The school my children attend in Invercargill (The Kid is already there, The Girlie will start in 2019) has just implemented a KiVa anti-bullying programme. It is their first year in, and there will probably be many more years to come.
In a nutshell, KiVa is something that was first developed in Finland a couple of decades ago. Researchers looked into bullying - what it is, how it works, how it affects people, how different interventions work - and rather than just publishing a book about their findings, they developed a whole program on how to create safer, friendlier, more supportive schools.
They created materials for teachers. All staff in participating schools go through training: they learn about bullying, they role-play, they learn about ways of reacting, and supporting. A smaller group of teachers go through additional training which equips them with skills to deal with bullying situations that get "referred on" to them.
Teachers have handbooks. There are variety of games and materials on how to teach concepts and topics to different ages - lessons are "weaved into" the usual schooldays so that kids don't have "special training" on this topic. Rather, they quietly and throughout their schooldays learn in little bits what a safe environment is, how we are part of that. The games The Kid will play with his classmates as part of Kiva will probably be different from games 12-year-olds play. Different from what 16-year-olds would play at high school.
Parents are involved. Tonight we had a parent meeting where the school explained to us what they are doing, how it works, and why they decided to get involved with KiVa. On the KiVa website there are materials for parents.
And of course, children are involved. They discuss various things, play various games, do various exercises, all with the aim of teaching kids what it means to be supportive, what it feels like to feel safe, how to ask for help, how to recognise problems.
It's a bit like this: the school already knows what it wants. It is interested in an environment where kids feel safe, where school is something kids (and teachers!) can look forward to, where interactions with other people lead to constructive days where kids (and teachers!) feel they are in control of their life. Kiva is now giving them tools for doing it. It's a research-based program where, on one hand, the activities are based on research on what works, and what doesn't. And on another hand, it is also a program which has now shown (through research!) that schools that implement KiVa see a gradual decrease in their bullying incidences.
It is not a magic bullet. It does not erase problems in a year, and it's not meant to be done only for a year - our primary school has become part of the program for years to come so that year after year, they will continue carrying the same messages and the methodology and, as a result, the culture will change. The way people do things, will change.
I am so proud of this primary school. So, so proud.
PS. In New Zealand there are now about 16 schools that are part of the KiVa program. Unfortunately, New Zealand school environment is amongst one of the worst in terms of bullying, being only slightly better than the US who is, basically, the real bottom of the pack.