Bullying in schools presents increasing and multi-faceted dimensions in Greece and worldwide (Artinopoulou, 2010; Olweus, 2014) particularly in recent years. The growth of this phenomenon in Greece during the period of economic crisis could be attributed to a number of reasons related to the crisis, such as rising unemployment and thus insecurity of parents and the significant impact that the crisis has had on family behaviours, dynamics and quality of life. As a result, the institution of the family may be less, or in some cases not at all, supportive of its members. Thus children, especially when other adverse factors also contribute, are increasingly demonstrating ‘special’ attitudes and behaviours. Within this context, the family either ignores or permits or has no time to deal with these, when it does not address children’s major negative behaviours, which they manifest by harming others (bullies), or ‘allow’ themselves to be harmed (victims), or observe (as bystanders) an incident of bullying, without taking any initiative or intervening effectively.
Nowadays, the phenomenon of bullying in schools is being approached and studied in its multiple forms and dimensions by various academic disciplines (Olweus, 1993). All of these maximise their effectiveness by addressing various aspects of the phenomenon, especially when creating interdisciplinary connections with each other.
Bullying in schools has attracted strong interest in social pedagogy (Kyriacou et al., 2014), which deals with it as a major problem with serious social pedagogical dimensions (Mylonakou-Keke, 2003, 2013; Stephens, 2011, 2012; Kyriacou, 2013).
Nevertheless, it has been found (Kyriacou et al., 2014) that, until recently, in social pedagogy there are no records of any organised and focused research on bullying which would offer specific social pedagogical strategies and practices for tackling the phenomenon. This is despite the fact that there is a large number of recommendations in the field of social pedagogy, which could, with the supportive framework they offer, help enhance the change of bullies, victims and bystanders.
This paper presents a brief social pedagogical research programme that has been conducted during the years of economic crisis in Greece and is still in progress. This programme is related to the prevention of bullying in schools, based on utilising the transdisciplinary synergy between social pedagogy and systems science (Mylonakou-Keke, 2014b). It highlights both what is required to strengthen and enlarge the social pedagogical role of the school in the wider community, and to promote the emergence and consolidation of a ‘social pedagogical’ culture.
The overall aim of the social pedagogical research programme
This programme has as the overall aim of preventing bullying in schools, through the establishment, consolidation, enhancement and utilisation of a ‘social pedagogical ethos’, which would lead to a systemic transformation of the culture of the school, the family, the wider school environment and the community.
The starting point and main objectives of this social pedagogical research programme
The whole research process was undertaken to address and effectively prevent bullying in schools and to address generally antisocial behaviour in the school environment. Then, it was decided that a preliminary step would be to ‘identify’ and record the size and aspects of the problem, as well as the perceptions of these issues held by a broad base of stakeholders, involved directly and indirectly in the school and the wider community.
At the same time initial research (pre-research), capturing aspects of the phenomenon, such as stakeholders’ perceptions (Mylonakou–Keke, 2014a), was carried out. It was found that a perception of a child’s difference from others was strongly correlated with bullying. For example, one of the questions was: ‘Why do children-’bullies’ choose to intimidate a specific child?’ The responses to this open question were: ‘Because the child who is bullied…’:
is very different from them (‘bullies’);
seems very weak;
is very sensitive;
looks like neither the ‘bully’ / ‘bullies’ nor other children;
will neither resist nor complain about what is happening;
is usually scared;
is very quiet and shy;
has a lot of problems;
has no friends;
has no one to help and support him/her;
is not liked, s/he is disliked because s/he is not like others and
his/her diversity / otherness provokes the ‘bullies’.
From this pre-research emerged dominant perceptions of the ‘victim’ of bullying that can be categorised as follows:
the ‘victim’s’ diversity/ otherness;
the ‘victim’s’ disadvantageous position which is perceived either as a result of, or the reason for his/her diversity;
the ‘different’ person’s lack of any support from other people;
the reduced or absent emotional, communication and general social skills of all persons involved in cases of bullying (i.e. ‘bullies’, ‘victims’ and bystanders), if these skills were present, could prevent or intervene effectively in these cases.
The four aforementioned categories led to the formulation of the research concerns and questions; they became the starting point of the social pedagogical research programme and pervaded and set its course.
