Friday, June 14, 2013

Report, Investigate, Support

Reporting a bullying situation can invoke many feelings in people, especially younger students. The line between tattling and reporting can be very gray at times. If a school does its job that distinction will be clear and repeated in order to create a culture that has safety at its foundation. Reporting an incident typically begins with a conversation between a student and a trusted adult. Once a decision has been made to file a formal complaint, a form that asks for standard information is used. This basic information includes a description of the incident, citing times and places the bullying occurred. The more detail about the incident the better.  Names of any witnesses are also important.  Many times targets do not want to name witnesses; however, witnesses, as discussed in a prior article, are also targets and often traumatized by actions of the bully. Witnesses, if they believe they are protected, will often substantiate a target’s report. If a witness feels unsafe or fears retaliation by the bully will not likely want to put him/herself in the line of fire. Once a formal complaint is filed, a school should begin an investigation.
            An investigation done with integrity will include an interview by a neutral party, but a person with authority, of both the target and the bully. Any witnesses should also be interviewed if deemed appropriate. The investigation should begin promptly and be completed in a reasonable period of time.  Once the interviewer has concluded the investigation a written report should be completed and given to the district administrator. Copies of the written report should be kept on file in a confidential location.  If any discipline action is deemed necessary and appropriate, it should be taken immediately following the investigation. Waiting to take disciplinary action sends a message to the bully that the situation is not serious.  Such a decision may actually empower a bully rather than encourage a change of behavior.
A powerful anti-bullying climate will also have interventions for both the target and bully. Both parties need to be engaged in constructive and supportive interventions. Such interventions require patience and persistence. Strategic interventions for the target include listening to his/her story, support the target’s efforts to belong to the school community, request permission to share important information from the target’s story with appropriate school persons, determine when the target’s parents should be contacted, provide long-term supportive interaction with the target. The last thing the target should ever feel is abandoned or isolated. Interventions for the bully are also critical. Critical aspects for strategic intervention include understand the rationale and logic of the bully, listen to the story of the bully, educate the bully on boundaries, involve other team members as appropriate to help with accountability, determine when to contact the bully’s parents, enforce policies, and provide support by not abandoning the bully. There is a reason a person bullies others.  To change the behaviors of the bully, a relationship must be established that is based on the bullying trusting the adult. This takes time and patience. Above all, efforts must be genuine. It is highly probable no one has taken time to support the bully and actually help him or her rather than simply punish the actions he or she perpetuates.

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