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In 2004 SWSLC received a three-year grant from DOCS to develop and deliver an anti-bullying program aimed at school students between the ages of 15 to 17 years. Entitled Can You Hear Me? the program utilised Legal Theatre to stimulate constructive dialogue, challenge and explore concepts, investigate the characteristics and layers of bullying and educate students on the legal consequences of bullying behaviour. (See the Legal Theatre section for more information on the Legal Theatre format and the Can You Hear Me? project).
Whenever experts talk of addressing school bullying, there appears to be a consensus about certain elements of and approaches for intervention:
When you consider these elements, Legal Theatre is an ideal model to address bullying. Its very foundation rests on inclusive community dialogue and interaction.
It generates an environment for openness and provides a safe environment for students to contribute, trial solutions and build skills. More particularly, these solutions become shared solutions. ‘It is a rehearsal for life'.
A high level of student engagement and strong identity with the characters and subject matter:
An important component of the Can You Hear Me? project was measuring student response to their exposure to and involvement with the theatre. Some salient statistics:
First and Second order changes:
The experts also talk about levels of change that result from intervention programs - First order and Second order changes.
First order changes are objective/practical changes: policies, procedures, practices, etc.
Second order changes - the good stuff, occur when people's values and attitudes alter as a result of an intervention.
Throughout the project, we observed very positive Second order changes. These observations were supported by the student survey results. For example:
Question: The Theatre has influenced me to change my behaviour...?
The top three answers to this question, which accounted for 50% of all student
Bullies (students who identified themselves as bullies)
The top three answers, which accounted for 45% of responses, were:
Victims (students who identified themselves as victims)
The top three answers, which accounted for 48% of responses, were:
Bystanders (students who identified themselves as bystanders)
The top three answers, which accounted for 54% of responses, were:
The empirical observations, student feedback and teacher feedback support a very strong case for a high level of engagement and impact.
"This is the most powerful performance that I have seen yet because it allowed students to intervene and problem solve...it didn't assume that they couldn't do it." (teacher)
"Allows students to observe a situation from a different point of view...realising they can change the situation...make a stand when necessary." (teacher)
"Students were engaged with the reality of the piece. They enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the action. Much class discussion was generated after the performance." (teacher)
"I was able to put myself in someone else's shoes." (student)
"It showed us what happens in reality, not only through actors, but through people with real experiences." (student)
"They got us involved in the scenes and made us change the outcomes rather than just showing us." (student)
"They let students have a say in how to fix the problem." (student)
To continue the good work of the Can You Hear Me? project, SWSLC has developed a legal theatre-based anti-bullying teacher resource kit for schools:
1. Teacher Resource Kit
The Teacher Resource Kit has been developed to assist teachers to employ Legal Theatre as a mechanism to address bullying in schools. It includes a step-by-step instructional booklet and DVD which guides teachers through all stages of the Legal Theatre process including a section on the legal consequences of bullying. These kits are in the process of being distributed to high schools throughout New South Wales.
2. Legal Consequences of bullying
Our consultations with students as part of the Can You Hear Me? project, revealed the vast majority of students were not aware that certain bullying behaviour actually constituted criminal offences. Or if they were aware, they certainly had a very poor understanding of the seriousness of the penalties they could be exposing themselves to.
Many students felt that because the behaviour occurred within school and because of their young age, the law somehow did not apply.
Many saw bullying as a ‘normal' part of school life, and did not even address their minds to the issue of the law.
We observed a lack of appreciation of the concept of criminal recklessness - legal responsibility for unintentional, but likely, outcomes of a person's actions.
There was also a lack of appreciation for the concept of common purpose or aiding and abetting - how ‘innocent' bystanders can be legally implicated in the bullying offence.
Finally, there was a strong held view that most forms of retaliation were warranted on the part of the victim, exposing even victims to possible legal sanctions.
We identified a strong need to educate students.
Throughout the Can You Hear Me? project we observed that the ‘legal consequences' aspect of the performance struck a serious chord with students, who seemed to view the workings of the law with a sense of concern and even a level of reverence.
Knowledge and awareness of the likely legal consequences of bullying can serve as an effective tool in shaping or shifting students' assessment of bullying behaviour and in generating a receptive attitude for further constructive intervention and reinforcement.
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