From this starting point and the subsequent questions emerged as a necessity, the main objectives1 of the programme have been to:
improve and change the perception of diversity / otherness2 and how to deal with it through positive interaction, cooperation and mutuality, such that a principle of diversity within unity is ensured and attained;
recognise and promote uniqueness and dignity of every human being, by strengthening self-respect, self-esteem, humility, self-control, self-efficacy and the interrelation between personal dignity and respect for the dignity of the ‘other’;
improve, strengthen, broaden and develop emotional, communication and generally social skills;
acquire experiential awareness of personal and collaborative potential and the subsequent pursuit of enhancement and reinforcement of personal ‘human capital’ and ‘social capital’3; and to
highlight and establish a system of values, principles and beliefs which would be reflected in behaviour patterns and create a systemic transformation in morals and wider culture of the school, the family, neighbourhood as well as in the wider school environment and community.
We should highlight the social pedagogical view on ‘bullies’ and ‘victims’ of bullying in the school that this programme has adopted. According to this social pedagogical view (Mylonakou-Keke, 2014a), children who repeatedly either manifest antisocial behaviours lashing out against others or to suffer these lashes to themselves, are neither targeted nor convicted nor stigmatized as ‘bullies’ and ‘victims’ respectively. Labelling with the words ‘bully’ and ‘victim’ suggests a negative feature, possibly permanent, of the child’s personality.
Instead, the ‘social pedagogical vocabulary’ replaces these specific words with the phrases ‘s/he who bullies’ and ‘s/he who is bullied’, indicating not the child’s personality but rather his/her action, which occurs during the specific point in time, but it may change in the future4. In addition, the social pedagogical view seeks for all children involved (bullying or being bullied or being bystanders) in bullying incidents or any other antisocial behaviour to be systematically empowered, supported and trained through specific methods and techniques in order to face the difficulties and challenges that they are to encounter in their lives in healthy and socially acceptable ways.
Social Pedagogy and Systems Science: Philosophical and theoretical background and epistemological context of the research programme
Only if we individually and collectively learn to understand and apply the systems view shall we be able to see the world anew, and only then will we be able to see, reconceptualise, and redefine education as a social system. Only then can we engage in the design of systems that will nurture learning and enable the development of the fullness of human potential.
Systemic change in education can be realised only if educational communities all over the world learn to develop a systems view.
(Banathy, 1995, p. 57)
The programme that is being presented here may be different from other programmes designed to prevent bullying in schools, because of its strong social pedagogical and at the same time systemic character. More specifically, the philosophical background, the epistemological and methodological framework, the subsequent design, organisation and conduct of all social pedagogical research programmes utilise the multiple possibilities of the transdisciplinary synergy of social pedagogy and Systems Science.
Systems Science (Checkland, 1995; Kekes, 2008) approaches every system as a whole; it studies the interactive and interdependent connections of the parts of its subsystems and acknowledges that different properties from just the sum of the parts emerge from the whole.
The core of Systems Science (Kekes, 2008) can be traced back to Aristotle and his view that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ (Metaphysics, H 6). Generally, Systems Science5 provides intellectual ‘tools’ to deal with complexity; it professes the holistic approach advocated by the unity of theory and practice, organised collective and cooperative action, the involvement of the researcher (as part of) the system into which he/she researches in order to achieve an enhancing change in the system; it also accepts the response of the systemic model to reality as a validation criterion of scientific knowledge (Checkland, 1995; Kekes, 2008). Systems Science pertains and is in harmony with the particular identity of social pedagogy and its philosophical, theoretical and epistemological parameters that constitute the latter (Mylonakou-Keke, 2013).The programme relies on the transdisciplinary synergy of social pedagogy and Systems Science; that is, it is a common philosophical and epistemological perception, and inference principles, methods and practices deriving from the combined operation of the two sciences at a higher level. This synergy allows the emergence of a new general perception, in essence, a new ‘model’ for preventing bullying in schools.
