Taking the Hassle Out of School

by Dorothea Lewis and Aileen Cheshire, New Zealand

We see harassment as a school context and culture problem that affects the whole school community, rather than as a problem of individual children identified as “victims” or “bullies”. The later individual approach gets adults trying to teach young people to be either more assertive or less aggressive. That approach can also lead to feelings of isolation, deficiency, vulnerability, anger, and resentment. It can replicate the “power over” relationship involved in harassment. By exposing harassment for what it is and challenging the ideas that support it, we open up possibilities for change in the culture of the whole school.

The Work of the Anti-Harassment Team at Selwyn College

  • Young people and adults work together toward peaceful solutions to conflict in the school community.
  • Conversations and workshops in classes about harassment, gossip, and rumor encourage adults and students to examine what supports and challenges these problems. They can then make choices about what they want for their class and the school.
  • Mediations run by skilled student mediators offer peaceful verbal solutions to peer conflict.

This work occurs through a partnership between the counselors and the students of the Team. The counselors visualize their role as providing the scaffolding: they are responsible for the structure, safety, and support of the Team. The students bring their knowledge about harassment and mediations.

Classroom workshops begin with creative and engaging role-plays showing harassment at work. A brain-storm names the interactions. Two students then take on the role of the named problem (often gossip) and its antidote (often direct talking). By imagining that these “characters” can talk about themselves, the rest of the class can quiz them about their tactics. At the end the class talks about the difference that talking in this way might make to them in the future. The experience is often an eye-opener for new students who have previously believed they could do nothing about harassment.

Mediations have become a popular way for students at Selwyn College to resolve their conflicts. The even-handed, no-blame approach can enable people to experience themselves in ways other than “victim” or “bully” and can lead to new understandings. Even if the outcome of a mediation seems small and insignificant, the experience can often be the beginning of change.

A 15 minute video called “Interviewing harassment” is available from Aileen and Dorothea at Selwyn College, Kohimarama Rd, Auckland, New Zealand fax 09 5219620.

A detailed account of the work of the Team has been published in The Dulwich Centre Journal, 1998 vols 2&3.

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