Preventing Mobbing in Schools

This is a guest post from Daniel Helm, M.S. He is the author of Waterline: A Discussion of Education, Society, and their Mutual Interaction, available at Westbow Press and on Amazon.)

Bullying in schools is currently a topic of considerable interest.  Teachers and parents wish for children to learn in an emotionally safe place.  While teachers focus on the welfare of students, boards of education and administrators need to focus on bullying among staff.  When economic times are difficult, work place harassment seems to increase.  This is due to diminished opportunities for people who wish to leave a job, to find employment elsewhere.

There is a work place form of harassment called mobbing.  It occurs in work places with weak leadership and a dominant culture of employees who are dependent on their power for their employment or sense of worth.  The practitioners of mobbing were defined by Housker and Saiz in their analysis of the works of  Namie and Namie: “The literature is particularly critical of the perpetrators of mobbing. According to Namie and Namie (2000) those who instigate mobbing tend to be bullies, who try to dominate people in nearly every encounter. They are described as “inadequate, defective, and poorly developed people”. They tend to be unpredictable, angry, critical, jealous, and manipulative (Davenport, Schwartz and Elliot, 1999; Namie and Namie 2000).

Among the benefits of mobbing for the practitioners of the art is what has been described by “Westhues (2002) as: “the euphoria of collective attack”.  Additional benefits may be of a financially substantial matter when mobbing occurs in schools.  Mobbing can occur when any employees choose to become a mob.  Due to the nature of such collective control in a workplace, school teachers need to be cognizant of the value a tool such as the union can be to teachers who engage in mobbing activities.  In schools, if there are cases where a school union controls the information presented to the Board of Education, there may be preferences given in the assignment of co-curricular duties.  This may be harmful to children who are being presented with less than ideal leaders in the activities in which they participate.  The salary scales may be adjusted to provide greater financial rewards to those co-curricular positions which are held by members of the mob.  There may be times in schools when a new contract is being put into effect, and the pay scale may be manipulated to shift money into the step of a member of the mob and away from the step of a target.  Various duties of union appointees may be done voluntarily, or may have stipends attached.

Ultimately, if mobbing is to be prevented, opportunities for leadership need to be made uniformly available, and decisions which impact teachers in a district must be made in a transparent manner.

One of the most significant aspects of mobbing is that it is done legally, although unethically.  It is worse within the confines of a workplace environment where people have been trained not to question the mob.  As schools work towards minimizing bullying for students, schools need to also be cognizant of the bullying which may occur amongst staff members.

One of the greatest threats to healthy schools exists when administrators and/or board members may be part of the mob.  In that schools serve communities, and teachers may at times return to the school where they grew up to find employment, and board members must by law be members of the community, it may happen that a board member is good friends with an influential staff member.  Friendship is a good thing, and there is nothing wrong with board members and staff being friendly.  In fact, were this an ideal world, everyone would be friendly with everyone, and it would not diminish objectivity in the performance of one’s duties.  It is harmful when mob allegiance carries into BOE activities.

In cases where a mob has great influence within a school district, there may be times when administration of the school requires one of two options:

1. Eliminate the mob

2. Pander to the mob

Based on the strength of the mob, it may happen that there are severe penalties for administrators who question the mob and great rewards for those who pander to the mob.

One of the most emotionally painful aspects of mobbing was captured by Dr. Sophie Henshaw: “Gossip and innuendo spread behind closed doors before the target is aware of what’s happening, as previously loyal co-workers are enlisted to provide personal information that substantiates damaging rumors.”  In the work place, the neutral, “I get along with everyone” type is one of the mob’s most helpful tools.  He or she will stay neutral even if they have a friend on one hand who is viciously trying to destroy another person’s career, and he or she has another friend, who lacks the mob’s power, trying merely to perform their daily duties in an efficient manner.  The neutral person will try to see the value in both sides of the conflict, and treat both sides with equal value; thus one person’s right to viciously abuse a coworker will be treated as being of equal value with another person’s right to work in peace.

There is a danger to America’s schools when mobbing influences staffing decisions.  A higher quality teacher may see what is going on in a school and rightly determine that they are employable elsewhere, thus they do not need to stay in such a situation, while the lower quality person fully knows that they are unemployable elsewhere, and thus they must continue to command control of the workplace as a safe haven for themselves and their friends.  When such situations arise, the power of the mob will increase, as the quality individuals most able to oppose the mob become fewer in number through attrition.

