Recently, I have been reflecting on the concept of ‘holding space’. In my myriad of roles, I am becoming more aware that, to truly support people, we must empower them. We have to really listen to what they want; give them opportunities to solve their own problems and make their own choices otherwise we are robbing them of a learning opportunity.
I was reminded of a sensitive situation that I encountered as an NQT. A really lovely boy in my year 9 form approached me at the end of school on a Friday and handed me a letter, instructing me to read it after he was gone.
The letter was heart breaking. He was being bullied in his English lessons and was so upset by it that he was struggling to get out of bed in the mornings and had contemplated a number of drastic solutions. He was now, thankfully, reaching out for help. His humble request was to change groups. He stated, flatly, that he would not tell me the names of the bullies as he felt sure this could only make things worse.
The enormity of my responsibility to support this boy weighed heavily, particularly as there was little I could do before Monday. As it happened, this was to be a good thing; it gave me the space and time to find a creative solution.
To begin with, I went to see his English teacher. She was aware of the issue, though not the extent or the impact it was having on this student. She told me that there were a group of boys involved, one of whom was in my form.
I then went home for the weekend to figure out how I was going to tackle the issue without betraying the confidence of the student or making the situation worse. I was determined that the bullies would not ‘get away with it’. The issues and the possible scenarios and outcomes went round and round in my head, but I couldn’t find a solution. I felt terrible.
Finally, I stopped thinking and the solution came to me. I knew it was the right thing to do.
On Monday morning, at the end of registration, I called the student over and told him my plan.
I then summoned the boy in my form who had been playing a part in the bullying. I told him that a student in our form was being bullied and named him. Immediately the boy’s face reddened and he cast his eyes downward. I explained the difficulty I had in dealing with the situation as the student was steadfastly refusing to name the culprits. I requested that he keep an eye out for our form member and report back to me. As he left the room, confusion was still contorting his face.
Later that day the ‘bully’ returned. He had regained his composure and approached me confidently. He had spoken to the boy, he told me, and he knew who the bullies were, but he had been sworn to secrecy. He reassured me that the situation was in hand, that he had spoken to the bullies and they would not be bothering our friend again.
By the end of the year those two were best friends and, though I left the school at the end of that year, when I returned for their prom, they were still thick as thieves.
The ‘bully’ avoided punishment, but learned the true value of making amends and gained an enduring friendship. I was happy with that result.