Students, teachers and principals from 30 schools in Moldova began the 2019 school year equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary to prevent and counter school violence thanks to trainings offered by the Terre des hommes Moldova Foundation. While students learned how to deal with different forms of violence, trainings for teachers and school principals focused specifically on bullying — understanding its specifics, the importance of recognizing cases of bullying, and methods of prevention and intervention.
60 teachers from 30 communities, 30 school principals, and representatives of education departments from 17 districts participated in five trainings in July and August, led by experts Tatiana Turchină and Daniela Terzi-Barbăroșie, under the auspices of Tdh Moldova.
The term bullying is new and unknown to many in Moldova, though, as a phenomenon, it is widespread among children, in school, and in society in general. Experts have pointed out the importance of knowing and being aware of this phenomenon, how it manifests itself, how it differs from other forms of violence, and the consequences it can bring in the short and long term. When talking about bullying, specialists explain, the biggest danger is treating these situations as normal manifestations of social interactions and, in the case of children, as a normal and even necessary stage in the process of growing up.
‘It is very important to distinguish between bullying and violence, because bullying is a specific form of violence, and adults — teachers, parents — being aware of this difference, will know how to intervene and prevent the phenomenon. It is known that violence [is a] legal violation, but bullying is perceived by the majority as normal, an element of development, which is, in fact, a prejudice […] that bullying can ultimately lead to very serious consequences from the perspective of mental health, but also to violence and even crime, is somehow left in the dark’, explains Tatiana Turchină, on the danger of not being aware of bullying.
Training participants acknowledged that the term bullying — and the need to address this phenomenon — was previously unknown to them, but they had felt its presence. The teachers found the trainings valuable and useful, were eager to share this new information with their colleagues, and to apply the new knowledge in their work.
Vasile Bârcă, Deputy Director for Education in a village high school, says that several aspects related to bullying that were unclear to him have been elucidated, and he is now eager to start the ALEG Club at his school with students who attended the summer school on anti-violence. He would also like to start activities with children, teachers, and parents.
Natalia Reniţă, also a deputy director for education, as well as a physics teacher in her school, particularly appreciated the intervention methods she learned: ‘I am much more informed now about what bullying means, and I found the interactive methods a very useful solution to bullying, which we will apply in our school. I liked the role playing, the method of social theater, whereby the child could discover the solutions for himself — not receiving ready-made answers from a teacher.’
However, some teachers expressed doubts that their colleagues would understand and accept the information on anti-bullying obtained during the trainings; ‘When one person tries to make a kind of "revolution" in school, it is possible to face resistance and reluctance from others. For a prevention program and a child protection policy in the school, first the school administration must give a speech, then the principal […] matters very much, as does the support of the deputy principals and so on, following the pyramid model, down to the base’, explains Tatiana Turchină.
Precisely for this reason, the trainings on preventing and combating violence and bullying in schools have included participants from all levels — students, teachers, school administration staff, and district education directorates — to create a unified framework for working on these phenomena.
Tamara Văcari, a high school principal, realized after the training that school administration plays a very important role, especially at the prevention stage: ‘We have previously talked with the teachers from our school about violence, we have established the form of violence, but now I see the differences between bullying and conflict/aggression. I understand that we will have a lot of work in the new school year because the main task of the administration is to ensure a safe and secure school environment. I have several resource persons to support me and I will try to hold them accountable — five children and the deputy director for education, who were also trained on this topic. We will try to elaborate, at the institution level, some concrete actions to identify possible cases of bullying in school and to carry out prevention and intervention activities together.’
Galina Niţa, interim head of a district general directorate for education and culture, was also a participant in the trainings. She hopes for a school where there will be no more violence and bullying, with a friendly and safe atmosphere for everybody. The interim head believes that internal school regulations need to contain clear rules for preventing and combating bullying in schools. ‘For this we need to know what the phenomenon means, how we can identify it, what are the ways of solving it, how we can get involved, and how we can help both the child victim and the aggressor as well, because, basically, it is about children who may not have had enough affection, and the consequence is the aggression they manifest’, says Nita.
The experts, Tatiana Turchină and Daniela Terzi-Barbăroșie, developed an Anti-bullying Program, which they tested during the trainings. The program will be adapted based on the feedback obtained from the participants. Finally, this program will take the form of a printed guide, which Terre des hommes will distribute in the 30 schools which participated in the anti-violence program.
‘We set out to describe some conceptual aspects of bullying to help teachers or other adults who will use the guide to differentiate bullying from aggression/conflict. We have also included other psychological information that explains the mechanisms behind this phenomenon. We thought about mainly giving information about prevention. We talked a lot about assertiveness, resilience, mutual respect, etc., in the idea of preventing bullying as a social phenomenon. It is our belief that when people possess these resources, such as the ability to be assertive, have self-esteem, empathy etc., bullying will have no ground for manifestation. This would be the idea of prevention: to succeed in setting social norms so that from the beginning, contexts would no longer support bullying as an available behavior option’, said Daniela Terzi-Barbăroșie on the guide.
Continuing the anti-violence program, teachers and school principals who participated in the trainings will carry out school activities and implement anti-bullying/anti-violence initiatives. Later this fall, the training participants will reunite to present successful practices, share their experiences, and plan next steps. Also, for participants and the general public, Tdh Moldova will offer a webinar on bullying.
The trainings on preventing and combating bullying in schools took place within the project, Prevention of Violence Against Children through Community Engagement, funded by the Oak Foundation, with the support of UNICEF Moldova and the Child Protection Hub in Eastern Europe.