STORY PREVIEW

2015

Making KCT a bully free school

K.C. THACKERAY VIDYA NIKETAN

Maharashtra

MENTOR

Aishwarya M

Step 1 Feel

We started the DTG curriculum in June 2014. Cartography got us thinking about bright spots and hot spots around us. We identified six hot spots including shelter for the homeless around the school, technology education for the elderly, fixing our stinking toilets and bullying.

Our team chose bullying after a vote. It was a close contender with other issues. In fact, bullying won just by one vote. The main reason for picking bullying was the fact that there were students in our own class who were deeply affected by bullies - to the extent that school had become a horrid place for them. We had already tried to solve bullying using other problem solving techniques and had failed. Many of us were skeptical. But we decided to stay with this and see where it goes. Right now, we are glad we chose to stick to it. 

Almost all students across the school were affected by the problem. The students getting bullied faced loneliness, depression and had very little enthusiasm to turn up to school. School wasn't a happy place for them. The bullies themselves were getting bullied in other places / times. The teachers and the management struggled without an effective way to tackle the situation. Consequences, suspensions and detentions didn't work. Students who had been bullied for a long time had completely lost trust in the school system and their their own classmates. We also realized that if we are bullying each other, we aren't a team. Moreover, we realized that school is not a safe space for us.

Step 2 Imagine

Imagine was considerably harder than feel. It was easier to empathize with the students who were bullied, it was easier to understand what they may be going through. We had already watched the movie "Bully" and read many online articles on the effects of bullying. It was hard to believe that change was possible. It took us a long time to warm up to actually imagining solutions and not getting bogged down by "how" it will work out.. or not work out. Slowly, our mantra became: "Don't let the HOW stop you". We brainstormed and brainstormed some more. Each idea was scrutinized in long debates and discussions to result in close to 25 ideas. 

We let go of the ideas that were punitive and against the vision of our school (Every student of Vidya Niketan is an empowered, educated citizen able to make informed choices). We divided the remaining ideas into 4 groups. We divided ourselves into 4 groups too. Each group would now concentrate only on their area and hence make the problem solving process efficient. The groups were: 1. Consequences group: in charge of creating short term and long term consequences and a trial process for bullying cases in school.  2. Empowerment group: in charge of spreading the word, empowering students to stand up to bullying, empower bystanders to help victims of bullying, giving teachers ways and means to handle bullying cases, empowering students to report cases of bullying and ensuring that they trust the system again.  3. Counseling group: in charge of ensuring that both the bully and the bullied child get counseling and emotional support to heal and improve.  4. Happiness group: in charge of making school a happy place so that no one feels the need to bully each other. Although we were still in the imagine stage, many things had started changing. We started looking out for each other. During class discussions, we were no longer only worried about whether we got a chance to share; we were also worried about whether everyone is getting enough air time. If they didn't we started silently pointing it out to the teacher. Two of our classmates who have always been bullied throughout their stay at our school suddenly changed. Suddenly, they started raising their voice. Like magic, there came a time when no one dared to bully them. We haven't completely understood what happened yet. They didn't use violence, they didn't even report bullying! They just reached a space where they decided not to take it anymore. We had slowly turned into upstanders from being bystanders forever. We are not sure whether people listened when we raised our voice. We stopped thinking about whether anyone will listen to us. We just raised our voice because we could. One other classmate of ours who had completely lost trust in the system raised his voice against the management when he got bullied by 7th graders. After noticing that the office didn't take any action after the initial complaint, he went ahead and told the office that they aren't doing what they said they would! The office then took action - they moved the 7th grade classroom to a different floor to reduce instances of the 7th graders bullying us.

