What is bullying?
Bullying by definition is all encompassing. It involves behaviour which intends to cause harm to others. That could be physical, emotional or psychological harm. However, when we consider bullying in schools we instantaneously assume it’s in the playground. Yet staff bullying exists, it’s ubiquitous and it’s harmful.
Research from the NASUWT suggests 4/5 teachers have faced bullying of some kind in the past 12 months. The profession of teaching is challenging. Accountability measures, push for results, deadlines and workload all create a high-intensity and high-pressure workplace. But bullying for teachers isn’t so obvious, the signs are difficult to detect.
How do we detect something that we can’t see in plain sight?
Bullying is rarely overt & in plain sight. No playground bully does anything with teachers watching. So, bullying is covert, involves little detection & manipulative. Victims of bullying are often scapegoated, silenced and made to watch over their shoulders. But little of this is in the open. Bullying is methodical & cruel. It destroys teacher confidence & morale. Even PGCE students face it. What type of introduction to teaching is that?
What does bullying in teaching or more widely in the workplace look like. Albeit not an exclusive list, this starts a conversation. Here are some of the signs & symptoms of bullying:
•Inconsistent standards between you & your peers,
•Your decisions, even the small ones, constantly challenged,
•Threats to job security,
•You are left feeling isolated,
•Your health is deteriorating,
•Unrealistic targets set & obstacles at every turn.
•Your ideas and work are publicly criticised,
•Being ‘encouraged’ to work into break & lunch times to deal with workload,
•Sporadic meetings which give you no time to prepare or gather thoughts,
•Feeling intimidated by senior staff or management,
•Made to feel guilty for taking time out for yourself & your family,
•No confidentiality, the idea that ‘everyone knows my business’
•Gaslighting – your sanity is questioned therefore you’re deemed ‘inept’ in making rational judgments. This is where ‘support plans’ begin.
Some organisations do not tolerate this, other HR engage with the bullying and can be toxic themselves. Teaching Standards bestowed upon us by the Department of Education state that professionalism & courtesy are an absolute must. The model of behaviour we expect from our students, why can’t it be replicated by our fellow professionals.
What can be done?
To innately change the culture of schools, remove to & fro accountability measures or change the norms & values of personnel isn’t quite realistic. But a cultural shift is needed. More transparency, less support plans, more conversations and less emails, more focus on tackling the cause of the problem and less on tackling the individuals involved.
Bullying needs challenging & calling out. Yet it is ultimately down to the school, as an employer to create a cohesive & comfortable environment for students and staff alike. How do we start a cultural shift? We start with conversations about it & conversations that matter. Victims need to be recognised.
I always tell new staff; join a Teaching Union. If you feel as though someone is putting you under pressure, speak to someone in management. Do NOT suffer alone as that will only perpetuate the pressure as they assume you can cope with what they’ve already thrown at you. Don’t allow them to throw any more at you.
But professional advice from a Teaching Union is a must. I keep my NASUWT card on me at ALL time. Your life, your family and your career matter. Look. After. Yourself. Below I’ve added a number of advice helplines I’ve used in my time as a teacher. All fantastic organisations that will give you the support you need.
Keep fighting. A bully is beat when they’re held accountable!
NASUWT Helpline: 03330 145550
NEU Helpline: 0345 811 8111
National Bullying Advice: https://www.nationalbullyinghelpline.co.uk/employees.html
Education Support Helpline: 08000 562561
By Shuaib Khan