Strong schools; weak bullies

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Lecturer’s doctoral thesis finds climate key to control

Brenton Stacey
Public relations officer
Avondale College of Higher Education
Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia

A positive school climate significantly reduces the prevalence and the popularity of student peer bullying, doctoral research by an Avondale lecturer shows.

Kevin Petries

Kevin Petrie now has an EdD from La Trobe University.

Helping to create that climate: a rights and responsibilities program, which schools have found leads to better relationships between students and teachers and better peer-relations and belonging.

Dr Kevin Petrie says school climate is both a barometer of and a catalyst for bullying behaviour. “The way in which a school manages that behaviour will have a direct impact on the climate in that school.” Identifying and fostering prosocial student leadership is key. “Schools should develop and maintain norms that do not value aggression and where students do not gain social status by their use of it.”

This is all the more important because while bullies in schools with a more positive climate are more likely to be seen by their classmates as unpopular, victims of bullies are still just that. And the effect on them—including a weaker immune system, difficulty in forming good relationships and significantly higher rates of depression and of suicide ideation—is direct and long term.

Kevin based his findings on data from 604 senior primary students attending 20 state schools in Victoria. Teachers from the 59 participating classrooms also provided data on bullying and on social status. The findings appear in Kevin’s thesis, “The relationship between student-peer bullying, school climate, and peer popularity,” which he has completed for his Doctor of Education through La Trobe University.

“As a teacher and school principal, I came to realise I dealt with this area poorly,” says Kevin. “I started to read and my interest gradually turned into a passion.”