Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Interview in the TESS

Here is the copy from an interview published on 16 November 2012 - http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6301807
The director of respectme, Scotland's anti-bullying service, discusses why people are often reluctant to admit there is a problem, how strong leadership is key to combating bullying and the trouble with shows such as The X Factor. Interview by Henry Hepburn Photography David Gordon
SallyAnn Kelly of Barnardo's Scotland told us (15 June) that some schools were reluctant to admit they had a bullying problem. What do you think?

Sadly, some are. I've met many heads who openly say: "There's no bullying in this school." It's not as prevalent as it was, that attitude, but it still exists.

Why are people to reluctant to admit a problem?

I think there's a real fear that they'll find themselves under scrutiny, that peers will judge them unfairly and that there will be much more work in terms of accountability. They may feel that bullying at the school represents failure, which it really doesn't. I've been in an area where one school recorded 30 bullying incidents in a year, and another recorded 100. The school with 100 was far better at dealing with bullying.

What is the most important thing for a school to do in tackling bullying?

In our experience, strong leadership. A head committed to anti-bullying, who supports staff through training and development, who involves young people and their families - these all make a big difference.

What is the biggest misconception about bullying?

That it's a normal part of growing up, that it's character-building. Good relationships, trust - these are the things that build character.

There's a common view of the bully as someone insecure, but some experts argue that many teenagers who bully are self-assured and do it to assert social superiority. What is your view?

We've never labelled children bullies or victims. It's fundamentally about changing the way people behave. If you don't fit the stereotype, you find it very hard to recognise that what you've done might have been bullying - but anyone can make people feel hurt, frightened or left out. Many young people who bully are articulate, intelligent and have an abundance of self-belief.

Is cyberbullying as sinister as sometimes portrayed, or just the latest moral panic?

I'm leaning towards it being the latest moral panic. There's a significant fear from adults about this behaviour, and some organisations have been very opportunistic in the mileage they've got out of cyberbullying. What I see is behaviour that's always existed - it's just migrated.

Isn't there a difference in that things can go viral?

Yes. If you tweet something or post it on Facebook, it's outwith your control and young people can find themselves in a deep hole very quickly. But children can also feel empowered by the ability to block and report messages online.

Your last annual conference was organised with LGBT Youth Scotland. Is homophobic bullying a particular concern?

Yes. All children are affected by bullying, but LGBT and disabled young people can experience more severe bullying, more often. School for people who are perceived to be gay is still a challenging, and at times dangerous, environment.

One of your conference workshops asks whether labelling of children by adults is ever helpful. What do you think?

It's never helpful. I want people to understand that it's not about softening language, it's not because I have a social care background. When you label children, they can be burdened by those labels and live up to them. It's been one of the fundamental flaws of anti-bullying in the past 30 years, that it's focused on what type of people do things to what type of people, rather than "This is behaviour - how does it make people feel and what can we do to change it?"

How would you counter the suggestion that an over-emphasis on bullying can exacerbate a problem, or create issues where they don't exist?

We've always guarded against winding up the tension. It's good to raise issues, but don't do it in a way that makes people tense, because then they start to filter everything through that.

When does normal behaviour cross the line and become bullying?

Bullying takes something away from children - that capacity to feel that you can be yourself. But if I'm confident, people can be hostile and it will wash over me. I would say I've not been bullied.

So it depends on the perception of the person on the receiving end?

It's a mixture of certain types of behaviour, and the impact they have. What you do about bullying is far more important than how you define it. Your response should focus on how to get back what has been taken away from the person who's been bullied.

Programmes like The X Factor have been criticised for tacitly endorsing bullying. Is that a genuine concern?

There are lots of programmes where people are upset by what's dressed up as honesty - but you can be honest without being brutal. I don't have moral outrage about people like Simon Cowell. At times the debate is too superficial - that's the issue I have.

How would you sum up the root causes of bullying?

Bullying is about relationships - when they aren't working, or they're not built on respect, bullying flourishes.


Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Thought's behind this years campign...

As we prepare to launch our new video next week, I find myself , reflecting on how bullying is an emotive and at times a complex issue. It can bring about extreme reactions in people, from genuine anger and aggression to a dismissive ‘never did me any harm, it’s all part of growing up’ attitude.

I still encounter both attitudes and believe that how some people choose to frame bullying is not at all helpful. Bullying does not build character. Trust, love and good role models build character. This helps us deal with things like bullying, it helps build resilience. I find the attitude that bullying is ‘normal’ and builds ‘character’ in practice leads to very poor responses form adults when dealing with bullying.

