Prevention work in schools is much more likely to succeed in both the short and long term if the management and all staff come together to develop their collective knowledge, attitude and skills with regard to learning, teaching and co-operation. In this context it involves everyone associated with the school in one way or another: school leaders, teachers, other staff, students and partners such as parents and members of the local community.
The effects of such comprehensive school development – also known as school-based professional development – are well documented. Research on professional development in schools has identified multiple factors that help bring about lasting change (see Postholm 2012, Flygare et al. 2011, amongst others).
Dembra employs a model comprising five levels for development in schools:
Level 1: Skill and knowledge amongst teachers and management
Prevention begins with individual learning and the principle of learning about, for and through. It is important to learn about anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of discrimination in order to be able to prevent these phenomena in our schools. At the same time it is important to prevent discrimination through democratic principles such as open debate, participation and co-determination.
Teachers teach best when they draw on and reflect on their own practices. This requires a willingness to learn to change patterns of behaviour in the face of new knowledge. This is also true in relation to prevention. Colleagues and a good learning culture amongst the teachers in every school are important.
Level 2: Classroom teaching
The classroom should be a safe space for differences of opinion and democracy in practice. It is important that democratic principles such as participation regardless of background, mutual respect and open debate are combined with teaching methods that involve and engage in order to encourage knowledge, reflection and good relationships.
The classroom should be a safe space for differences of opinion and democracy in practice.
Learning is at the heart of every school. Learning is also important in terms of preventing group-based hostility. In the classroom it is possible to use exercises and materials designed specifically for the purpose of prevention, such as Dembra’s learning resources. However, prevention takes place in other forms of learning, too, such as when the teacher includes the students, listens to them and enables them to have a say and by practising critical thinking in all subjects.
Level 3: School culture
An open and democratic school culture that involves relationships between management, teachers, students and parents is essential to systematic and comprehensive prevention work and school development.
Lasting development should be founded on the school’s own experiences and requires a long-term effort.
There is no formula for how this can be best achieved, since every school is unique in terms of its make-up of students, size, experiences etc. One central principle, however, is that lasting development should be based on the school’s own experiences and requires a long-term effort; isolated and off-the-shelf initiatives rarely have a lasting effect.
Level 4: Management
School-based skills development requires unambiguous and focused management. Prevention work is no exception in that respect. If the school’s efforts are to have an effect, the management must get involved in the project and give it their support.
This level also includes general and long-term planning. The school rules or an action plan to combat offensive behaviour / bullying are important instruments in the school’s prevention work.
Level 5: School partners
Schools do not exist in a vacuum. It is important to involve parents/carers and members of the local community in the prevention work. Sharing knowledge and co-operating with other schools also helps promote development when it comes to prevention. External expertise can also have a positive impact, provided the expertise builds on the school’s own circumstances rather than provide ready-made recipes.
Schools do not exist in a vacuum, and it is therefore important to involve parents/guardians and members of the local community.
There is no contradiction between disseminating knowledge and skills on the one hand and working with the classroom or school environment on the other. Everyone needs knowledge to be able to recognise harassment and skills to be able to prevent, counter and combat such phenomena. School development requires the school leadership and all staff to engage in a process in the workplace with a view to strengthening the school’s collective democratic preparedness as a way of preventing discriminatory attitudes and behaviours.