Within this framework, the social pedagogical perception of the phenomenon of bullying in schools highlights the following parameters that are also key dimensions of social pedagogy in general, given that it acknowledges:
the interacting social, pedagogical and psychological dimensions of bullying;
the complexity of the phenomenon of bullying, in which activity systems get involved and interact in a highly complex way (involving the ‘bio-psycho-social system human being’, the family and the school system, the local community, social, cultural, technological, economic hyper-system. etc.)
the need for a holistic approach to understand and address the complexity of bullying
the need for a transdisciplinary approach to describe, interpret and effectively address it ;
the continuous interaction in the form of a feedback loop of theory and practice, leading to their functional coexistence and unity so as to address bullying;
the necessity to reach a shared vision for all directly and indirectly involved in the phenomenon of bullying and the active participation, joint training and organised collective and collaborative action so that bullying is effectively dealt with;
the systematic pursuit of transforming the stakeholders, directly or indirectly involved, the social pedagogical ethos and culture of the systems involved (including school, family, neighbourhood, wider school environment, community) so as to eliminate bullying;
the need to create a strong and coherent communication network between stakeholders for the purposes of on-going interactive learning, based in research and action in the field, the systematic utilisation of personal and collective competencies and skills, as well as a continuous feedback of stakeholders’ incentives;
the encouragement of creativity, innovation and breakthrough thinking of stakeholders;
the need to use a new ‘social pedagogical culture’ not only for effective intervention but also to create strong prevention mechanisms of the phenomenon, by using all the aforementioned.
The aforementioned social pedagogical dimensions which may be applied to bullying in schools demonstrate a strong systemic character, which set the whole course of the research programme.
The systems view is a way of thinking, it is a world view we can possess. And there are ways by which it can be developed. (Banathy, 1992, p. 16)
The participants in the social pedagogical programme were all directly or indirectly involved in bullying in schools, constituting a broad base of stakeholders, who came from the school and the wider community. More specifically, those stakeholders were pupils who were enrolled in elementary schools in Greece, teachers and specialist teachers, school administrators, all involved with the school operation and life (i.e. cleaning staff, cafeteria, etc.), parents, siblings and, generally, members of the pupils’ family who wished to participate in the programme and others from the local community, such as neighbours, community leaders responsible for educational matters policy makers.
We have regarded all stakeholders of the research programme as a Human Activity System (HAS, Banathy, 1992; Checkland, 1995) with interacting subsystems, which are: the school, the family, the neighbourhood, the school environment and the wider community.
A Human Activity System is an assembly of people and other resources organised into a whole in order to accomplish a purpose. The people in the system are affected by being in the system, and by their participation in the system they affect the system. People in the system select and carry out activities individually and collectively that will enable them to attain a collectively identified purpose. (Banathy, 1992, pp. 13-14)
Our social pedagogical research programme tackles this Human Activity System as a ‘Learning Organisation’, according to what expressed by Peter Senge:
…where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together (Senge, 2006, p. 3).
From a research point of view, in our research programme we utilised the five disciplines that Peter Senge identifies as: Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Building Shared Vision, Team Learning and Systems Thinking. In his opinion, the fifth and cornerstone discipline is Systems Thinking, which (as mentioned above) already provided the epistemological and methodological identity of our research programme. Each of the remaining four disciplines – that is, Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Building Shared Vision and Team Learning (see the findings of this paper below) – consists of a set of principles and practices that we first study and understand and then integrate them into our own way of thinking and action. These four disciplines are incorporated in the methodology of our social pedagogical programme, whose unifying factor is Senge’s fifth discipline: Systems Thinking.
Methodological Framework of our Social Pedagogical Programme
As mentioned earlier, the overall aim of the programme is to prevent bullying in schools, from a social pedagogical point of view, which would lead to a systemic transformation of the culture of the school, the family, the school environment and the wider community. This signifies that stakeholders - among others - should be facilitated to become aware of and re-examine their personal perceptions, views and beliefs, and to overcome pre-established mental forms that can bind their thinking, so that without commitments they can conceive ideas, enhance their knowledge and understanding of bullying in schools and all its parameters; they can also develop collaborative actions to effectively address the phenomenon. In other words, a process of knowledge conversion and knowledge management is required, as well as a systematic and collaborative learning process that will arise from the research programme.
In this sense, the systemic epistemological and methodological perception - as described above – has further been supported by the combined use of the process of: (A) Knowledge Management; (B) the Collaborative Action Research; and (C) the Syneducation Model.
In our social pedagogical programme we used the SECI Model of Knowledge Conversion (Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi (1995). The SECI model is based on four modes of knowledge creation and conversion: Socialisation, Externalisation, Combination and Internalisation. These are created, in a ‘spiral’ of knowledge, as a social process of continuous and creative interaction between tacit and explicit knowledge. The intention was that through this model, opportunities could be created for each stakeholder’s personal knowledge to be available to all the other stakeholders and, at the same time, team management and new knowledge production would be based in a process during which:
we can share the ideas coming out of dialogue with others (the ‘socialisation’ of tacit knowledge);
we have an emergence of new ideas by utilising (through research material, such as hypothetical scenarios etc., see below) analogy and metaphor (the ‘externalisation’ of tacit knowledge so that ideas can be converted into practice);
we combine knowledge to test our ideas (‘combination’ of explicit knowledge so that a more complete model of thinking and action than that of individual stakeholders is achieved; and
we develop new ideas and learn through action (‘internalisation’ of explicit knowledge in ways particular to each stakeholder).
