Monday, May 20, 2019

Bully Targets Need Upstanders!

Much has been written on the subject of workplace bullying, with a lot of it intended to offer advice to those who have been targeted by an abusive colleague or supervisor. This is because many targets are not aware of what workplace bullying is, who the perpetrators might be, and how to deal with it when it happens. So, thankfully, bully targets can find information to help them understand what is happening to them.
And targets do need help.  A survey done by American Federation of Teachers and the Badass Teachers Association in 2017 found that teachers report poor mental health at twice the rate of the general workforce. They also experience workplace bullying three times more often than other workers. Yet help for these victims of out-of-control colleagues is difficult to find. Is anyone trying to put a stop to this abusive practice?
In the teaching profession the most obvious places to look for help are to the teacher unions. These enormous organizations possess the resources and manpower to fight for any teacher whose rights to a secure and satisfying career are being threatened by power-hungry administrators. Yet, as the wheels of government turned and new legislation appeared, the system that is supposed to protect teacher rights somehow became the adversary. Many jurisdictions have made themselves havens for administrators by crafting legislation that created “right to work” states. Those of us who work in these areas are denied the protections normally available to workers who are free to unionize and stand up to bully employers. As a result, legal protections from bullying are limited.
The lack of protection from bully administrators results in the abuse of due process itself. Teachers are buried in letters of reprimand, they are required to produce copious highly detailed lesson plans, and they will likely be required to attend workshops for improvement, usually at their own expense. And all of this paperwork creates a trail that can ultimately lead to suspension without pay or termination. All of this is put together by a bully supervisor who wishes to torment or even fire a staff member.
Every bully supervisor can offer a reason for bullying teachers, but abuse is never the right strategy. It’s harmful to the targets health, it disrupts progress in the classroom, and it creates work as the administration seeks to replace teachers who were fired or quit.
We know that being bullied is terrifying, a destroyer of health, and possibly a destroyer of families. And we know that legal protections are usually too weak to protect teachers from bullies. This seemingly hopeless situation needs a new kind of intervention, one that will attract the attention of school administrations at every level.
The intervention suggested here isn’t really new. Abuse by employers over many decades gave rise to workers forming unions. The unionized workers took part in demonstrations to show their solidarity and to demand fair treatment. The employers took notice, and so did the public.
It starts with the target, and the realization that the target is in an isolated position. Just try to imagine how forsaken the person must feel. When the target attempts to approach friends and colleagues to share stories of the attacks by the bully, those listeners turn glassy-eyed and begin to inch away, the whole time reciting the usual platitudes. They will say “It’s all in the past, you got through it”, or “Bosses are difficult”, or, from the more serious professionals, “You need to figure out how to get along with your boss!”.
Rule number one must be to support the target. Let the individual know that they will not face the harassment alone. They need every ounce of strength and courage they can muster to fight for their career, and encouragement from others is key. Secondly, do not let the bully think they are protected by “confidentiality”. The bullies really count on this. Usually, the various letters of reprimand and other written reports are flimsy, containing situations made up by the bully to create an “event” that requires disciplinary action. The target can share these documents with others to show harassment is taking place. The bully needs to know this.
At this point it is time to demonstrate! The staff of one of our local schools recently had a demonstration that got quite a bit of publicity when they staged a demonstration over the abusive behavior of their principal. One morning, dozens of teachers and parents lined the curb outside of the school with placards to show support for the teachers who were registering complaints against their principal. There was the expected pushback from central administration at first, but weeks before the end of the school year the principal was reassigned.
That is the message here. To eradicate workplace bullying from your place of employment, do something, get involved. Show support to the target while letting the bully know their behavior will not be tolerated. The old methods of labor relations are not going to work until the barriers that exist in the laws are taken down. Teaching staffs, then, need to stop being “bystanders”, and instead they should become “UPSTANDERS”! The belief in upstanders is beginning to spread nation-wide. It is not something to be afraid of. Rather, it’s a lifeline for those who are being bullied. Being bullied can happen to anyone, so it’s up to everyone to help guard against it.

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