Support Planner:  Bullies & bystanders


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Bullies & Bystanders

Interview with Stuart Twemlow ABC Late Night Live (10 May 06)


In the past, problems of bullying have been mainly addressed as a victim-bully dyad.


Twemlow’s approach is systemic it

  • brings an understanding of the context within which bullying prevails, and
  • highlights the significance of the onlooker’s role in a bully-victim-bystander triad.


His programme entitled “Creating a Peaceful School Learning Environment”

Itis economically viable and, with training, easy to implement into the overall school system. It comprises 5 main elements:

  • positive climate campaign
  • classroom management plan
  • gentle warrior PE programme
  • peer mentorship
  • adult mentorship

Stuart's propositions (from the interview) are that...


  1. Whatever is happening everyone is a bystander and all bystanders are active (everyone is invovled).
  2. In relation to school violence most initiatives fail, eg, zero tolerance of bullies is usually bullying the bullies and that doesn't work.
  3. Buy-in by teachers is critical. 
  4. So is buy-in by peer leaders who are influential in the social context because modelling is important.

Peer leaders are natural leaders who are able to work for the good of the group - sympathetic to the needs of others and are more readily identified by the group than by outsiders.


Bystanders - several roles

  • Natural leaders are helpful bystanders because they are natural leaders who don't seek the limelight; not self centred, will do things; often doubt their own skills and contribute by improving group creativity.
  • Bully protectors provide support and protection to the in group but usually doesn't achieve full membership of the in group
  • Bully bystanders may be sadistic, but doesn't want to get into trouble
  • Victim bystanders are too scared to say 'No'
  • Sham bystander not genuine but takes the role of victim/victimiser at times
  • Abdicating bystanders blame others and expect someone else to solve the problems

Training and support are important for those addressing bullying, eg, how to use normal voice. Volunteers can be problematic.

Bullies rarely have a good understanding of the impact of their actions, especially at the personal level of the other person (victim). This capacity requires metallization which is the way the healthy mind works: feelings are modulated without storms and problems.

People who are able to mentalize can

  • empathize with others and themselves
  • judge communication accurate

About Teachers

Reactive teachers promote naturally bullying in students whereas the non-bullying teacher is reflective and models (by example) that "aggressive solutions are not acceptable"; encourage helpfulness leading to empathy. Pedagogy includes reflection time - to review the day, how could we have done better with the problems that emerged

There are significant academic benefits from being in a peaceful school.





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