(B) Collaborative Action Research (Atweh et al, 1998; Burns, 2007; Kemmis & McTaggart, 1982), especially with regard to education (Elliott, 1991), is a participatory learning process, with iterative feedback processes, which is conducted by the teams of stakeholders. We as stakeholders of the programme:
begin by identifying a problematic situation and which we wish to improve through the active intervention and action of all stakeholders;
Then, an initial design - planning of actions is co-decided upon, which will help us as a team of stakeholders identify and define the aspects of the problematic situation and decide what action should be performed;
What follows is: the undertaking of collaborative action, its systematic observation and the collection and recording of critiques, responses, impressions so that the consequences of this action for the enhancement and changes intended can be better understood; and
All the aforementioned are utilised in the next stage of critical thinking and reflection on the action undertaken and its results so that a new action plan could be redesigned, followed by the remaining stages of the research process.
(C) Syneducation (synergy+education) is defined as the acquisition of a shared educational experience, simultaneously and in collaboration, by people of different ages (representatives of the local community, policy makers etc.), different knowledge, experiences, interests and/or different social cultural background (Kekes & Mylonakou 2006; Mylonakou & Kekes 2005, 2007).
The Syneducation Model is a systematic and collaborative learning process between people of different ages who function together in an interactive and collaborative learning environment where they organise and develop effective and proactive cooperative actions, based on Systems Methodology. Within this learning environment, the traditional roles of teaching and learning are abolished, whereas a co-dialectical and multiplicative dynamics of learning develops in which all participants both ‘teach’ and ‘are taught’.
Within the Syneducation Model programme, we as stakeholders, receive a simultaneous and interactive, collaborative education:
We seek to address and manage collaborative situations where we co-decide upon and consider them important or critical;
We operate with mutual influence, guidance and mutual mentoring, despite age difference, utilising children’s creativity, freshness and resilience which are fed by, and at the same time feed, interaction and synergy with the adults;
We start from our own vision so as to create our shared vision for the issue that concerns us, designing an ameliorative change with our active participation in and commitment to this issue, trying to involve as many stakeholders as possible;
We encourage creative interaction and collaborative learning;
We utilise personal and communication skills and experiences, encouraging the development of new creative ideas;
We strengthen personal and collective responsibility, by undertaking substantive actions for collaborative prevention and intervention;
We study and evaluate our collective practices, behaviours and actions; we re-examine our personal beliefs and their consequent effects on our interpretation codes and alter / enhance our perceptions and attitudes; and
We gradually increase the degree of involvement and participation in our programme and seek to operate as multipliers, attracting other people to the programme; in this way, we seek to create a strong and ever-growing network of interaction, in which we produce and develop social capital, which further enhances the fulfillment of our shared vision.
Within this methodological framework of the synchronization of Knowledge Management, Active Cooperative Research and Syneducation Model, knowledge comes mainly from the team action and interaction of stakeholders of the programme. During the creation of knowledge there is a high level of personal and collective reflection and increasing personal commitment, the target of which is to plan the next enhanced actions. The enhancement of practice and understanding practice itself is a priority, aiming to enhance the situation in which the practice takes place. The repeated way of thinking and action, using the methodology as described earlier, constantly evolves, through creation and development of ideas and knowledge, entails the simultaneous enhancement of stakeholders’ personal, emotional, communication and generally social skills and modelling of new behaviours, which lead to changes in their way of thinking, improved behaviours, the emergence and strengthening of values and the formulation of a new ‘social pedagogical culture’.
The conduct of the social pedagogical programme
Given the aforementioned methodological framework, while we were conducting the social pedagogical programme in the schools, we utilised strategies, methodological practices and techniques that supported effectively the specific methodology and were seeking to fulfill the main objectives and the overall aim of the programme.
While we were conducting the programme, emphasis was placed on developing experiential team activities favouring the necessary interactive and collaborative learning environments for the given methodology.
