Stand up to the bully!

Chintan Girish Modi

Five months ago, a 14-year-old student in Mumbai died because of a prank played by his classmate.

I read in horror as Deepti Khera of the Hindustan Times, reported, “The boy had taken a sip of water from his bottle, and soon after complained of pain in his throat. When he started to choke, the school authorities panicked and called a doctor, who advised them to rush the teenager to a hospital. During an endoscopy at Jaslok Hospital, the doctors found a soft board pin lodged in the boy’s intestine. The school later found that one of the boy’s classmates was responsible for putting the pin in his water bottle.”1

This could have happened in my school. The dead boy could have been one of my students. So could the boy who put the pin in the bottle.

I shared the news report with some of my colleagues, and there was immediate recognition of the fact that we had to do something about this in our own school. We began talking about what we could do, the different spaces we could utilize, and how we could do this with students and not to them.

It takes a brave school to refrain from saying, “No, such things don’t happen in our school. Our children are not like that. They are not capable of mean things.” That kind of talk just closes any available opportunity for dialogue or growth. Bullying happens everywhere; in schools, homes, workplaces; among children, among adults, and between adults and children.

Thankfully, some schools are beginning to openly acknowledge the presence of bullying on their campuses. Some even have an anti-bullying policy or are working on drafting one. And there seems to be a move towards a realization that working to stop bullying needs to be a whole-school effort, not the sole priority of the poor counsellor who is often dumped with this responsibility.

In this issue, we feature three interviews, one with Akhila Seshadri, teacher at The School, Chennai; another with Shaili Sathyu, consultant at Akshara High School, Mumbai; the third with Megha Sheth, school counsellor at Navrachana International School, Vadodara.

You might find common cause with some of these schools, come across creative ways of responding to what you have been struggling with, or just walk away with a sharp, gleaming insight.

Interview with Akhila Seshadri, Teacher at The School, Chennai

Is bullying a cause of concern at your school?
We are concerned about it. But have been working to reduce and stop it at all levels. Bullying can take the form of calling someone a name, refusing to let a child play in one’s team, whispering all kinds of things and keeping ‘secrets’ to ‘ganging up’ in some form or the other. Sometimes, it can take the form of writing offensive things in someone else’s books or even scratching out some piece of work… messing up someone’s work. Sometimes, it just is giving the cold shoulder.

Often, these are not considered bullying. May be they aren’t strictly speaking that kind. But, these are potentially harmful and could keep growing into something bigger and more worrisome. I think some bullying or the other keeps happening and popping up now and then and constantly the conversations are on respectful interaction, conversation rather than confrontation and so on.

What kinds of behaviour are looked at as ‘bullying’?
Anything that makes somebody feel ‘unsafe’ or targeted. Anything that inhibits: people won’t speak up in class; won’t want to be seen doing something ‘wimpy’. In middle school you have the ‘germ touch’ “game”. No game that! It is pure and simple exclusion and making people feel yuck: your germs on someone else… Yuck! Of course, call someone fat, dark, ugly… and so on. In the middle, there were dandruff adverts that caused a lot of concern in school… X, Y, Z has dandruff… and so on.

How does the school usually respond to instances of bullying?
First, anticipate the kinds of bullying that can happen. Someone’s chart torn up or a dirty word written on it. Talk about anger, talk about respect, about friendship, disagreement and help children look at what is actually going on within them at all times. Not wait for something to happen. To lay ground rules: All children in school need to be safe. ALL CHILDREN.

Some years ago, we were shaken up by the fact that children felt safe with adults and not with peers. We had a bad incident of a child who had been consistently targeted by a group of children. He finally reached the end of his tether and decided to leave school. Before he did, he spoke about his experience with pain and bitterness. That is when we felt something really tough needed to be done. We took a stand of no tolerance to bullying behaviour; unsafe behaviour.

I personally looked up bullying and its forms and felt aghast. A group of girls in USA who had migrated from some war torn part of the world finally spoke up saying that compared to their experience in an American school the dangers in their home country were tame.

