journey and a way to start having the necessary conversations.

    Policy development is a fairly fruitless exercise unless everybody is clear and agrees about what behaviours reflect the values detailed in the policy. If respect is

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We had a 5th grade girl at our Martial Arts school who was being bullied by several boys on a regular basis. One day they cornered her and started to bully her. She, to her credit told them she wanted no trouble. They didn’t stop. So with her martial arts training, she gave the biggest boy a major beat-down, in front of his friends. Needless to say, they left her alone after that. The boy was expelled. The school wanted to suspend the girl but her parents said they would sue. The school backed down. She hasn’t had a problem since.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I had a similar situation with my daughter when she was in high-school overseas. A boy in her class was regularly slapping her on the rear and making sexually charged comments to her. She complained to the ineffectual school principal who did nothing. The problem continued and the boy’s actions became more aggressive. I told her that the best way to solve this would be the next time he comes up behind you and slaps your rear, you turn around and plant your right knee into his nuts with all your force. This she did and the boy went down on the floor writhing in pain. Problem solved. He and his buddies stayed away from her for the rest of her time at the school.

      I was called into the office for a meeting with my daughter and the principal who wanted to expel her. When I explained the legal ramifications would be for allowing this boy to sexually harass my daughter he changed his tune.

      Sometime you just need to fight fire with fire. Please don’t tell me the bully is also a victim. In a sense this is true and does makes sense to counsel the bully , but I’m in the end I’m for locking-up all violent and physically aggressive people for life and concentrating on helping their victims.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Great story. Tell your daughter good job. Hitting someone is never a good option, but sometimes it becomes the only option. Hard heads are longer hard once they are cracked. Locking up all violent people is not a bad option if the tax payers can afford the high cost. How about a shorter solution is more permanent?


  6. Parents have a huge role to play in this issue as well. I have found in my conversations with a number of parents, this idea that bullying is nothing but ‘my child standing up for themselves before others’. If children are been brought up to think it is okay to bully other children, I find schools have even more of an uphilll task in sensitizing and bringing an awareness of bullying to the community and its parents. Both the bully and bullied are victims to my mind and need just as much support to overcome the issue.


  7. @ anonymous…the last resort of the poorly prepared teacher: “Stop bullying me!”
    @BP Phillips…I don’t think the reactions you describe as “overboard” would be described as such by the victims. I think you need to be bullied (psychologically by mainly girls, physically mainly by boys) again so you can actually remember what it feels like.


    1. Thanks for your comment Batesieboy. May I rescind my use of the word “overboard”? You’re right that responding to bullying is probably never ‘overboard’. What I hoped to communicate was that punishment was out of proportion to–as Behavior Matters described it–restorative intervention. It’s easy to punish, but it does no good. Of course I know what it’s like to be bullied…I was humiliated and beaten by the same boy and his thugs for several years (I can still see his face, I still remember his name from 40 years ago). He was constantly punished, suspended, scolded…but nothing ever changed and in fact he became meaner as time went on and his realm of fear grew. Of course I liked it when he was punished, but I knew nothing would change and I lived in fear that every time he was punished he might blame me and come back even more violently. So his punishment didn’t help me heal either. I’d have rather received a sincere apology–or been left alone–than see him suspended or swatted (they did that back then) or scolded. Schools need to get out of the punishment mode and into better treatment of the selfishness and sickness behind bullying. Teacher/adult mentors should be assigned to these kids, meet with them regularly, hold them accountable for their choices, and teach them skills for getting their needs met without dominating others.


  8. I’m going to respond here, because our school has, for the first time, experienced very blatant bullying problem. We are a middle and high boarding school with very firm policy of graduated “punishments”. The problem started as a minor tiff between two students and escalated before staff and administration knew anything about it. None of the students who knew about it said anything until they were made aware of their collusion. We are all aware of bullying in our school and have a councellor on staff, but by the time we were all made aware of this particular incident, the one student had posted a very unpleasant comment about the other student on twitter. There was a physical altercation between the students. As a result, one was expelled and the other given a month long suspension. It wasn’t because we were overreacting to the issue, but because our rule book had very clear guidelines about what would happen, and all four were broken. Our students are very aware of what the school rules are and we talk to students about their inappropriate behavior and consequences, before we move up the “punishment” ladder, but that obviously didn’t sink in in this case. So, as a result, we are examining everyone’s role and responsibility for bully prevention. It’s an ongoing uphill issue.


    1. We offer bullying programs at next level here in Bangkok as well as overall Aspiring Leaders programs for schools. For bullying to be dealt with effectively, we believe that there need to be a cultural change within the groups as well as the school as whole.

      Have a look at http://nextlevelconsultancy.com/towards-a-no-bullying-policy/ which is an approach that addresses many of the issues mentioned in the article including teachers not intervening. Our model incudes teachers as well students in making a culture change towards an active no-bullying policy that is ongoing and supported.


  9. To piggyback on the last person’s comments, I agree about administrators being part of the problem…with a variation. I think administrators have actually contributed to the bullying problem at most schools; they do so by, in my opinion, bullying the student bulliers! Their commonly overboard reaction, meant to impress the community with how firmly they stand as champions of the victims, is in itself modeling bullying. Look, bullying is awful and must be addressed vigorously. Victims need our protection and support. But we have to remember that the bullies are also just kids. Rather than ridicule and punishment they need guidance and better values education or they will just become better bulliers. As the parent of a 5th grader who was bullied last year and is now becoming a bullier himself, I am seeing the bigger picture. At home, we’re processing the problem as much as we can. If the school doesn’t have a counselor, or if the problem is too big, there are some very good mentoring programs online that can help…we’re using one ourselves. But I wonder why the schools prefer open anger and punishment/suspension (intolerance!) over mentoring and behavioral education.


    1. Excellent thought. I have always been in schools that walked up to the bullier and laid him/er low with a huge (virtual) slap. I see now why this is not a good idea at all.


    2. In some organisations administrative bullying (power harassment) is viewed as strong and assertive leadership. When people feel diminished, afraid and coerced by leadership threats, then the behaviour needs to be called for what it is…..bullying. Healthy schools work WITH their staff and have the ego strength to invite and act on thoughtful and well considered dissent to make the organisation a better place. When leadership do things TO their staff believing that their role is to ‘tell people what and how to do things’ and ‘order them around’ then that is bullying behaviour and who holds them to account? People leave and those that stay often from a sense of frustration and resentment undermine programs and resist the organisation. Bullying needs to viewed by leadership as a risk management issue just the same as slipping on a wet floor. Bullying produces a toxic work culture and does harm to people. Only when leadership decides to ‘walk their talk’ will they then model to their school community ‘how we should treat each other.’

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Absolutely agree. I have seen (and experienced)far too many managers who in a school uniform would be called bullies. Now they wear a suit they are authorities.


  10. Administrative bullying and abuse towards staff seems much bigger. How can we talk about children bullying when adults do it much bigger? Where do the children get it from? How does western culture impact this?

    Liked by 1 person

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