Breaking the Cycle of Bullying

Elena Aldridge, Director of Positive Education and Counsellor, GEMS World Academy Dubai lays out some of the steps the school has taken to address the issue of bullying.


Bullying is not a new phenomenon, even though it has become a “hot topic” in recent times. Bullying refers to intentional aggressive behaviour, which involves physical or verbal harassment, either faceto- face or online. Experts have concluded that bullying always includes three elements: an intention to harm, an imbalance of power, and repeated acts or threats of aggressive behaviour. There are no schools in the world that can confidently call themselves bully-free. However, all schools strive to eradicate bullying.

At GEMS World Academy Dubai, we have a strong Student Support System in place to prevent bullying as much as possible and to assist in any challenging situations. Students will only reach their academic potential if they feel happy and safe. As a result, many resources are put into the training of the members of the Student Support System which is made up of advisors, grade leaders, house leaders, departmental leaders, counsellors, senior leaders, and importantly, student peer mentors.

We have seen the success of this vast yet necessary prevention and intervention system over the last four years, shown by a gradual increase in academic results, a steady decrease in unjustified absences, incidents, and student and staff retention rates. Some of the elements that contribute to the success of our Student Support System are:

  • Regular advisory sessions or assemblies with a socialemotional focus
    Positive psychology-based activities include mindfulness, expression of gratitude, breathing and relaxation exercises.
  • Student peer mentors (PMs) are regularly trained and supported by staff
    When students do not feel comfortable enough to talk to an adult, the PMs can support them both on an individual level, and in groups. The PMs also teach some of the advisory lessons for younger grades.
  • Opportunities for student leadership
    To provide students with a clear focus outside of academics, to increase their sense of belonging and to forge positive relationships, students have the chance to fill several leadership roles.
  • Restorative justice techniques
    These are used by trained staff in conflict resolution situations.
  • Avoidance of negative terms such as “detention” or “punishment”
    Students — especially those suspected to be bullies — are given opportunities to reflect and, where suitable, get involved in house or service activities. Bullies are usually individuals who are struggling emotionally or feel out of control, and this approach helps them refocus and gives them a sense of ownership.
  • Parental support and engagement opportunities
    Counsellors run social-emotional support book clubs and coffee mornings aimed at communicating various support strategies based on the latest research.
  • Anti-bullying whole school initiatives
    From school displays to participation to anti-bullying student conferences, anti-bullying week, role plays, and large-scale discussions, students are familiar with what bullying is, what needs to be done, and that victims or witnesses need to come forward, and will be fully protected.