Young people have always been consistent in what they tell us about bullying. For the most part they want it to stop with the minimum of fuss and when they are being bullied, they feel like they have lost something, lost the ability to feel in control and in-charge of themselves. Bullying is about relationships, relationships that are not working in the way they should. It’s about relationships that are not being managed or role modelled effectively.

We are taught about’ being friends’ at a very early age, I have witnessed this sometimes with children as  young as three year olds being told they’ need to be friends’. This just isn’t the case; where else in life are we told we all have to be friends? We should really be telling children that when they are together they need to be nice to each other, respect each other but that they need to be friends? It is unrealistic and gives children the first currency to barter with at school or nursery.

Learning to navigate relationships in the community, at home or in school is a journey we all go on. We learn to manage or even avoid conflict, that friends can fall out and it doesn’t mean things will never be fixed. It was this thought process that gave the service its name. It was while explaining the that it was okay to say ‘listen, you don’t have to like me but you do have to respect me’ and that respecting me does not have to mean you try to connect with me and learn about me – it can just mean ‘leave me alone’.  There are ways to behave when you do not like someone or agree with someone that is respectful. Our response to this does not need to be to bully or intimidate, to exclude and cause fear and anxiety.

As part of this year’s anti-bullying week activities (November 19 – 23), our campaign will use a video to deliver this message; a message spoken by young people to their peers and to the adults in their life.

That message is this ‘You don’t have to like me, you don’t have to agree with me or like doing the same things I do but you do have to respect me. So leave me be, don’t just try to bully me, talk to me even and hey, you do your thing and I’ll do mine’.

This very straightforward message is one we want people to share across their social networks; it is how we want adults to talk to children about how they get on with their peers, how they approach anti-bullying work and how children should learn to set the parameters for relationships in their lives.

This message translates into anti-bullying training and policies that promote respectful relationships that value diversity, equality, and children’s rights.   If you don’t agree with someone or think they are out-of-step from how you think or feel – you do not need to respond in a way that makes them feel hurt, frightened or left out. You can learn about what makes us different, or, you can learn to leave the people you might not like or agree with alone.
That action alone would make a great deal of children and young people much happier and feel much safer than they currently do.


Brian Donnelly

Thursday, 11 October 2012

This year’s anti-bullying week competition – what have we learned?

It has been such an interesting experience to go through each of the entries into this year’s competition – as it is every year. This year we have around 2,000 entries. That’s 2,000 individual pieces of feedback on ‘What bullying means to me’.

The question posed is very deliberate – it’s not about finding out what children and young people think about bullying or what is a good message or poster for your peers is but what does it mean to you. Having been involved in every competition we have ran in the last 5 years, I have always paid attention to the emerging themes and issues from the thousands of submissions. A couple of years ago the theme of loss and helplessness emerged very clearly and helped us understand the impact bullying had on a person’s agency, their capacity for self-management.

It was very clear that bullying took something away from children and young people; we took this notion and discussed it further and how effective responses gave something back, so emerged our thinking on agency. (See initial blog)

When explaining agency to young people I have often used the analogy of a ‘typical day’. A day where you get up, have your breakfast, you know you are off to the bus-stop to meet friends, what classes you’ll enjoy, pay attention in or even avoid and have a good idea of what you’ll be doing after school. Children and young people recognise this scenario and that they will have experienced this.

When a person is being bullied, they say that is not their day. They are not in charge of how they get to feel, someone else is. It affects how they felt when they wake up, if they eat anything, the nerves heading for the bus perhaps or what someone will say to them if they walk in this door at school. Will they be asked to go out tonight or ignored again? Again, some of them recognise this day too.

There are so many of the entries this year, especially in the creative writing category that have reflected this very clearly. There are many stories where children and young people reflect a feeling of nervousness, fear and a lack of control over situations that sometimes starts the moment they get up. They describe in vivid detail days and experiences they have where others make them feel worried and scared, where people affect their ability to learn.They descibe physical responses too, legs shaking, hands trembling and feeling very cold.

This writing reaffirms what we believe about bullying and agency, they describe individuals who are not agents in their own lives; they are not in charge of how they feel and our responses must focus on restoring this loss.

When children and young people are asked to reflect on what bullying means to them, they describe feelings of hurt, fear, loneliness, worry and anger. They describe scenarios where friendships turn sour, where people are left out and where being new to a school or a group can intially be a very difficult experience. They also express a real desire for people to return to being friends. It is the most common solution put forward, one where relationships are repaired and people ‘get on’. They offer very little by way of wanting to see people ‘punished’.

