(A version of this article first appeared in Kingston Neighbours Magazine, October, 2022.)
The standard which you walk past is the standard you accept.
~ Lieutenant General (Retired) David Morrison, Australian Army,
13 June 2013.
This quote exemplifies the attitude needed to combat all forms of interpersonal aggression: leaders cannot ignore/excuse any incivility within their schools, organizations, boards or committees. Ignoring disrespect leads to a toxic culture, which can then escalate into harassment and bullying.
In Ontario, there are several laws addressing bullying and harassment, including Canada’s Criminal Code and Ontario’s Human Rights Code. In Ontario schools, Bill 13 Accepting Schools Act, 2012 sets out that every board must establish a prevention and intervention plan. Similarly, the Occupational Health and Safety Act covers workplace violence and harassment and stipulates employers must prepare policies and review them annually.
However, these plans and policies are only useful if leaders — principals, managers, supervisors, teachers, committee and council chairs — are well-trained, proactive and self-aware. Leaders must:
- reflect on their leadership and communication style to ensure they are using their personal power in positive, not coercive, sarcastic or passive-aggressive, ways.
- be aware of the prevalence of bullying. As R.C. Lewis wrote, “Just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there.” Many perpetrators are skilled at concealing aggressive words and actions from those in authority.
- challenge misinformation, especially common bullying myths, such as it’s just a personality clash and targets are too sensitive and/or don’t fit in.
- not be afraid to take action.
Addressing toxic behaviours is a courageous task. However, there are resources to help principals, managers/supervisors, teachers, committee/board chairs become informed and proactive. Here are some titles to get you started.
8 Keys To End Bullying: Strategies For Parents & Schools, by Signe Whitson — This book gives practical strategies to end interpersonal aggression among youth, including empowering bystanders and targets to use “bully bans” or short statements to use in bullying situations, such as:
“Don’t say that. That’s mean.”
“You’re taking it too far. Stop.”
Toxic: A Guide To Rebuilding Respect and Tolerance In A Hostile Workplace, by Clive Lewis — Filled with relatable anecdotes, Lewis identifies the toxic triad:
- Toxic organizations that are bureaucratic and non-inclusive.
- Toxic supervisors who either avoid problems (dodgers) or micromanage (reckless tacklers).
- Toxic employees who manipulate and seek retribution, keeping their divisive actions hidden from others.
Lewis then explains how to put organizational diagnosis in place to uncover the toxicity and test solutions.
PREVNet (Promoting Relationships & Eliminating Violence Network) — This organization, affiliated with Queen’s University, has the latest research on how to eliminate interpersonal aggression across the lifespan. Just browsing the comprehensive PREVNet website gives an understanding of the interconnectivity between bullying, violence, harassment and abuse in our society. However, it also offers specific resources for educators and leaders, including:
- Bullying Prevention and Intervention in the School Environment: Factsheets and Tools by Dr. Debra J. Pepler and Dr. Wendy Craig — A free, 126-page pdf that outlines the 4 pillars of an effective bullying prevention and intervention plan.
- PREVNet Book Series — Currently at 4 volumes, you can download and read the latest research findings and guidance from scholars and practitioners.
Bullying is an insidious, systemic problem in our society today. Recognizing it, learning positive ways to interact with one another and creating healthy workplaces and schools is crucial to halt the perpetual cycle of aggression and make the hurt stop.
There is interconnectivity between bullying, violence, harassment and abuse in our society and we must work tirelessly to halt the perpetual cycle of aggression and create healthy workplaces, schools and community spaces for ourselves and future generations.