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Acting Against Bullying: Using Drama and Peer Teaching to Reduce Bullying

By — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Apr 17, 2009

Before I did AAB, I didn’t know how to deal with a situation when I got into it so I got like - I didn’t think about what I was doing and about the consequences of what I was doing and about how it would make other people feel. Since doing AAB people have said that whenever I get into fights and stuff, which sometimes I do, that I’ve dealt with it in a more mature way and it hasn’t got me into so much trouble as before. (Year 9 student)

What is Acting Against Bullying?

Acting Against Bullying (AAB) is a program which uses a combination of two key strategies: drama and peer teaching. This occurs across the whole school, with every student actively involved, and within the curriculum. The aim is to give students themselves both the understanding and some of the tools to deal with bullying – and other forms of conflict - in schools. This empowerment of the students as individuals then has the potential to allow them to change the ethos of their schools.

n spite of years of effort, research shows that levels of school bullying remain remarkably constant, and that virtually all students worry about bullying and conflict (1, 2). We take a fairly standard definition of conflict as clashes of interests, rights or power, or through misunderstanding, and of bullying as the ongoing abuse of an imbalance of power and/or status (3). This is particularly relevant for this program, since schools are places where there are built-in disparities of both power and status, and clashes, misunderstandings and the misuse of power inevitably occur.

Why do typical school conflict management programs fail?

Our work calls into question several common features of typical school conflict management approaches. These common features are:

  • they are top-down: adults (teachers and counsellors) use power and authority to restore acceptable (if unequal) power relationships – even peer mediation involves training young people to act as quasi-adults with the authority of the school behind them
  • they are ad hoc: conflicts and bullying are dealt with as they occur, as if isolated occurrences in a conflict-free landscape
  • they are extra-curricular – neither conflict nor its study are explicitly part of the classroom curriculum, and in theory (at least!) the classroom is a place from which conflict is excluded
  • they almost invariably concentrate on assisting the person being victimised and the person doing the bullying

Why do drama programs work?

We are drama specialists. We work with conflict mediation and counselling experts, using participatory drama techniques, including carefully structured role-play and forum theatre. Drama is used sometimes in bullying management, but rarely as part of a coherent, whole-school scheme. There is extensive evidence that drama provides opportunities to create and experiment with life-like models of conflict, even ones drawn from real life which are ‘made safe’ by being altered and made fictional (4, 5). Students themselves have said they prefer the use of drama to other approaches in anti - bullying programs (6).

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