 The art work submitted, ranging from posters to drawings and sculpture reflects many of the same issues. Images of feeling trapped, having your mouth zipped up, feeling caged, dark colours and feeling very small in large rooms or spaces. These all reflect a sense that they are prevented from being themselves and how they look, act and feel. What they are asking for is the chance to get back to that feeling.

It is a huge pleasure to get to do this and every year we receive incredible entries, I have never doubted and have always championed the creativity and the contribution children and young people make. These entries are a significant contribution to what we do because of the question we ask and the incredible way they respond.

We will be announcing the winners very soon as well!


Monday, 3 September 2012

An interesting time...

This has been an eventful few days for us and this week also sees the service take on something different. My first Blog entry was based on a paper on bullying and agency, submitted to the International Journal of Youth Studies and was at that time, awaiting publication, well Professor Sercombe and I have been informed the peer review process is complete and it will now be published. (Small round of applause) 

I am delighted that this paper will be published and hope that it starts some interesting and hopefully challenging debate around how we define bullying and how we respond. 

Critiquing definitions that have been used for years should challenge thinking on bullying. This is done to get practitioners focussing on what really matters; what they do when bullying is happening. Focussing on the impact behaviour has not trying to fit the people doing it into what are fairly rigid stereotypes.

This has coincided with the EUSARF Conference being held in Glasgow this week over three days. I shall be delivering a presentation titled – ‘Why a focus on agency for bullying makes for more effective outcomes’. This is a first for me and the service, getting to present and discuss our learning and our approach to anti-bullying to researchers, academics and practitioners.

While our focus always has and always will remain on providing practical solutions and resources to people that help them on a daily basis, it is good that we are now in a position to contribute to the debate at an international level.

It is the fact we focus on pragmatic solutions that need to work in practice that has enabled us to reframe and sharpen our thinking. While this is working at the level that matters most, we have learned a great deal and we should and can seek to influence thinking and approaches based on the success we have had in Scotland. I will be meeting colleagues in Dublin soon to share the learning and success we have had delivering the service here.

We have also launched our new cyberbullying booklet for children and young people and it seems all of the places who received this have opened their mail on the same day! We send every school and registered children’s service 2 copies and then they get in touch to ask for more – fair to say we can look forward to a few paper cuts over the next week.


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Anti-Bullying Week 2012

This year will take place from Monday November 19 2012 until Friday November 23 2012. This takes place in the same week across the UK. For the team here at respectme, it is a very busy period. We start planning this around March and April each year. Our focus is on three main things:

1. Our national conference

2. The anti-bullying week competition

3. A national anti-bullying media campaign

We aim to keep the standards of these very high!

This year’s conference will take place at Murryfield Stadium on Tuesday November 20 2012. We have held a conference there previously and it is a great venue. Since our very first conference we have ensured that the inclusion of children and young people is meaningful. I have always been surprised and a little disappointed when I have attended events and there are two young people sitting at the front with a teacher or member of staff and there presence is acknowledged by all the key speakers but that is as far as there inclusion goes.

I have sat in meetings planning events and colleagues have reacted very strangely to the thought of young people taking a lead – they see young people’s events in one place and one for the professionals in another and never the twain shall meet. This has often been rationalised by saying people find young people’s inclusion tokenistic. I find their inclusion tokenistic too, if it’s not done right. So what’s my advice? Don’t be tokenistic!

Our conferences have always had young people delivering workshops, drama presentations, debates and keynote speeches. Young people have made video diaries of conferences and blogged about their experiences. Using a Twitter feed has seen young people share thoughts and others not attending have had the opportunity to join in too. This year will be the same – more details to follow soon but this is the standard we set for every event.

The national competition has been a revelation for us at respectme, once we changed the focus from simply a poster campaign to one asking the question ‘What does bullying mean to me?’ This has led to thousands of entries in a variety of formats form creative writing, to videos, photography sculpture (yes, sculpture) to songs and raps. In asking this question we get individual feedback on what bullying means to children and young people.

The themes that emerge are consistent each year, young people feel lost, hurt, frightened, helpless and worried about making things worse. These feelings of fear and loss are expressed vividly in a number of ways. The leaning this has given us and the confidence to talk about what young people say about bullying has been incredible.

The competition is not just for schools, youth clubs, children’s homes and all sorts of organisations can enter. If you are involved in dance, drama or any activity, this competition may be of interest. See the home page on www.respectme.org.uk for information.

