Anti-bullying week is coming up in November, and it is something which we dedicate a large amount of time and effort to in schools, not just during that week but all year round.
I was thinking this evening how strange it is that we are so tough on bullying among children, yet we have so many schools, businesses and offices in which bullying is endemic and even accepted.
My first experience of teaching was a stressful and extremely difficult one, due to the nature of the head teacher. She would routinely humiliate staff and she piled on the pressure to an excessive degree. Now, after four years of teaching, I understand more clearly the demands that are placed on head teachers, which can filter down to other staff, but I also, thankfully, have experience of leaders who do not humiliate and do not rule by fear.
It is a misconception that one has to be a bully to be a strong leader.
No matter what the pressures of the job are, to my mind, if you resort to bullying, humiliation, degradation, belittlement and tactics of fear, then any success you may have is hollow. Not only that, but it is harmful. You can raise data levels by exceptional margins but, if you have made the lives of teachers, teaching assistants and students difficult, uncomfortable or upsetting in order to do it, then I’m afraid I don’t have any respect for your ‘achievements’ at all.
I do not believe that it is idealistic or naive to say so either. This is real life. We are dealing, every day, with the thoughts, feelings and emotions of people who require kindness, respect and understanding. It is possible to have difficult conversations in compassionate ways, to listen to others, to treat them with respect even if we disagree, and it is vital that we do so.
What example do we set to our children if we allow bullies to run our schools? What example would I set in the classroom if I humiliated or undermined children, rather than nurtured, nourished and boosted their confidence?
Bullies will try to tell you that you are too weak to work for them. That you can’t handle it. That ‘only the best and the strongest’ survive. That is simply not the case.
It takes strength to leave a situation which is against every moral bone in your body. It takes courage to stand up and say “I do not agree with the way things are done here.” It takes faith to say “I will find a place that suits me”. And it takes vulnerability to say “I believe that great things can be achieved through kindness and care.”
I realise that it is not easy to leave a job, and I know that not everybody is in a position to be able to leave an unpleasant situation.
But we have to stand up to the bullies in whatever way we can and demonstrate that kindness, compassion and understanding is the only way to achieve anything of any worth. We are teaching these amazing young people who need their fragile confidence boosted and their dreams nurtured. And the adults who teach them need it too, just like every other human being.
If you are in a situation where humiliation, fear and degradation are rife, believe me when I say that you are not weak if you decide to leave. You are making a stand, against bullying, against treating other people in a way that is damaging to their well-being and their emotional and mental health. You are demonstrating what you are prepared to accept and what you believe in. That is a powerful statement, and I applaud you.