There is a site called At this site I came upon a booklet called: Don’t laugh at me. It was for US schools. But we used ideas from it and consistently worked with children.

How do you respond when you walk in on an instance of bullying or when a student (bullied or bystander) reports such an instance?
When we did these conversations with children: we call them Culture Classes, or Circle Time conversations, we spoke about the roles all of them had: the bully, the bullied and the bystander. All were involved and all were responsible. We worked at anger; we worked with communication: I feel angry with you because, rather than: You make me angry kind of communication; feelings check exercises, activities connected to images: self-image, stereotypes that we build, gender and so on.

What are the consequences (if any) that lie in store for bullies?
This depends: any physical action has a simple if unsatisfactory consequence: they go home. After they come back, we speak with them, help them understand how they got there. Conversation, helping make amends, sometimes in the worst case: suspend them for a period.

Is there a forum within the school where students and teachers can have open, reflective conversations about bullying?
As I said earlier: we have weekly culture classes. In middle school, we have circle time conversations so that we speak about all kinds of things not as problems but as realities. We also have an Open House where the middle and senior school speak about concerns in a generalized way. Role play, stories and art are also used to help children understand themselves.

Would you like to add anything else?
Junior and middle school are mixed age group: the hope and attempt is to reduce peer competitive spirit that often triggers this off. In middle school (I can speak best about this), the aim is to be as transparent as possible about one’s motives, intentions and spirits and hold out an invitation in a spirit of trust. Affection is at the centre of all teacher-student interaction. Where this is absent, things crop up.

Interview with Shaili Sathyu, Consultant, Akshara High School, Mumbai

At Akshara, what kinds of behaviour are looked at as ‘bullying’?
Instances of verbal and physical behaviour like teasing a child by a ‘name’ that makes him or her feel ridiculed, physically dominating by way of pushing, hitting or scaring others with ‘consequences’. But such behaviour would be categorized as bullying only if it is repeated, not if these are one of incidents, unless extreme.

How does the school usually respond to instances of bullying?
First step is that teachers talk to the children involved. Sometimes there are group discussions in class. We don’t have a set response as such. It depends on the situation. But yes, the Headmistress plays an important role in reasoning with the children and sorting out their differences.

What are the consequences that lie in store for bullies?
So far we have not had any extreme incidents of bullying, but children are aware that they will be pulled up for bullying. We stay away from punishments or making children stay out of class. So a visit to the Headmistress’ office or calling parents to the school are possibilities, though very rare.

What kind of help is available to the bullied and the bully?
We have a school counsellor who regularly observes the students as well as interacts with them in the classroom. Often, the counsellor supports the teachers in conducting group discussions on incidents that have occurred in class. Only as a follow up the bully and the bullied may be given counselling sessions separately.

Would you like to say anything else?
In general as ours is a small school, we have about 20 to 30 students per class. So interaction between children and teachers is healthy and each child is given a lot of attention. Most of the students freely approach the teachers and the counsellor when they want to talk about an incident or express their feelings. There is an atmosphere that allows for speaking up and sharing. So things don’t stay suppressed for too long. And regular supervision of and interaction with students helps maintain the balance.

Interview with Megha Sheth, School Counsellor, Navrachana International School, Vadodara

Is bullying a cause of concern in your school?
As any other institution, we do have a few cases of bullying every year, but are mostly resolved within a short span of 1-2 weeks. We haven’t had any serious case of bullying, where the victim suffered any physical or psychological harm. We have also done a bullying survey consisting of a self-report questionnaire (for grades 6 to 10) to understand the nature and extent of bullying in our school. I will not say that it is a cause of concern in our school anymore, after we started implementing our policy.

What kinds of behaviour are looked at as ‘bullying’?
Our school policy on bullying2 looks at all three aspects of bullying, namely verbal, physical, and relational. We consider things such as stalking, cyberstalking and bullying, public humiliation, social exclusion, intimidation, etc., as bullying.

