Possible explanation of the success
• Thanks to the device “école citoyenne” the problem had a positive outcome for all the actors. In this approach, students write rules and have them respected through the democratically elected “citizenship council”.
In the school concerned, the “citizenship council” is made up of thirteen representatives: four students, two teachers, one educator, two coordinators, the headmaster and three “black carabiners”: “students beyond reproach who have achieved all the necessary social skills” (it takes one year and a half to obtain the black carabiner and play a part in the school. One starts as a “grey carabiner”).
Within the council, the school tries to maintain equity between students and teachers. It emphasizes the equality between students’ and adults’ speech. During debates around the table, everybody is listened to.
The aim of this device is to act preventively against violence by involving students. They will respect more willingly rules of life they have set up than if these are imposed to them.
• This approach is interesting because it makes it possible to solve the problem softly. The solution is sought in a progressive way (there is no drastic action) and in mutual respect. The bully is not stigmatised.
The school sets limits while preserving and searching every student’s value. The sanction is before anything a tool to make one responsible, to progress individually, to be aware of the facts, of their seriousness and consequences. When the sanction is carried out, it shows everyone that the student has understood his fault.
In Kevin’s case, the reparation may seem little, but for the people in charge at school, it can be weak and have a great impact if it comes from the attacker.
If the school had dealt with the complaint in a more traditional way, it would probably have led to Kevin’s definitive expulsion. He would probably have not understood and would have kept on bullying outside school.
The consequences for the victim could have been even more important and maybe more painful. There might have been fewer troubles at school, but these would have simply been shifted, with no educational work.
• If this approach is interesting, there are some difficulties to carry it out:
Some teachers fear they might lose their dominant position in the class, have to justify themselves in front of a jury made up of students, have more work to do while they are already tired … All these fears are obstacles to the good working of the device.
Clear and frequent communication is necessary, with the teachers as well as with the students, in order to take in the new concepts and habits and circulate information on the good working of the device. Unfortunately, the school context does not make communication easy.
The approach requires a lot of availability and energy, for its implementation as well as its good working. If too few people are involved (or are involved in an irregular way), the device loses speed and efficiency, which may imply a sense of impunity in students.
Every school thus needs to create the formula and procedures that suit it. They must be co-built “step by step” with teachers so that these become actors of the device.
Interaction between the different actors involved
Solving the problem through the approach “école citoyenne“ prompt many interactions between all the school actors:
• The headmaster meets Dorian and explains to him how the “citizenship council” works. He reassures him because Dorian is scared to be a “snitch”.
• The educator takes over to convince Dorian to participate in the “citizenship council”.
• The “black carabiners” support Dorian, especially one of them who is in his class. They also, with the educator’s help, have Dorian express his problem.
• The “black carabiners” took initiatives towards the attacker to try to solve the problem. They informed people in charge their mediation had failed.
• The bullies apologised sincerely, although they did not express empathy towards the victim.
• The class teacher is a member of the “citizenship council”. He was involved in the whole process to solve the problem.
• The workshop teacher, who had first defended the attacker (Kevin was one of his pupils and had already enough problems) was invited to the “citizenship council” and joined the decision that was taken.
• The headmaster was the first to be informed of the acts of bullying. He delegated to solution of the problem to the “citizenship council” and participated in it.
• The mother was informed by her son and directly called the headmaster. The attacker’s mother was informed by his insertion educator.
• The parents did not participate in the solution of the problem. They know about the “citizenship council” approach set up in the school.
Action of educational policy, either at local, regional or national level
Setting up the device “école citoyenne” has an important potential regarding the priorities of the “Décret Mission” of education in the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles and contributes to reschooling:
• “Promoting self-confidence and individual development”
This priority can be found in the main impact of the device: an environment in which all the actors feel well and safe, a “pacified” school where life is good. Students who feel better to learn and adults to teach and educate is a constant preoccupation of the device.
• “Developing knowledge and skills to make students able to learn all their life and have an active part in the economic, social and cultural life.”
By encouraging students to be actors in the complex context of school, the device also aims to make them active in society. A certificate is not enough to succeed in our society, one also needs to be able to move in it, to interact with others …
• “Learning citizenship and how to live in a democracy.”
This priority can be found in the very working of the device: students are not merely informed about those notions; they experience them and confront them to daily life with the ambition to develop an efficient system to manage a community in harmony.
• “Guaranteeing for every student equal chances of social emancipation.”
The device does not merely aim to be equal and fair, but also to invite all the students, from their first moments at school, to free themselves of their statute of witness, to become actors. Transferability potential of the experience
The device “école citoyenne” is transferable to any school/institution provided that its actors adhere to the charter of the MIEC (Mouvement des Institutions et Écoles Citoyennes):
- MIEC website: http://www.miec.be/crbst_8.html
- Reference articles (in French) for further information:
In the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, there is a network of around fifty schools and institutions that have set up such devices.