The experiential team activities were based on the utilisation of creative strategies, techniques, practices and tools, such as role playing, the Jig Saw techniques6, cycles of change7, six thinking hats8, SCAMPER99 questions (customised for the needs of the programme), dilemma situations, metaphors, analogies, brainstorm and conceptual maps.
The educational material that was created and utilised in the programme consisted of hypothetical scenarios, stories, storytelling and fairy tales, images and illustrated stories with multiple possibilities of reading, directed incidents, simulations of various situations, videos, films, artwork etc. Much of the educational material offered the opportunity to continue and conclude the story through a sequential problem settings, decision making and problem solving.
The educational material highlighted the following interactive axes:
The knowledge and awareness of the many forms of diversity (cultural, racial, linguistic, religious, ethnic, cognitive, learning mode, disability, etc.), and a positive attitude towards it.
The awareness and recognition of the uniqueness and value of each person: anatomical, facial, intellectual, and emotional, and as to be found in their way of communicating,, their social attitudes, beliefs, personality, experience, behaviours, skills and so forth.
Highlighting diversity and uniqueness through educational materials, namely: (a) How the ‘different’ person (the ‘other’) deals with his/her own diversity; (b) How he/she responds to others; and (c) How the ‘different’ person (the ‘other’) is dealt with by others.
The awareness of the presence or the absence of emotional and social skills in each incident of bulllying and its consequences.
Highlighting the potential of effectively tackling antisocial behaviour (such as rejection of the ‘different’ person, marginalisation and bullying) by enhancing, strengthening, widening and developing emotional, communication and general social skills.
Recognising the role of establishing, maintaining and respecting limits so that self-esteem, respect for the ‘other’ and generally appropriate behaviour through a system of principles and values should be ensured.
The stakeholders processed the educational material in stages, through experiential activities that started with the characters (heroes) of each scenario. The stakeholders themselves got gradually involved in the process, each to his/her own degree.
Generally, the process went through the following interactive situations:
Dealing with hypothetical problematic / difficult situations.
Experiential engagement in hypothetical situations.
Highlighting initial perceptions, stereotypes, prejudices and intentions, and becoming aware of personal interpretation codes (initially that of the protagonists of hypothetical situations and gradually that of the stakeholders themselves).
Identifying and formulating the problem.
Selecting priorities; developing new insights and ideas.
Formulating a vision and setting goals; designing actions.
Decision making; problem solving by implementing actions and new practices.
Reflective observation of the results of actions; processing new forms of behaviour.
Awareness and understanding of the thoughts, intentions, emotions that guide a person’s behaviours.
‘Internalisation’ of knowledge acquired by realising the extent that each stakeholder contributed to reducing or enlarging the solution of a problem and the overall success of the actions undertaken.
Searching for, becoming aware of, highlighting and developing positive personal attributes and skills; re-examining behaviours and empathetic thinking.
Highlighting, enlarging, enhancing, implementing and utilising collaborative opportunities and actions that continuously fed and boosted team learning and mutual mentoring.
Strengthening interpersonal communication in the team, mutual trust and support, sense of duty.
Accepting values, adopting rules establishing and maintaining boundaries.
Redesigning and implementing new improved actions and behaviours, based on past experience.
Reflective observation of the results of new behaviours; deeper knowledge and understanding of the aspects of a given problem.
Evaluation and feedback of the results of all phases of the programme.
Highlighting shared values and principles in the context of a new school culture.
Modelling new behaviours as well as highlighting new code values and the new ‘culture’.
It is worth noting that in reality all of the above were interrelated and interactive. We separate them in an attempt to simplify the presentation of the conduct of the social pedagogical programme for bullying prevention and to show what we did to study and utilise complex and complicated processes of human thought, emotion and behaviour from a social pedagogical perspective.
Through the combined utilisation of the educational material and based on the aforementioned methodologies, each stakeholder gradually came to: (a) came to experience actual situations that highlighted antisocial behaviours, such as negative attitude towards diversity, marginalisation, exclusion and bullying; (b) internalise his/her experience; (c) re-examine his/ her behaviours and attitudes through empathic thinking; (d) ‘search for once again’ and ‘see again’ himself / herself through new patterns of behaviour; (e) expand and redefine his/her perceptions; (f) re-examine his/her boundaries, values and his/her interpretation code; (g) become aware of the enrichment of his / her potential and skills – by interacting with others, mutual mentoring, collaboration and the multiple possibilities of the team; and thus (h) each stakeholder was led to bring out and strengthen, at an individual and team level, a code of values that would guide his / her behaviour and would compose a ‘social pedagogical ethos’ and ultimately a culture that would define the function of the school community.
