"I Am Not Scared" Project
Verbal bullying (especially by SMS) between girls due to rivalry and jealousy
When and how the event started, how the school detected it.
At the end of March 2011, the assistant head (in charge of studies) who organises the residential class in the countryside for all the pupils of the second year receives a letter from Annik’s parents.
Annik does not want to take part in the trip. She would be bullied by her fellows since October/November 2010.
The headmaster gets in contact with the parents, receives the pupil and sounds out the class near the teachers.
Once the situation is clarified, she considers that these facts are not a concern of her office. She passes the deal to the assistant head in charge of discipline.
Main actors involved
Three girls. We will call them Annik, Françoise and Sophie.
From October 2010 till March 2011, that is to say 6 months.
Type of bullying actions carried out
Which actions have been undertaken ? Which strategies have been implemented to combat school bullying in this case ?
The assistant head (in charge of discipline) hears Annick who says she feels threatened, scared. To underpin what she said, Annick shows several very aggressive SMS recently received on her mobile phone.
The person who has sent these messages is easily identifiable. She is another pupil of the class, Françoise.
Then the assistant head receives Françoise. This one says she has first received SMS from Annick who mocked at her.
Françoise shows these SMS to the assistant head and tells the following story: “A few days ago, Annik, Françoise and Sophie were downtown. After a while Annik and Sophie left together, rejecting Françoise who went alone”.
(We have to specify that Françoise and Annik were very good friends since the beginning of the school year and Sophie arrived later in the class).
Then the assistant head meets Annik again to hear her version of these other events. She completes the story by the following way: “When she was on the bus with Sophie, this one asked her mobile phone to send Françoise messages “to laugh”.
Annik says she is unacquainted with their contents. She even says she has asked Sophie if she really signed the SMS.
Once at home, she shows her mother and her boyfriend the messages from Françoise, without showing those sent by Sophie and without telling anything about the context.
Then the mother writes a mail to the assistant head and, at his turn, the boyfriend threatens Françoise by SMS.
Confrontation of the actors
In front of these two versions, the assistant head organises a confrontation between Françoise and Annik.
The confrontation turns sour. Annik refuses to hear Françoise and to let her speak. She quits the assistant head’s office slamming the door and she goes back to the classroom.
Her tenured teacher, who has sided with her, tells her not to respond to the assistant head’s convocations.
Other pupils’ testimonies
Then the assistant head gathers the other pupils’ testimonies: regarding the events described here above, but also regarding supposed previous events (as Annik’s mother spoke about bullying that was lasting for several months).
Sophie is convoked. She admits her participation in the exchanges of SMS, but she minimizes the events and involves Annik saying that she was aware of what was happening.
Contrariwise, for the previous bullying events, nothing appears in the pupils’ declarations (9 pupils have been heard).
Then the assistant head meets several teachers of the class. It is clear that 4 girls dominate the class by their physical maturity (they are one year late). They are Françoise, Sophie, Annik and Alicia. The three first ones want to have a hold over the pupils, a negative leadership.
They are not always easy to direct in the class. Annik seems, according to her teachers, more “clever” that the other ones and does not raise any disciplinary problem.
Only one event prior to the threats by mobile phone is reported by the teacher of sciences. It occurred one week before.
Françoise did not stop to interrupt Annik’s reading. This one has muttered “keep mum”. Sophie did not lose time in telling it to Françoise and the voices have risen.
The assistant head decides the following interventions and sanctions.
He goes in the class and reminds the school rules concerning insults and threats. He reminds the warning procedure. He states that henceforth zero tolerance will be applied in the class for similar events, and serious sanctions will be imposed.
He meets Françoise’s father and elder sister. Françoise is suspended from the school for one day.
Then he phones Sophie’s father. Sophie has got two hours detention.
He has also a phone contact with Annik’s parents. Annik is sanctioned because she has left the assistant head’s office without authorization and she has not responded to one of his convocations. So, she has got a half-day suspension in the school.