How does the school usually respond to instances of bullying?
Once the issue is brought to light, either by the victim or by the bystander, an investigation takes place where other students are questioned about the incident(s). The victim is sent to the counsellor and the bully is dealt with by the school authority. Necessary disciplinary measures are taken as per the severity of the incident.

How do you respond when you walk in on an instance of bullying or when a student (bullied or bystander) reports such an instance?
The bully is questioned by the teacher/counsellor and an investigation takes place to find out whether it was a one-time incident or a series of incidents.

What are the consequences (if any) that lie in store for bullies?
As mentioned before, action is taken as per the severity of the incident. Admonishment, temporary removal from classroom, loss of privileges, classroom/administrative detention, in-school or out-of-school suspension, and expulsion/termination are some of the consequences, depending on the severity of the issue.

Is there a forum within the school where students and teachers can have open, reflective conversations about bullying?
If we find, after our investigation, that the bullying instance wasn’t a stray one, the counsellor takes a lesson or two with the class on bullying. Here, he/she informs the class about different kinds of bullying, who the bullies are, what includes bullying, effects of bullying, and how to report bullying.

What kind of help is available to the bullied?
The bullied is helped by the counsellor. The counsellor takes the necessary steps to empower the student.

What kind of help is available to the person who is identified as the bully?
As for the bully, he/she is usually dealt with by the authorities for immediate measures. We have had only one instance where the parents were involved and the bully was sent to the counsellor. When this happens, I have a session with the parents to find out the kind of environment the student has at home. If I find that there is a bully at home or the student has been a victim, I recommend family therapy for his/her family. If this is not the case, then I take life skill classes/sessions where the focus is on building a caring environment, including tolerance training and empathy building activities, and individual counselling sessions for the bully to identify other issues, if any.

What usually are the causes behind his/her becoming a bully, and how are these causes addressed?
In my experience, the most common reason for a child to be a bully is that there is a bully at home. Many parents don’t realize that either the child is being bullied by the parents or has seen the parents/others in the family bullying others. Oftentimes, I see that the uncaring family environment and lax attitude towards discipline at home also leads to a person becoming a bully, so I try addressing this through family sessions.

Navrachana International School Vadodara, Anti-bullying Policy

Policy statement
NISV is committed to providing a caring, friendly school environment for all its school students so they can learn in a safe and secure learning atmosphere. All individuals, regardless of their age, culture, challenges, gender, racial/ethnic origin, religious belief, and/or sexual orientation have the right to protection from abuse. Therefore, bullying of any kind is an unacceptable behavior at our school. Anyone who knows that bullying is happening is expected to report it to the staff.

Bullying is the use of aggression with the intention of hurting another person and causing distress, either physical or psychological.
Bullying may involve, but is not limited to:

  1. Unwanted teasing
  2. Threatening
  3. Intimidating
  4. Stalking
  5. Cyberstalking
  6. Cyber bullying
  7. Physical violence
  8. Theft
  9. Sexual, religious, or racial harassment
  10. Public humiliation
  11. Destruction or school or personal property
  12. Social exclusion, including incitement and coercion
  13. Rumor or spreading falsehoods

Procedures (responding to an incident)

  1. The victim, witness, or any other person can report the incident to a member of the staff by completing Form 16. Alternatively, reports may also be submitted online to ________________.
  2. All staff members are required to forward all reports of suspected or actual bullying by students or staff as identified by the policy to the school counselors.
  3. Staff must maintain confidentiality at all times to protect the victims and/or witnesses.
  4. In serious cases, parents should be informed and will be asked to come in to a meeting to discuss the problem.

Disciplinary actions/consequences

Once the case has been investigated, following disciplinary measures will be enforced depending on the severity of the offense:

  1. Admonishment
  2. Temporary removal from classroom
  3. Loss of privileges
  4. Classroom or administrative detention
  5. Referral to the Student Welfare Committee
  6. In-school suspensionduring the school week
  7. Out-of-school suspension
  8. Expulsion or termination

Let’s talk bullying: Notes from my experience at Shishuvan

Conversations about bullying are important to have in all possible spaces available in school, whenever the opportunity presents itself. Our commitment to such conversations is a way of showing students that we are dead serious about mutual respect, and about making our school a safe and loving space for all students. I wanted to initiate a dialogue about this with and among my students, and I wanted to stay away from lecturing. After thinking about the choices I had, I settled on an English comprehension task.