A victim of mobbing will in time go, and it is important for that person to know of themselves what has been written in an article found at bullying online:  “Bullying may be unwittingly provoked because the target is competent, popular, successful, has integrity or otherwise characteristics that the bully perceives as a threat to their own status, fearing that the target will – inadvertently or deliberately – expose some negative aspect of their activity.”  Moreover, the target of mobbing needs to embrace the advice of Dr. Janice Harper, when she says: “Don’t let yourself be destroyed. Let yourself be healed so that you can give to the world your own unique gifts, skills, and personality.”

The danger for schools at this time is that with more stringent, yet subjective means of assessment coming down the road, better teachers who are less skilled playing what teachers call “the game” may be lost, and less capable teachers who are skilled in the manipulation of others, may be left in classrooms.

It is imperative that this form of harassment be extinguished as a factor in public schools.  Therefore, it must be asked: How can this be stopped?

Unions provide power for teachers to stop mobbing or to empower mobbing and must be monitored.  This is done by setting up universally accepted expectations for teachers’ unions.  No person should be permitted to be a local union’s president for more than one term.  There should be a set of union representatives in addition to the officers who are always fully aware of everything going on with the union, and who must provide transparency for the rest of the staff.  Decisions should be made at union meetings, which should happen monthly with full notice of when and where they will be held.  When voting occurs, it must be done in public, and the ballots must then be counted with access to the counting process being provided to those who wish to verify the count.  In a dysfunctional union, there may be a union “captain” who holds the ballots over night for “security purposes” and then allows any absentee members to add in their votes the next morning.  This way it is fair to all involved; and the ballot box, having been guarded by the captain, will have its content’s security guaranteed (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

Hence, mobbing is minimized through uniform distribution of opportunities to all, and by preventing of any one person or clique from taking control of the union.  It is also important to note that in a healthy union, the job of union president is tiring, and if done well, the president would want to pass it off at the end of their term.

Boards of Education must not allow members to serve for more than a few terms.  Towns spend a huge amount of their budget through the schools.  Distribution of contracts and appointment of candidates to six figure jobs all occur through the boards of education; despite the members serving as volunteers they may control tens of millions of dollars of township resources.  A good reputation in a town is important for a candidate to enter the board, a few years to learn the processes as a general member, and a few years in a leadership position while availing all newer members a through understanding of the processes will insure that those newer members may move into leadership positions at the appropriate time.  In both cases: union leaders and board members, it is important to note that each person has his or her own professional responsibilities beyond their political functions.  A good teacher wants more than anything to spend their time educating students, and finds union responsibility an added, but worthy, burden.  A BOE member most likely has their own family to raise and a full time job to maintain.  Political positions of any nature were intended to be a temporary means of serving the community, not a life long power seat.

By making training opportunities for future leaders available to all who seek them, there can be no selection of lower quality leaders who are disciples of the old power clique via ostracism of more qualified candidates.  When training opportunities for future leaders are limited to those chosen by current leaders, an oligarchy can form and dysfunction can become generational.

For those readers who see mobbing happening in their workplace: understand that defending the victim will possibly make you a victim, but it must be done at some point if change is to ever occur.  For readers who are victims of mobbing, you should understand that you are a threat to a dysfunctional status quo.  It is a compliment, yet one you should not embrace.  Document the abuse you receive, carry a tape recorder as a means of collecting evidence that you are the victim, not a deserving recipient of the attack, and take care of yourself.  Your emotional and professional welfare are more important than the obligation you, through your conscientious nature, believe you owe to your workplace.  If you start to question the actions of “friends” who seem to be changing, they may use the word paranoia; actually, the correct term, for a victim of mobbing, is hyper-vigilance.  As previously mentioned, often the mob will seek some form of assistance from the friends of the victim, even if it is merely information about how the victim is holding up, and which attack seems to be getting the best response.  Finally, when a mobbing victim has done all he or she can for their company or school, he or she should accept that it is time to go elsewhere.  A healthy company or school will value the skills and character of a good employee; those traits are only threats in a work place controlled by a “mob”.

References:

http://bullyonline.org/workbully/amibeing.htm

Cyber Abuse Awareness (2010)

Source: http://cyabuseaware.blogspot.com/2010/04/online-mobbing.html

Harper, Janice (3/28/2013) Beyond Bullying; Psychology Today

Henshaw, Sophie (2013) Bullying at Work: Workplace Mobbing is on the Rise

Housker, Jody; Saiz, Stephen (2006) Warning: Mobbing is Legal, Work with Caution

 

 

 

 

 

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