In the three cases, when the assistant head contacts the parents, he does not only speak about the problem identified. He speaks about the whole situation of their child and about his/her interaction with the class (“leader” group, girls who are difficult to direct…) in order to make the parents understand well the context.
Specific devices set up within the school
This case could be solved quickly thanks to the “pupils’ supervision” strategy developed by the school for several years.
In this school of 1,300 pupils, almost 9% of the total number of the teachers’ periods is dedicated to supervision when the decree of the French Community plans 3% maximum.
The supervision team is made of education assistants (educators, head assistant in charge of discipline, education counsellors…) and of a numerous administrative staff (reception, library, regularity, outside activities, computing…) that allows the first ones to focus on educational tasks. All together, 27 persons are dedicated to pupils’ supervision.
This device is presented in details in the online form of « good practice » on the project portal (prevention, intervention, complaints management, education counsellor…).
Impact of the bullying acts on the didactical pathway, on the students’ motivation, on the school environment…
No pupil concerned has gone on his schooling in the school. However, it is difficult to say if that is linked to the events described here above.
Moreover, the events are qualified as bullying by a girl who presents herself as the victim. But, after the investigation, the school thinks that her status is more complex than a victim’s one and the “bullying” qualification is questionable.
Perception of the causes of the bullying acts
Annik says she is bullied by her fellows for more or less 6 months. She says she feels threatened, scared. To underpin her statements, she shows several very aggressive SMS received on her mobile phone.
Did she inform anybody ?
She informed he mother about the situation. Her mother helped her by writing to the assistant head in charge of studies.
What was her motivation ? Why did she choose the victim ?
Françoise says that she has written SMS to Annik because she has first received SMS from Annik who mocked at her.
Her motivation is the response to an aggression and probably also jealousy, because she tells she has been left downtown by Annik and Sophie (Françoise and Annik were very good friends since the beginning of the new school year and Sophie arrived later in the class).
Did she feel remorse ?
She does not express any remorse. So we can suppose she has no remorse.
Were they aware of what was happening ?
Nine pupils have been interviewed concerning the events described, but also concerning previous supposed events.
In their declarations, nothing shows possible prior events.
Concerning the exchanges of SMS, only Sophie admits her participation. But she minimizes the events by involving Annik.
What was their perception of the causes ?
These pupils are interviewed because their name has been quoted by a protagonist or a witness of the events. They only have parts of information. Their support goes, in an affective way, to those who are their closest friends. But no pupil has a global sight of the situation and they don’t know the ins and outs of the situation.
Anyway we can think they don’t care about that. What is important is to choose a side, not to know why they choose it.
Were they aware of the situation ? How did they manage to understand what was happening ? What did they do ?
The teachers do not have the feeling to be confronted to bullying events in the class, and especially concerning Annik who makes part of an older group of pupils having a hold over the class.
Only one event prior to the threats made by mobile phone is reported by the sciences teacher. That seems to show that friction already existed between the protagonists.
The tenured teacher, who has taken side for Annik, thinks that the headmaster has made a mistake and that Annik is really a victim. But, he does not think bullying has happened. He only defended her regarding the aggressive SMS she had received.
Which cooperation did they receive from the other teachers and from the headmaster ?
The assistant head went in the classroom to remind the school rules regarding insults and threats, as well as the warning procedures.
The teachers did not call for cooperation. They did not even detect the problem.
Were they aware of what was happening ? What did they do to address the episode ?
The headmaster has approved the assistant head’s decisions. The headmaster has met the protester teacher in order to solve the dysfunction that had occurred.
This case of « bullying » has been evoked during the staff meeting which was attended by: one member of the headmaster’s office, the assistant head in charge of discipline, the assistant head in charge of studies and her assistant, the counsellor in regularity, the education counsellor and the educators’ coordinator.
Did they notice what was happening ? Did they get informed and by who ?
