Is mindset the single best solution to bullying in schools?

It’s anti bullying week so I thought I’d share my thoughts on something I read recently about mindsets, which could help schools to stamp out bullying.

How it started

Me speaking at the conference

It started when I was at a head teachers conference. We were sponsoring the event, so I went along on behalf of the company to the keynote address, where I had been asked to say a few words. I thanked everyone for coming, spoke briefly about Axcis and then took a seat, leaving the main speakers to take to the podium.

The Growth Mindset

One of the other speakers gave an inspirational talk about the most effective measures of progress. He talked about mindsets and how important it is to foster a growth mindset in our young people if we want to provide them with a desire to learn and to take pleasure from their failures (yes, pleasure! Research shows that children who are taught to relish failure and to see it as a chance to challenge themselves go on to become positive, engaged and independent learners). Anyway, after his address, I went to have a quick chat to this chap. I explained that I have a small boy at home and asked if he could point me in the direction of some further reading. I certainly wanted to do my best as a parent to raise a child with this amazing “growth mindset”. He directed me to read Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset“. And so I did.

About the book

Axcis Andy having a read of Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset”

The book is all about the differences between a fixed and a growth mindset. As I’ve already briefly mentioned, one of the key differences between the two is that a person with a growth mindset will not see failure as a negative. In fact, failure is seen as a challenge, a chance to learn, to improve and to become a better person (which is why it can be so key in a learning environment). In stark contrast, a person with a fixed mindset will often not cope at all well with failure. In fact, it can be so damaging to a person with a fixed mindset that they may refuse to even try things if they think they might not be able to do them. The fear of failure is that strong. (Does that sound like anyone you know?) They will often try to attribute blame to a third party for their own shortcomings (“it’s not my fault, I’ve got a rubbish teacher”!) and they may also appear to take pleasure in the failure of others as it can help them to feel more secure. This is dangerous ground for a potential culture of bullying…

Understanding bullying

During my time teaching, I heard other staff say things like “bullying is just a part of life, it helps to build character”. But I don’t agree. Bullying can destroy lives, lead to suicide in the worst cases and can harm the mental health of our young people for years to come.  It’s important to understand why some children act as bullies if we are going to come up with a plan to prevent/deal with the problem.

 

In her book, Carol Dweck tells us that:

“Bulling is about judging. It’s about establishing who is more worthy or important. The more powerful kids judge the less powerful kids. They judge them to be less valuable human beings, and they rub their faces in it on a daily basis. And it’s clear what the bullies get out of it. They get a boost in self-esteem. It’s not that bullies are low in self-esteem, but judging and demeaning others can give them a self-esteem rush. Bullies also gain social status from their actions. Others may look up to them and judge them to be cool, powerful or funny. Or may fear them. Either way, they’ve upped their standing.

So, what can schools do about bullying?

Carol also tells us in her book that:

Individual children can’t usually stop the bullies, especially when the bullies attract a group of supporters. But the school can – by changing the school mindset.

 

School cultures often promote, or at least accept the fixed mindset. They accept that some kids feel superior to others and feel entitled to pick on them. They also consider some kids to be misfits whom they can do little to help.

 

But some schools have created a dramatic reduction in bulling by fighting the atmosphere of judgement and creating one of collaboration and self-improvement.

 

While I can’t go on to quote her entire book, (and no, I’m not being paid to promote it, either!) I can share a few ways that you can promote a culture like this at your own school. You can:

 

  1. Empower the bullies, but don’t call them out on their behaviour. This means that you can explain to them that a person is upset about the way they are being treated and seek assistance from the bullies themselves. Ask them to help you come up with a plan to help/support a child who is the subject of bullying.
  2. Praise their efforts. Bullies need the boost in self esteem that they get from their negative behaviour, so this needs to be replaced by positive reinforcement on your part. If you can see that a bully is getting into fewer confrontations, tell them that you’ve noticed this and think it’s great!
  3. Aim to turn the bullies into ambassadors for anti-bulling in your school – after all, it’s likely that they are already well liked and respected and that they have a group of “followers” who will dutifully emulate their behaviours

Further reading

This article is intended to give a brief outline of mindsets and how understanding the fixed and growth mindsets can help to overcome bullying in your school. If you’d like to implement these ideas as part of your school’s anti-bulling programme, then I’d strongly suggest that you read Carol Dweck’s book in full (I am not suggesting that I am an expert in this area or that this article gives a one-size-fits-all solution to the issue!)

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