Our campaigns vary every year and last years ‘She’s still going somewhere’ campaign video will be hard to top. That is something the whole team will be focussing on ion the coming weeks – so watch this space or indeed any feedback you want to share, let me know.

It has always been our intention to use anti-bullying week to highlight and showcase the work being done every week of the year on anti-bullying. We never wanted this week to be just a time for specific activity in schools or clubs that may be forgotten about soon after. We fund work in local areas too to promote activity that raises the profile of anti-bullying, some of the brilliant work done here will be featured at an event at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday November 21 2012.

In the meantime, head down and roll on November!


Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Cyberbullying - a focus for our partners

I have had the pleasure of speaking at a number of events in recent week on the subject of cyberbullying. I have spoken to teachers, residential child care staff, police officers, and next week educational psychologists.  

It remains no real surprise that demand on this subject remains high, it is the one area of work with children and young people that is seeing both innovation and fear and not in equal measures sadly.

The message that appears to get the most traction of late is that we cannot abdicate responsibility for this to software. We need to connect and learn about how young people use the internet and the phones or laptops they access it from. They use it mainly to talk to and meet their friends.

Lots of colleagues have said they are ‘technophobes’ or are not ‘tech savvy’ and how much they do not like facebook or twitter. The thing is though, if you work with children and young people or are a parent or carer – that is no longer good enough. You need to know and for some that will require a real effort to spend time and utilise the relationship they have.

Many adults have experience of managing risk when working with children and young people, this is a new place for us to consider. We need to be as imaginative and creative with the internet as we have been in other places.

What remains my favourite part of the training we do is asking adults to reflect on how they communicated as teenagers. We hear of the red phone box, post cards, arranging to meet and hoping people turn up as well as locks on the house phone. The point being that staying in touch with your friends was always important and you used whatever means you had at your disposal.

Today is no different, even if some do get all misty eyed at remembering sending postcards and using pay phones but for many of us, we can now communicate, chat and share pictures with friends and family all over the world. We love to communicate and always have.

A great deal of the success we have had is supported by the concept that we need to think of the internet as a place, rather than a thing. We need to see it as a social space and like any other social space, relationships play out in it and there will be risks. People will fall in, fall out, argue and be horrible to others. So like any other social space, we need to discuss boundaries, challenges, risks, threats and how to keep safe and what we will do if there is a problem.

To some the internet is a tool, they buy stuff on or book holidays, but it is used by children and young people and many adults as part of their daily lives to connect with others. The differences between connecting face to face, by the phone or online are not as clear as they may have been before. It is just a new place to do so.

Last years campaign sums this up perfectly with the message, whether they are going into town or online they are still going somewhere. I have seen adults change their entire approach based on this premise,

‘When my daughter wants to go into town, I ask a dozen questions! Who with, how long for, is your phone charged? I never ask where she is going on her laptop!’

The video that supports this can be seen here  http://bit.ly/MMtPOp

Cyberbullying is bullying, news to no one I know but we do need to remember that it is not the phone or the website that is doing this, it is people. We respond to this by connecting with people about what they do.  

It is important to include cyberbullying in your policies and procedures on anti-bullying and not see it as something entirely separate - it is still rooted in relationships between people.

I conducted research last year into children and young people's experience of cyberbullyng and how they use the inetrnet and the findings were very interesting.

16% say they have been cyberbullied
25% worry about cyberbullying,
55% say they are online every day for 1 – 3 hours, nearly 10% claim they are on for 5 hrs or more
Mobile phones and laptops are the most common devices
Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger two most popular platforms

This research involved 3,944 young people from 29 of Scotland's 32 local authorities aged 8 - 19 years. This helps us tell parents, they need to understand and know how to navigate and make safe or private facebook and BBM especially. Being able to do so allows them to respond more effcectively if their children are having problems such as bullying on these platforms.

It is my intention to produce a fuller report on this research in time (meaning if I can get some!) but a summary report can be found here http://www.respectme.org.uk/Publications-Introduction.html

talk soon


13 June 2012

Monday, 26 March 2012

Reflections on bullying – some core underpinnings and a definition

Brian Donnelly Director of respectme, Scotland’s Anti-Bullying Service.

A great deal of learning has taken place over the five years respectme has been delivering anti-bullying training, policy support and campaigning.  There are some core messages that underpin the approach we take which challenge existing thinking on bullying; I shall explore some of these in this refection. This reflection is also based on work done in partnership with Professor Howard Sercombe University of Strathclyde to develop an academic synthesis reflecting some of the theoretical underpinnings of the approach taken by respectme.