Here is a poem I gave my eighth graders, and they came up with some interesting responses to the questions I posed. Read them, and you’ll find they are quite revealing. In any genuine conversation, the impulse to push one’s agenda has to be held lightly or kept at bay. Only then are both parties able to listen and learn. Since I carried no illusions about one class of mine putting an absolute end to bullying, I was able to receive what came my way graciously.

Apart from getting to know what my students think of bullying, I learnt much else – what friendship means to them, their notions of right and wrong, the kind of mischief they like to participate in, how they like to reach out to people in distress, their perspective on discipline and punishment, their ability to resist the tendency to think of the bully as villain, most importantly their capacity for empathy. So much learning is possible through a simple comprehension task in an English class. We receive so much when we are ready to listen.

The Bully Asleep
~ John Walsh

One afternoon, when grassy
scents through the classroom crept,
Bill Craddock laid his head
down on his desk, and slept.

The children came round him;
Jimmy, Roger, and Jane;
they lifted his head timidly
and let it sink again.

‘Look, he’s gone sound asleep, Miss,’
said Jimmy Adair;
‘He stays up all the night, you see;
his mother doesn’t care.’

‘Stand away from him, children.’
Miss Andrews stooped to see.
‘Yes, he’s asleep; go on
with your writing, and let him be.’

‘Now’s a good chance!’ whispered Jimmy;
and he snatched Bill’s pen and hid it.
‘Kick him under the desk, hard;
he won’t know who did it.

Fill all his pockets with rubbish –
paper, apple-cores, chalk.’
So they plotted, while Jane
sat wide-eyed at their talk.

Not caring, not hearing
Bill Craddock he slept on;
lips parted, eyes closed –
their cruelty gone.

‘Stick him with pins!’ muttered Roger.
‘Ink down his neck!’ said Jim.
But Jane, tearful and foolish,
wanted to comfort him.

And this is how my students responded to the questions I put to them.

If you could be one of the people in this poem, who would you like to be – Bill, Roger, Jimmy, Jane, Miss Andrews or Bill’s mother? Why?

I would like to be Bill’s mother because I will make Bill sleep at night so that he will be awake in class. ~ Dwiti

I would like to be Jimmy as he was courageous. He knew that Bill was a bully and if Bill would get up then all of them would get a hit but still he played pranks and took his revenge. ~ Mihit

I would like to be Miss Andrews as she is lenient. ~ Chaitree

I would like to be Bill as he was allowed to sleep in the class while there was a teacher teaching in the class. ~ Rushabh

I would like to be Roger as he has nice and cool ideas to harrass people which I like sometimes and Roger is the only one in the poem which I can be. ~ Ayush

I wish I could be Jimmy. He is full of mischief. It would well suit my character of a fun lover. With this mischievous aura, school would no longer be a ‘Rot’ Learner Association. ~ Poojan

I would like to be Miss Andrews for she is not stopping her work and I guess she might not want to embarrass him in front of the entire class. ~ Kanchi

I would like to be Miss Andrews because she was the only teacher who allowed her students to sleep. ~ Meha

Who is a bully? What does he/she usually do?

A bully is one who teases and irritates others by his foolish pranks. He usually plays tricks on some weak people who cannot complain to the teacher because of their fear. A bully’s happiness is in a weak’s sadness. ~ Mihit

A bully is someone who thinks he is the most superior one and finds all his juniors weaker than him/her. They take the advantage of this fact and harass the younger ones by taking away their things, hitting them or making them do favours or work they are uncomfortable doing. ~ Dishen

A bully is a person who takes advantage of those who are weaker and younger than him/her. ~ Anoushka

A bully is a person who thinks himself or herself much more strong or powerful as compared to the others. The bully usually does things that scare people maybe younger to him/her or tries to trouble them using cowardly methods. ~ Vaidehi