Step 3 Do

Our empowerment group was the first one to act. They got a slot in the staff meeting to present one of our very own ideas which was working in our class. Every morning, we spent five minutes before starting our first period talking and sharing things we thought were important to us. This had improved relationships significantly in our class. We presented this to all the teachers. Most teachers nodded, some felt that it was a bad idea. Some felt it was purposeless. We realized that we should have spoken about the purpose instead of the method - the purpose was to create a safe space and an informal platform where every child would like to participate. We realized that teachers could do it the way they wanted as long as the purpose was achieved. We hit a very important milestone immediately after entering the DO phase. We received a complaint from a student from grade 7 that one of our own teammates had bullied him in the school bus. We were in a fix. We were unsure about whether our process and solutions were strong enough.. We were not keen on putting our own classmate through a trial. But, we had reached a place where we couldn't be silent either. We had to do something. We decided to jump in and take the case. We followed the procedures that we had come up with. There was an initial investigation. We brought a tribunal together - our counselor, assistant school leader, a senior school teacher, a parent from the SMC, the school's student council and our team. We called the bully (one of our own!) in and conducted a trial. The tribunal asked many questions and came up with a list of consequences that we agreed to follow up. And, we realized we had failed. We had failed at multiple levels. Our reflections taught us the following major things: 1. The tribunal wasn't prepared to take the case 2. We were very emotional because the bully was one of our own. We couldn't effectively separate our emotions from the case. We kept oscillating between sympathizing with him and doing the right thing. 3. Communication among the various groups broke down. 4. The tribunal had way too many people. The bully didn't have any defense. We ended up bullying the bully! 5. The consequences were hard to follow up. Miscommunication between the office and our team finally led to a situation in which none of the consequences were followed up. We videotaped the whole case. It helped to watch it again and reflect. After our longest reflection (close to two hours!) we realized that we need to take a step back and work again on our processes. By the time we reached this phase, the academic year had come to an end. We submitted a list of recommendations to our school leader because many of our ideas needed help from teachers and the office. Here's the recommendation letter: Shalini didi, I am writing to you on behalf of Dhruv, who have submitted a list of recommendations for the school to consider to tackle the problem of bullying next year. Dhruv has taken complete responsibility for the implementation and follow up of the processes once they are set in place. They will need our guidance from time to time. Once these recommendations are reviewed and the structures are put in place, Dhruv along with the school team plan to launch the anti bullying campaign at the beginning of the academic year 2015-16. The recommendations are as follows: 1. The consequences group proposes to conduct a trial with representatives from all stakeholders along with the parties involved in the case. We need teachers, office staff, parents and student council members to sign up for this and be available for the trial when there is a case. The trials will happen after school. 2. The counselling group proposes to open up voluntary counsellor positions in the school. Teachers and office staff (and parents?) are eligible to sign up. We need your help in figuring out how to train the people who sign up to be ready for the job. The teachers/staff must commit to being available a few hours every week for counselling. They still need guidance on when counselling needs to be done. They propose that it should happen in school time - assemblies / lunch breaks etc.  Both groups take complete responsibility for follow up, they will also need some guidance here. Please let me know how we can take this forward. Regards, Aishwarya Our principal and teacher went over our recommendations during the holidays. After the summer, we had already reached standard 9. Our sections had gotten shuffled like every year. We got our time tables tweaked in such a way that we reshuffled to the standard 8 configuration only during DFC periods. Our teacher continues to facilitate DFC classes for us even though she is not in the senior school (9th and 10th grade) team. With logistics out of our way, we met the principal to find out what she thought about our recommendations so that we could decide next steps. We realized that we were not truly ready to launch our plan. Our processes were not air tight. We did not know the exact flow of events after we receive a bullying case, our principal thought that all our consequences aimed at humiliating the bully and that was against the vision of the school. We decided to take some time to reflect and make necessary changes. She suggested that we take time to fix a few things (especially our list of consequences) and launch it in a different classroom. We decided to choose 7th grade. The empowerment group launched the awareness campaign. They visited 7th grade and explained the project to the students. They promised that Team Dhruv will work very hard to make sure that school is a safe place for them. We returned and waited. We waited some more. We heard nothing from them. We wondered if there is no bullying in their class. We found out that there was bullying, but they did not reach out to us. We went back to them and asked for feedback. Their feedback shocked us. They asked us the following questions: 1. Why should we trust you? 2. Your tribunal has members from the office. I am scared of the office. 3. My parents will kill me if they know! If the case comes to you, the whole world will know. 4. You have said that you will investigate by questioning witnesses. I have got bullied all my life and not once has anyone agreed to testify on my side as a witness because they are scared of the bully. 5. What if I have no witnesses? Will you then not believe me? 6. What if someone brings a fake case to you? After last year's realization, the empowerment group decided to stop giving gyaan to teachers. Instead of telling them how to stop bullying, we decided to conduct a fun competition! We announced a competition - submit innovative ideas to tackle bullying in your class! We announced prizes and deadline. We reminded teachers each time they came to our class. We have 40 teachers in our school. We received 1 entry. We were stumped. The counseling group met the school counselor in a series of meetings to organize a structure around support for the students whose cases get registered with us. Few teachers volunteered to be counselors and pledge a few periods a week on demand. We have created a module with guidelines for these teachers and plan to present it to them once we get a free slot from the teachers. One month ago, 7 students left us. They were disinvested in the process. They said everything takes way too long and that they didn't believe that we are reaching anywhere. They have formed a separate group now and working on a different project. Interestingly, their project is about making grade 1 a safe space so that future bullying gets prevented. The happiness group is conducting meditation sessions for a small group of grade 7 students everyday before school starts. The sessions have been going on for 3 weeks now. We have a follow up meeting tomorrow with our facilitator to reflect and decide next steps. The consequences group worked very hard on redoing the whole list of consequences to ensure that they were not humiliating or aimed at bullying the bully. They got multiple rounds of feedback from various teachers, the school leader, the school counselor and students from the other groups. We have a whole new list of consequences now which are aimed at reform and are not fear based. While the trial group struggled to redo their trial process we hit a brick wall again. No matter what we do, we felt that the bully is not going to feel respected. Our facilitator then showed us a TED video on the Boston miracle. Another realization - all year long, we have been thinking about what to do TO the bully to stop bullying. We never worked WITH the bully. Stumped. Our facilitator also introduced us to a new concept just yesterday - Collaborative Problem Solving with the bully. We are now exploring possibilities around this. Big questions in our minds right now are: Should we make the bully feel respected and comfortable? We realize that our solutions are not working because we don't empathize with the bully. We are also concerned that if we empathize with the bullies, they might take advantage of us. Our exploration continues...

1. Many of us are not bystanders any more. 2. Two of our classmates have transformed - no one bullies them anymore. 3. We realized how resilient we are - It has been 1.5 years and we don't have a solution. 23 of us have remained together and intend to keep working at it. Maybe, journey is really the destination. 4. We know how tough social change is. We know that everything starts with us.

10-20

"..this year was very good for me. Till now, I've been in a space where I hated to come to school. I've had many fight in back years. But, now I don't feel so." "People listen to me in group discussions. They respect me now." "I don't wait for my teacher anymore to take action. I initiate myself."

All challenges have been described stage wise in the answers to the previous questions.

More than 30 days

Step 4 Share

This is the first time we are sharing details about our project.

0-10

As long as Team Dhruv is in KCT, we will strive to understanding our project and reflect continuously. We plan to leave a legacy behind - we plan to leave a sustainable solution at the hands of our teachers and juniors so that KCT becomes and remains a bully free space.