By Andrew Hawk
Bullying is a hot topic in schools. Administrators, counselors, teachers, bus drivers—all school personnel from all over the United States have likely attended some kind of training on how to address bullying. I myself have attended several of these training sessions, as both a teacher and a principal. The trainings are informative and well done. However, they only address what to do if students are bullying each other. But what should an administrator do if teachers are bullying other teachers?
Any principal who has faced this problem already knows that it requires a few adjustments to the standard bullying playbook. There are no parents to call, and the principal is the last point of contact. Here are a few ideas I hope can help you out if you ever have to address this problem.
1. Define What Bullying Is
I like to start bullying conversations, whether they are with students or teachers, with a basic definition of bullying. Bullying is repeated, unwanted actions committed by a person or group against another person or group. This includes incidents where one person commits the same act against multiple people.
Things I have seen happen in schools include ignoring someone, excluding someone, gossiping about someone, and making sarcastic or snide comments about someone. I have written the suggestions and interventions in this blog with these unprofessional actions in mind. More severe types of bullying would constitute disciplinary action up to and including suspension or termination.
2. Ditch Euphemisms
The most common way for a person to downplay mistreating someone else in the workplace is to say, “I was just joking,” or, “I was just kidding around.” This essentially excuses whatever the behavior was and places blame on the bullied teacher. Be specific when you discuss bullying behavior, and don’t let the conversation stop here.
3. Assess the Problem
Cases of staff bullying are usually reported by the bullied teacher. It is important for principals to stay objective and ask lots of questions. Is the teacher being bullied intentionally or is there a chance that the matter is a misunderstanding? Sometimes different personality types cause friction in the workplace. The next steps you take depend on the specific actions of the bullying teacher.
4. Talk to the Teachers Individually
When leading one of these conversations, be professional and direct. Most situations can be handled with a brief conversation. Whether a person’s behavior was intended to bully someone or was simply a consequence of being inconsiderate, knowing that the behavior is on an administrator’s radar usually puts an end to it.
5. Encourage Collaboration
Teaching is different from many occupations in that teachers spend most of their day separated from adult coworkers. Sometimes, some relationships need longer to form than others. If the targeted teacher feels safe, I recommend assigning the teachers to work on a project together. Collaborating one on one can be a good first step in turning around a relationship.
6. Do Teambuilding Exercises
Some schools include teambuilding exercises at the beginning of the year for good measure. Building a tower or lining up by age without talking are two simple examples that you could do at your next staff meeting. A quick internet search will provide you with more ideas.
7. Consider Addressing the Problem Building-Wide
Some administrators prefer to address bullying building-wide, during a staff meeting or in an all-staff email. These administrators make the case that this approach keeps everyone on the same page and cuts down on rumors since everyone was included in the meeting or email. Everyone knows what was said versus people hearing little nuggets of information about a meeting between the principal and one of the teachers. When people do not know the whole story, they often let their imaginations fill in the blanks. This is not my favorite approach, to be honest, but some principals apply it effectively, so it is worth it to consider.
8. Facilitate a Meeting
In some instances, this may be your first and only step. Your approach will depend on the personality types of the teachers and the details surrounding the events. Many problems between staff members can be settled using this approach. Prior to the meeting, write a series of open-ended questions that you can use to guide the conversation. For example, a question like, “How do productive team members interact?” can help someone see that their behavior is not okay and is not serving students.
9. Take Disciplinary Action
Principals do not like to take disciplinary action against one of their teachers. However, it is the principal’s responsibility to create and maintain a safe working environment for all staff members. If you can, I recommend trying some of the previous interventions before you take this step. The ultimate goal is for everyone to like working together, and disciplinary actions such as letters of reprimand, suspensions, and termination can lead to hard feelings that can get in the way of teaching. Because of this, I recommend taking disciplinary action as a last resort, except in cases of severe bullying.
Stay healthy, everyone!
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for 18 years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.
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