The parents have been informed of the problem by the headmaster, except Annik’s mother who has been informed directly by her daughter.
Did they have the possibility to modify the situation and how ?
Everyone has approved the sanctions decided by the headmaster.
Only Annik’s mother does not agree with the version of the events given by the school.
According to her, her daughter is 100% victim of the young girls who furthermore have foreign origins.
She brings a racist dimension to the problem. No doubt this allows her to accredit her daughter’s version.
According to her, she has not reacted earlier because she has first tried to play down the problem with her daughter, who has really suffered bullying for several months.
Then she really wished to come to the meeting with the parents in January, but she had no time to do it because her home had burnt and she had to be relocated.
Finally, Annik did not take part in the residential class in the countryside!
Were they aware of the situation ? What did they do ?
The school did not call for external counsellors because it has an important supervision structure.
The internal counsellors (headmaster and assistant heads) have solved the problem.
They took part in the staff meeting (see “point of view of the school leaders”).
The school authorities only intervene when there is a definitive exclusion.
About the veracity of the bullying event?
We are not sure this event presents all the characteristics of the bullying phenomenon.
The school underlines that Annik’s role is « unclear » : we don’t really know if she is victim or bully ?
This case seems to be an unsolved conflict rather than a systematic bullying.
About the causes of the event and the mechanism that allowed the phenomenon?
Jealousy between girls, power conflict between them, increased by the use of unsigned and therefore equivocal SMS
About the answer brought by the school ?
Two problems have raised according to the assistant head :
- How to deal with the protester teacher, both in his relationship with the pupils and in his relationship with the institution?
- How to sanction Annik? And mainly how to give meaning to this sanction, knowing that he felt that he had not the parents’ support?
The first point has been managed by the headmaster. Regarding the second point, the responsible persons of the school are conscious that Annik has been punished for wrong reasons (no response to the assistant head’s convocations) and that they did not carry off a constructive dialog with her and with her family.
Everyone has agreed to minimize the significance of the word “bullying” used by Annik’s mother, and to bring Annik’s ambiguous game to light.
Indeed, we can think that Annik did not feel like taking part in the residential class in the countryside at all, and she has used these SMS to invent a “bullying” problem.
The school responsible persons also wonder about the impact of the sanction and the way that it has been understood by Annik and by the class.
Officially Annik has been punished because she has disobeyed the assistant head’s injunctions. The school would have liked her to be conscious of her own role in this event, that is to say: the loaning of her mobile phone for reprehensive actions she has agreed with, the truncated version of the events that she has told to her boyfriend and to her parents, the fact of pushing other third people to commit violent acts and finally the non-recognition of the events.
The school hoped that the sanction would be seen by the other pupils as a result of her guiltiness.
Both Annik and her parents have been totally hermetic to this vision of the situation.
From an educational point of view, this sanction was not good. The school has not found an appropriate approach.
On the type of answer brought by the school (disciplinary or educative)?
The school has a hard disciplinary logic. We can notice the disciplinary role of the assistant head who searches for the culprits and punishes them.
The school answer does not lie within a logic of pacification that could have been the solution to the problem, that is to say working on the future “residential class in the countryside” to make sure there will be no problem and calling for external counsellors (CPMS, school mediation for instance).
The lessons brought from the experience and the devices set up to prevent the phenomenon
The management of this case illustrates a real school policy, oriented towards prevention and intervention that allows a substantial reduction of bullying events.
By reacting to the lesser reported event, the device set up in the school allows to deactivate the conflicting situations that could worsen and become more serious bullying phenomena (only 2 cases in 2010, when many conflicting situations could have led to).
The risk of this type of intervention is to open “Pandora's box”…
To manage everything inside the school doesn’t allow to take always the necessary distance in order to solve efficiently the problem.
It could be fruitful to call for external counsellors to set up specific interventions on « self confidence », « mutual respect », etc.
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