I was asked recently to provide advice to a parent of a child who felt bullied. Should the child change schools? If they do move schools, how can they find a good one? I offered the following thoughts.
It is a difficult decision for a parent to move their child to a new school. My observation in my thirty years in education, and in my seven years as a Principal, is that the underlying reasons for the move are the major factors in its success or failure.
If your child is being bullied, it is very important to resolve this issue. Ongoing bullying is terribly destructive. If the school cannot end the bullying, the parent must protect their child. Bullying involves a power differential, and it is repetitive. One person is seeking to establish their influence over the choices and emotions of another person by a range of tactics that can include name calling, belittling, isolating, physical or verbal threatening, hitting…
Sometimes, however, parents and students describe conflict as bullying. Whether we are children, teenagers or adults, we are capable of conflict. Students in conflict both express some power over each other, either overtly or covertly. Conflict is part of growing up, and it is important that our children believe that we trust in them enough to be able to resolve their conflicts. The parent who subtly or directly indicates to their child that they are unable to resolve conflicts themselves can raise a person who feels like a victim, or who lacks confidence in their own judgment. Part of parenting is choosing not to intervene, to allow a child to make choices.
It is my experience that the parent who communicates clearly to the child that they have confidence in their capacity to cope with circumstances, and to learn from them, who sees each situation as an opportunity to learn, rather than as an example of an unfairness enacted upon the child, often ends up with a happy and resilient individual.
I think in life we are trying to raise children who can both start a new venture well, and can finish a task well. If it is the case that the child should move schools, then it is best to move at a time when a number of others are moving. Of course, changes in a parent’s work or family situation means that this isn’t always possible. And children can have a tremendous capacity to cope with change.
Years 8 and 9 are the time when students are most likely to express a desire to move. The most common cause, in my experience, is social. These are also the years when they are learning how to form friendships and are beginning to establish their independent identities. So be careful not to jump out of the frying pan into the fire. A major turmoil from one day at school can become an irrelevant and archived event a week later. It is best to take the ‘long-view’ and to make judgments based on the overall quality of the school.
If you are moving schools, then it is important to be honest. Parents rightly expect their teachers to deal honestly with their children. The school needs to be informed about the reasons for your decision to move schools.
If you want to get past the glossy brochure, I suggest three things:
1. Speak with current students and parents of the school. Ask about the big ticket items: quality of teachers, results, ask if you can see a school production or event
2. Meet the Principal and make your own judgments
3. Ask to see the campus, preferably whilst school is in operation. What is the tone of the school like?