The movie Spijt! (Regret!) should be required viewing for all teachers, according to René Veenstra, professor of Sociology at the University of Groningen. Spijt! is about Jochem, who day after day falls victim to school bullies. ‘The movie is a realistic portrayal of the group process involved in bullying and is excellent classroom teaching material’, says Veenstra.
Both the film and the book of the same name by Carry Slee are structured in a way that the main theme becomes quickly apparent. Veenstra: ‘The solution to bullying has to come from the group. Although not everyone is responsible for the fact that bullying occurs, we are all responsible for seeing that it ends. This is a message that fits in with KiVa, the anti-bullying project I’m supervising.’
‘The message is strongly emphasized throughout the movie’, says Veenstra. ‘You see the bullying getting out of hand. It even ends up with Jochem committing suicide. It then becomes completely clear that the other pupils have failed as a group’, says Veenstra. Everyone sees Sanne doing wrong things with her two mates. But they still encourage it, laugh at it or look the other way. Most of the time no-one dares to intervene, which they all come to regret. And that is exactly what makes it so interesting to watch’, according to Veenstra, ‘certainly with the entire class.’
Viewing Spijt! as a group provides a lot to talk about. Veenstra: ‘I noticed at the cinema that the kids immediately started discussing the movie when it was over. First it was all about how sad it was, but the focus soon shifted to their own class. They made the connection with the situation at their own school straight away.’ This means the film provides the perfect opportunity to discuss the subject in class.
‘An important aim of the KiVa anti-bullying programme is to create a sea change, a shift in school culture, at the school in question. Teachers need to know how to recognize bullying behaviour and then how to address it. In the movie they miss a lot of the signals. One of the reasons is that bullying usually doesn’t take place under the teacher’s nose. Something that research has also shown is that some teachers - intentionally or not - join in the bullying like the teacher in Spijt! does. He doesn’t seem to realise that his "jokes" aren’t experienced as such at all.’
It is important to recognize the signs of bullying early on, states Veenstra. ‘At the beginning of the movie, Jochem is the last one chosen during gym, which indicates immediately that he doesn’t really belong to the group. Hopefully choosing like that is a thing of the past, but in daily practice there are plenty of moments where you see whether children are fitting in: when taking places in class, during school breaks and when forming groups for an assignment. These are very important signals. Another thing that shouldn’t be forgotten are the signals that parents provide. If they indicate that their child does not feel like going to school or does not feel okay in the group, this is an important reason to pay extra attention to how the child is doing.’
School pupils also need to change their attitude, says Veenstra. ‘The group norm needs to be reversed: pupils need to stick up for each other, instead of making each other miserable. We try to achieve that with KiVa by having the teacher teach ten lessons on respect, group behaviour and communication, but also about bullying and what you can do about it. The lessons are intended to get everyone in the group to know each other better.’
‘If the children in the film had known each other better, the end needn’t have been so dramatic’, according to Veenstra. The lead character in Spijt! is actually quite a nice kid to know, which is something that is true of many of the children who end up being bullied. This is also the reason that teachers can really help such children once they’re aware of the group processes in the class.’
René Veenstra (1969, Groningen) is professor of Sociology at the University of Groningen and editor of the Journal of Research on Adolescence. He studied educational sciences and general pedagogy at the University of Groningen and gained his PhD for research into the differences in performance and progress among pupils in secondary education. Veenstra conducts research into the development of prosocial and antisocial behaviour, the development of adolescents, friendships, adolescent networks and bullying. His research on how the Finnish KiVa anti-bullying programme works has caught the public’s attention. Follow him on Twitter: @ProfVeenstra.
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