ISPG As A Strategy for Managing School Bullies

During a live interview on radio station CFRB in Toronto on February 21, 1999, ISPG President Julia Morton-Marr discussed how School Peace Gardens can be used as a strategy for managing school bullies .

The broadcast was heard live around the world on the internet by members of the ISPG executive, and some participating schools overseas.

The text of a press release outlining this strategy appears below.

As every newspaper reader knows, the incidents of school bullying is a growing concern in our schools. For more than 10 years I have been addressing the issue of school violence and aggression by developing the International School Peace Gardens, a program which has won widespread acceptance in Canada, the United States, Mexico and Australia and other countries around the world. My long-time interest in this situation would not permit me to remain silent as I read newspaper reports that seem to suggest that little can be done. I disagree.

After a long Toronto winter, all of us are prone to "cabin fever" and the frustrations of being confined indoors for long hours. It is not surprising therefore that bullying in the school grounds and after school, while a year round problem, may be greater in winter. There is a clear need to develop positive strategies for the reducing overactivity in students and incidents of bullying.

Psychologist, Dr. Fred Mathews of Central Toronto Youth Services suggests that it is very important that communities build a strong web of social supports around bullying. With the input of countless committed teachers locally and internationally, I have developed practical suggestions for effective strategies to help develop this strong web within our schools.

Many wonderful ideas have been developed and implemented for summer use of the International School Peace Gardens program. These ideas can be readily adapted for winter use through "Indoor Peace Gardens". Suggested spaces could be the Resource Centre or a dedicated room under supervision. Any space that is chosen must be supervised. Ensure that no pencils or markers or items that could cause harm to anyone are allowed in the room.

Gather all the students known to be bullies and tell them that they are to have a very special role in developing the "Indoor Peace Garden" for all the other students in the school. You will need to hold a dedication ceremony and involve the whole school in the role and use of the "Indoor Peace Garden". It is important that the bullies do the development, organization and promotion themselves with their parents, as part of the implementation process. Let parents know the purpose of the Indoor Peace Garden and why their child has been chosen.

These suggestions work well for schools with an existing outdoor Peace Garden as well as for schools without an outdoor garden. Extend the "Path of Peace" from the outside garden, or simply create a new one, with peace signs along passages indoors. Indoor plants could be used for the garden and outdoor plants could even be moved indoors for the winter and returned to the outdoor garden in the spring. Plants from an eco-system such as a rainforest would encourage positive learning. Quiet sitting areas should be designated as the "Friendship Bench" and the "Dream Bench". These areas would be used for peaceful discussion on conflict and bullying.

Students would be assigned to research at home and at toy stores quiet games that can be played alone. School Resource Librarians would be helpful in identifying appropriate games and fund-raising activities can be staged to purchase the games identified as useful. Families could be asked to donate soft furniture and mats for the floor. Again link the designs chosen to intercultural learning: for example, carpets from Mexico or Peru could be on the walls and floor. Soft lighting with soothing colours helps calm students. Highlight the senses of smell, feeling, hearing, touch in the selection of materials.

Teach students to crochet squares for an Afghan that can be used to cover themselves when the need to feel more secure.

Students could invite a parent or the local quilting group to make a quilt depicting students ideas and thoughts that are soothing or have a calming effect. The quilt can be hung on the wall with the contributing students' names in their respective squares. This will encourage leadership.

Invite students to select their own "sacred object or toy" to place in the room for at least a week after the time they were caught bullying. Tell them that can visit this space any time they "feel" like bullying someone else. Perhaps you will want to build or designate a special shelf for these objects. These objects will change continually depending on the needs of the students. Encourage students to place writings or photographs that are special to them in a beautifully covered book.

Research soft music and other natural sounds on CD ROMS and ask families to either donate or raise the funds for these. Find other cultural uses for the "Indoor Peace Garden" so students can focus on traditional tools that are calming.