We challenge the traditional belief that persistence and intent are the defining elements of bullying situations. Instead we have focussed on the impact the behaviour has on individuals. Our reasoning for this is that it’s our role to provide pragmatic and practical responses, resources and skills that can be implemented by parents and professionals. What you do about bullying is much more important than how you define or what criteria you apply to determine if an incident merits the label. In our experience, many children and young people reflect a clear understanding that something needs to only happen once and it can be bullying, yet most definitions, and often anti-bullying policies, refute this, stating that the behaviour has to be repeated over a period of time.   The actual intervention may not be repeated, but the threat will be sustained over time. Typically, the threat will be sustained by actions, looks, messages, confrontations and physical interventions or the fear and anticipation of these.

Similarly intent is not only difficult to prove but easily denied and this should not be used as criteria for this very reason. Many of the behaviours experienced are subtle, indirect and designed to unsettle and make people feel left out; again it is the impact that needs to be the focus for intervention.

respectme focuses on the need to develop interventions and approaches that recognise the impact bullying has and works to ensure adults are able to deal with it effectively and confidently. This involves supporting partners to come to a shared understanding of what bullying behaviour can be. When faced with an actual situation, how you define it is less important than what you do about it. This deflects the intervention from a dispute about whether or not a presenting situation should be classed as a bullying situation, and turns attention to where it ought to be focused: to the person directly affected. Then, the intervention becomes much more straightforward; really a matter of three questions:

1. What is happening?

2. What does the person in distress want to happen?

3. How are we going to make that work?

Bullying behaviours can include: 
·                Being called names, being teased, put down or threatened
·                Being hit, tripped, pushed or kicked
·                Having belongings stolen or damaged
·                Being ignored, left out, or rumours spread about you
·                Receiving abusive text messages or emails
·                Behaviour which makes people feel like they are being bullied
·                Being targeted because of who you are or who you are perceived to be
This is not an exhaustive list; there may be other behaviours that can be classed as bullying, these are what we would call ‘practices of domination’.

Children and young people can experience bullying for a variety of reasons; including where they live, their sexuality, gender, disability, the colour of their skin, what clothes they wear or what team they support.
The one thing that these have in common is difference or perceived difference. Bullying is a relationship. It’s a two way thing. The attempt to dominate needs to be answered by subordination in order for the bullying relationship to be established. Bullying is therefore not primarily a description of a person or behaviour but a kind of relationship. Those who bully and those bullied are in a relationship with each other. What differentiates bullying, we believe, is the impact it has on a person’s agency. This ‘agency’ is their capacity for effective action and feeling in control of their lives. Bullying strips individuals of the capacity to do this.

As a result of the work and discussions with Professor Howard Sercombe, we defined bullying as:
“A relationship of violence involving practices of domination that strip another person of the capacity for agency, using interventions carrying the sustained threat of harm” (Sercombe and Donnelly 2012)

The aim of interventions must be to restore agency, to replace that which was taken away. We must base our responses on this question: ‘how can I respond in a way that gives this person back their agency, to help them regain that sense of control over who they are and what they do?’ Not just ‘how do I fix this?’

Adults who adopt this perspective can make a much more effective intervention. These core principles are underpinned by our values of fairness, inclusion and equality and are supported by our commitment to provide practical resources for adults to use that promote and protect Children’s Rights. These values and principles apply when dealing with children and young people who are bullying others. They need to understand what the behaviour is that is unacceptable, why it is unacceptable, what the consequences may be and what is expected of them in future. They may also need help to repair relationships.

Another core message that underpins the work of the service is our approach to labelling, respectme does not label children and young people as ‘bullies’ or ‘victims’. Care needs to be taken because labelling is not without its risks, labelling a child or young person on the basis of bullying behaviour can result in a confirmed identity as a ‘bully’ or ‘victim’ resulting in ongoing behaviour patterns based on this identity. respectme has developed approaches to working with bullying which hopefully avoid the labelling dilemma. A core theme in training, policy development and campaigning has been the exploration of the value judgements that lie behind labels.

This is not to dilute behaviour but is to keep the focus of the adult’s responses on the behaviour that is problematic, rather than the assigning characteristics to those involved. This is a solution focussed approach that is designed to help people change the way they behave, rather than attempt to change who they are. We help people change by telling them and naming the behaviour that is unacceptable, being clear that what they are doing is bullying and that it needs to stop.

I look forward to sharing more of the learning in the coming months on topics ranging from cyberbullying to what our 24 month evaluation highlighted as critical factors for success.

Brian Donnelly
January 2012