Arrogant, dictator, evil, unjust are words that easily describe a bully. He sees nothing further than his boundary of want. If he wants a chocolate, beat up a person, snatch the chocolate and not even look back at the victim for at least a little gesture of thanks or sorry. He cannot discriminate between the right or wrong, thus chooses the more profitable but unjust way, the wrong track. ~ Poojan

A bully is an unaccepted leader who wishes to lead everyone forcefully. He usually bosses over others. ~ Rushil

A bully is someone who hurts people mentally and physically. He not only acts as a tyrant but also torments people. ~ Bhishma

A bully is a guy who has little extra power than others and tends to get all his work done by others and orders them. They usually irritate and use their power on weak and wimpy students. ~ Aalap

A bully is a person who bosses around on everyone. He usually puts a kind of terror in children younger than him such that they tend to follow his every command. ~ Param

How did Miss Andrews respond to the classroom situation? Do you think she handled it well? Explain why you think so. Do you think she should have responded in a different way? How?

She told the students to be away from Bill and I don’t think she responded well because however he is at the end he is a student and she shouldn’t tell the children to be away from him. ~ Hasti

Miss Andrews just told everyone to stand away and she stooped to see what was going on. No, she did not handle it well as after she told people again started targetting Bill who was asleep. She could have tried to wake up Bill and finish the class. ~ Ayush

Miss Andrews responded in a very not teacher-like way and let Bill sleep on maybe because even she was a viewer to Bill’s bullying and disliked it. She should have handled the situation by waking Bill up and stopping the children from making plans of troubling him. ~ Poojan

Miss Andrews asked all the other children to stay away from Bill and write and also leave him alone which I guess helped in not distracting the class. It was a perfect thing to do. ~ Kanchi

Miss Andrews was not surprised or shocked to see Bill asleep, instead she let him sleep. She reacted to it in an immature way. Instead she should have woken him up and explained to him why he should not sleep in the class. This would teach Bill a lesson. ~ Bhishma

Miss Andrews responded very strangely because none of the teachers just let their students sleep in class and she handled it very well and she also just told her students to continue but she didn’t handle the ragging or bullying on Bill which was done by Jimmy and Roger. She could have handled it even better if she had shouted at Bill when he was asleep. She should have hit him and let him go wash his face. ~ Meha

Miss Andrews just told the children to mind their own business, but didn’t do anything else. She didn’t handle the classroom well as she could’ve done more like giving the children punishments who wouldn’t go to their seats. ~ Malay

She immediately tells all the students to get away from him and so I think she should not handle the situation like that instead she should wake up Bill so that he too can do the work given by the teacher. ~ Dhairya

Miss Andrews asked the students to move away but they didn’t do so. I don’t think she handled the class properly. I think so because if she would have been strict they would not do those stuff. Yes, she should have responded in a different way. She could have been strict and punished the people disturbing the class. ~ Prakruti

Miss Andrews asked the naughty children to stop irritating Bill and leave him alone. I think she handled it well. This is the best way one could respond in such a situation. ~ Ashna

Would you like to be friends with Bill? Why?

Ya, maybe because I feel he is good hearted from the inner side but he can’t show it or he has never got a chance of showing it. ~ Hasti

Yes, I would like to be friends with Bill as I can also do mischief and play pranks. ~ Chaitree

I’d love to be friends with Bill even if he is a bully. He looked like a boy who did not have a good bunch of friends. ~ Anoushka

I would earnestly be Bill’s friend not only to help him not get bullied but also to share his feelings with me. ~ Bhishma

I would rather stay away from him and take care of myself. He could get moody and use me as a punching bag. ~ Malay

Yes, I would like to be friends with Bill as I don’t think he is a bully and even if he is I would help him stop bullying and become a better person so that he would be friends with everyone. ~ Param

I would not like to be a friend of Bill because he is very lazy and is full time sleeping and he is boring also. ~ Freya

Yes, I would like to be Bill’s friend because he is always lonely. He has no one to share things with. Once he gets some friends, he will feel good and will feel free to talk to them. He shall even overcome his fear. ~ Ashna

