Complex challenges and solutions for zero tolerance in education.
- Pedagogy and Didactics
The school shall have zero tolerance for offensive words and behavior. However, what do we mean by "zero tolerance"? How should zero tolerance be practiced? The answer lies in what we want to achieve.
Zero Tolerance – What Does It Mean?
Chapter 9A of the Education Act states that all students have the right to be treated equitably and experience a school day free from offenses, bullying, and discrimination.
“Therefore, it is important for teachers to have a reflective approach to how they can use their authority to end unacceptable situations without exacerbating the situation for those who are affected or closing off communication with the offender.
In certain situations, it may be right and necessary to intervene and state that words or actions are unacceptable. At the same time, it is essential to be aware of the challenges in such situations. Confronting a student in front of peers can be humiliating for the student, leading them to go into defense mode and, in the worst case, closing themselves off from a dialogue that could otherwise have contributed to increasing the student's level of reflection.
Group-based offenses or events related to prejudices often involve complex dynamics between students or between a teacher and a student. Therefore, "zero tolerance" should not be understood as resting on a rigid and sanction-based approach.
The Interplay of Setting Boundaries, Care, and Relationship Building
The interplay of setting boundaries, care, and relationship building is complicated. When time constraints and a sense of justice tempt the teacher to "crack down" on offensive behavior to move on, it is important to pause and evaluate how the reaction will also contribute to ensuring an equitable school day free from offenses, bullying, and discrimination in the long run. The teacher will not always be present to intervene. Therefore, he or she must take the time to address and meet the needs of all involved parties.
Offenses must be stopped, and the safety of the person subjected to offenses must be ensured. But the offender must also be included. Even if one does not succeed in meeting this need immediately, it is essential in hindsight. The student who has offended must understand why the teacher felt the need to intervene and have the opportunity to reflect on their behavior and its consequences.
“The student who has offended must understand why the teacher felt the need to intervene and have the opportunity to reflect on their behavior and its consequences.
Punishment and humiliation will never touch the root causes behind problematic behavior. In many cases, expelling a student who exhibits challenging behavior will rather reinforce the student's motivation to continue with problematic behavior.
Most group-based offenses that occur in school cannot be reduced to "individual attitudes" or conflicts between individual students. There is often more at stake: Lyng (2019) refers to group dynamics that characterize collective exclusion of an 'othered' student from the large 'normal us.'
Moreover, students who offend others may have deep-seated experiences of having been harassed, ridiculed, or overlooked themselves. They may have experienced being dismissed because of who they are, and they may have developed an identification with the "aggressor" as a survival strategy. When a teacher recognizes such dynamics, he/she can approach the involved students differently. They can set boundaries but, at the same time, appeal to the students' own needs to break free from vicious cycles of bullying and offense.
On the "Pedagogical Tips and Tools" page, we have compiled perspectives and methods that shed light on how to address challenging and problematic events in a clear manner without breaking down the relationship with those involved.
Lenz, Claudia; Moldrheim, Solveig (2019) «Nulltoleranse» – fra lydighet til myndiggjøring: Hvordan møte krenkende atferd og fordomsfulle uttrykk i skolen. I: Dembra – Faglige perspektiver på demokrati og forebygging av gruppefiendtlighet i skolen (2). Oslo: Senter for Studier av Holocaust og livsynsminoriteter 2019 h
Lyng, Selma Therese (2019). Sosiale gruppedynamikker som drivkrefter i mobbing: Mot et bredere fortolkningsrepertoar. Lenz, Claudia; Moldrheim, Solveig (Red.). Dembra – Faglige perspektiver på demokrati og forebygging av gruppefiendtlighet i skolen (2). Kapittel 1. s. 12-24.
Dembra Publikasjonshefte 2, 2019.