By Jane Balvanz, MSE, RPT
Professional School Counselor
Bob was an innovative and promising new teacher. At a time when two hundred candidates applied for one position, he beat out the other 199. He was an intriguing combination of laid back meets Mr. Wizard. The kids loved him. He made good friends among his fellow staff members. Most of them, anyway. A vocal minority of established teachers didn’t like his new ideas. Despite this, his first year went well.
The second year was another story. Feeling more settled, Bob spoke up more at department meetings, not satisfied with doing things “the way they’ve always been done.” This made the vocal minority mad, and throughout the year they sought the principal’s ear. The principal was a weak leader who hated conflict. Instead of using conflict resolution techniques or suggesting face-to-face mediation, he simply fired Bob at the end of his second year. Bob moved out of state, got another teaching job where innovation was valued, and won several teaching awards.
Jewel, a twenty-year veteran teacher, transferred to a school across the city. She liked change and looked forward to the challenges of a new building. Her reputation as a strong teacher preceded her. Though not intimidating, many of her team members felt insecure around her. Jewel was more experienced than they. Just as geese take on a fox, they mobbed her. Through their withholding of information, Jewel missed deadlines, meetings, and crucial information. Her teaching was affected. She began losing confidence in herself. Knowing something was off, she began losing sleep and needing sick days. Jewel blamed herself, never realizing some of her colleagues were doing their best to make her feel crazy.
What do both Bob and Jewel have in common? Each was a target of emotional bullying.
When Teachers Hurt Teachers
Barring mental illness, people hurt people out of fear, for revenge, or to gain or keep power or control. Teachers are not immune to this behavior. No one is. It can happen in any organization. Despite their professionalism, educators can be target, bully, or bystander. Here are some signs that signal relational aggression is occurring to an individual in your building.
- Sudden decline in performance.
- Increasing absences
- Withdrawal from usual activities
- Change in attitude or usual routine
- Distancing from friends
Isn’t it ironic that these are the same symptoms our students display when they are the targets of emotional bullying?
Preventing Emotional Bullying Among Teachers
A strong and just administrator is the key element in preventing relational aggression among teachers. She can’t play favorites, and she leads by example. He encourages honesty, knows how to mediate, and has a thorough understanding of the workings of the building. Civility is expected among staff and students.
In a perfect world, all administrators would be like this. In lieu of perfection, here are 10 steps you can take to prevent or remedy emotional bullying in your building.
- If you’re either a new teacher or new to the building, become a keen observer. Watch co-workers interact and become aware of the dynamics of the workplace.
- Don’t make snap judgments about people, and keep an open mind. Allow people a chance to grow on you. Make sure you make up your own mind about a person. Don’t let others make up your mind for you.
- Measure your words. Don’t say or write anything about anyone that you wouldn’t want printed on the front page of the New York Times. Word travels in many ways.
- If you need to confront someone, choose your words carefully. Build bridges instead of burning them.
- Avoid ageist thinking. No one is too young or too old to be a good teacher.
- Trust your gut. If you feel a faction of the school is against you, there’s probably some truth to it. Mobbing, sending in a group to “pick away” at a strong target, can make one feel crazy or paranoid.
- Document negative interactions if they become frequent.
- Become familiar with the school’s harassment policies, so you know procedures when you need them. All schools should have them posted.
- Distance yourself from those who talk badly about others. Don’t confide in them. They won’t think twice about speaking badly about you and will use information against you.
- Don’t be a doormat. If ignoring doesn’t work, speak up. Bullies grow bolder unchecked.
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE?
You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Bullying strategists Jane Balvanz and Blair Wagner publish GAPRA’s bi-weekly articles. If you’re ready to guide children in grades K – 12 through painful friendships and emotional bullying:
For help with emotional bullying: www.GAPRAconnect.com
For the When Girls Hurt Girls® program: www.AWayThrough.com