Online resources on bullying for teachers to use

  1. Bullies Act Out
    An activity where children are asked to put up a puppet show depicting problems associated with bullying and discussing solutions.
  2. Anti-Bullying Quiz
    A quiz that can be given to students as a handout for a short exercise in acquainting them with facts about bullying and discussing commonly held perceptions.
  3. Bully, Bullied, Bystander…and Beyond
    An article by Barbara Coloroso, defining the three important characters in a typical bullying situation (the bully, the bullied, the bystander), and suggesting a possible fourth character — the resister or defender.
  4. Online resources from Stop Bullying
    A collection of online resources from Stop Bullying, an official U.S. Government website managed by the Department of Health & Human Services in partnership with the Department of Education and Department of Justice.
  5. A Contract on Bullying
    A series of classroom activities to do with identifying and defining types of bullying, watching and discussing film clips, and working with students to create an anti-bullying contract made up of consequences brainstormed by the class.
  6. Allies: A Discussion Activity
    Strategies and ideas to help students become allies, to inspire in them the courage to stand up and speak up in the face of injustices they witness.
  7. Playing the Bully Card
    A game to build in students the skills to stand up for themselves and others in a bullying situation, and to also help them identify when it’s appropriate to tell an adult about a bully and when they can take a stand themselves.
  8. A Bullying Survey
    A lesson where students learn to reflect on social practices and group behaviour by carrying out a survey and using the results to propose ways to improve the classroom climate by taking personal responsibility to accomplish anti-bullying goals.

Are you a BY-stander? or an UP-stander?

  1. You are walking down the corridor. Two of your classmates are verbally abusing each other. What do you do?
    a. You provoke them to fight physically.
    b. You join the fight.
    c. You stop them yourself.
    d. You tell some adult to stop them.
    e. You walk past them.
  2. You see some of your classmates stealing a book from somebody’s bag. What do you do?
    a. You join in on the prank and joke about it.
    b. You steal another book from the bag.
    c. You stop them from stealing the book yourself.
    d. You tell a teacher and the owner of the bag.
    e. You don’t do anything. Why should you care? It’s not your bag.
  3. A teacher has asked a question and no one knows the answer. Finally someone tries to answer but gets it wrong. The entire class bursts into laughter. What do you do?
    a. You join in the laughter.
    b. You laugh the loudest and point at the person.
    c. You ask the class to be silent.
    d. You stand up for the person and say, “At least he tried!”
    e. You say out loud, “He is SO DUMB! He always does this!”
  4. A person who normally tops the tests has flunked it! People are asking him/her awkward questions. What do you do?
    a. You laugh every time someone asks the person an awkward question.
    b. You ask even more awkward questions like “Oh! You really studied hard this time, huh?”
    c. You go pat the person on his back and say “Better luck next time, dude, such stuff happens with everyone.”
    d. You ask the people who are asking awkward question “Have you seen your own report card?!?!?”
    e. You make more fun of that person behind his/her back.
  5. A classmate of yours always made fun of newcomers every year. He is repeating this again this year. What do you do?
    a. You join in and make this year more miserable for the newcomers.
    b. You not only join in but also pass the wittiest joke which is surely going to be remembered the entire year.
    c. You walk up to the person and say “Isn’t this joke way too old?”
    d. You stand up for the newcomers and say “Enough is enough, people! GROW UP!”
    e. You walk away and pretend that nothing wrong happened

Mostly A, B & E: You are more of a bully and by-stander. Why don’t you try and analyze stuff that’s happening around you in a different light? Please don’t continue being a by-stander.

Mostly C & D: You are AN UP-STANDER. Come on, pat yourself on the back, and by the way please don’t stop being an up-stander!

Questionnaire prepared by Dhvani Barot and Sawri Madkaikar, students of Std. X, at Shishuvan.

1 ICSE board plans anti-ragging squads in schools, Deepti Khera in Hindustan Times, Mumbai, September 30, 2011)

The author works at Shishuvan, Mumbai. He can be reached at

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