All the stakeholders participated in evaluating the social pedagogical programme as evaluators. The evaluation was conducted through a combined evaluation model10. This provides formative evaluation in order to highlight areas that need improvement while the programme is being conducted and a summative evaluation. This model of evaluation utilises many of the processes and procedures of empowerment participatory evaluation.
Additionally, the model includes specialised evaluations and self-evaluations, by utilising tools such as self-observation keys, writing diaries, reports, reviews, questionnaires, scales, SWOT analysis11, evaluation grids etc. that are utilised by the stakeholders according to their age, and are customised to their (age) capabilities.
The summative evaluation was made by all teams of stakeholders and by a team of scientists (from various disciplines). The evaluation criteria were different for each team of stakeholders. They were allocated to questions which aimed to lead stakeholders through a reflective process, evaluating different dimensions of their experience of participating in the programme and ultimately to state to what extent the aims and objectives of the programme had succeeded.
In order to deduct and formulate final conclusions, all teams of stakeholders / evaluators participated in a dialectical debate and processed their experience throughout the programme.
Findings, Results and Conclusions
Evaluating the social pedagogical research programme has provided findings, results and conclusions. The Systems Methodology adopted by the social pedagogical programme was crucial to its success. Nevertheless it is not possible to present all of these within the limited scope of this paper.
Given the systemic nature of the programme, we will present indicatively and briefly those findings, results and conclusions which are linked with Senge’s systemic logic (2006), while reviewing at the same time the effectiveness of the methodology utilised, the consistency of the programme, in accordance with the principles and practices of the five disciplines, and the usefulness of using this logic.
Systems Thinking, as mentioned above, has identified the epistemological and methodological identity of our research programme. This has helped us, among others, to take a holistic approach and to consider the complexity of the phenomenon of antisocial behaviours, such as negative attitudes towards diversity, and bullying in schools, and to try to bring about change effectively. Systems Thinking has been the fertile ground on which the combined use of Knowledge Management, Collaborative Action Research and the Syneducation Model, has supported us effectively so that: (a) we could build a creative, interactive and collaborative learning environment; (b) in which – while studying interrelationships and using a continuous reflection process - we managed and evaluated first individual and then group interactive knowledge; and (c) then we generated new ideas and knowledge; (d) which prompted us to redefine and reinforce principles and a code of values; and (e) we were able to take initiatives and develop effective collaborative action, which; (f) would eventually transform and enhance the culture of the school and the community.
The important thing is that it was not difficult not only for the adults but also for the school children involved to get acquainted with Systems Thinking. Initially, some concerns were expressed by some stakeholders (mainly teachers who had no previous experience of systems thinking research) as to whether familiarity with Systems Thinking, its understanding and use would then be easy for all stakeholders.
However, the results of the social pedagogical programme demolished all relevant reservations and confirmed previous research that had been carried out in Greece, with systemic and syneducation orientation, which had shown that it was perfectly possible for adults and adolescents (Kekes & Mylonakou, 2006) as well as for children (Mylonakou-Keke, 2009, 2012, 2014b) to get familiarised with Systems Thinking, and its use has been feasible, creative and productive for all stakeholders.
Senge himself confirms this underlying potential of Systems Thinking by claiming: ‘…experiments with young children show that they learn systems thinking very quickly’ (Senge, 2006: 7).
Personal mastery helped us (as stakeholders) clarify and deepen continuously our personal vision and try to fulfill it, by focusing on our own actions and developing and strengthening virtues such as patience, self-control, humility, personal accountability, consistency and self-efficacy.
From our participation in the programme, personal mastery of continuous learning was also strengthened, since we gradually became aware not only of our ignorance and weaknesses but also of our ability to know more and to enhance our personal development.
One of the first results of the programme was stakeholders’ awareness that each person has his / her own diversity, which comes from his / her uniqueness, which is important but requires continuous enhancement efforts (social pedagogical perception of diversity).
Another important result was the gradual shift in bystanders’ attitudes, from a negative or an indifferent or a lukewarm or an occasional or even a sympathetic or a compassionate attitude towards who is bullied (none of which address the problem adequately) to assuming individual willingness as well as collective responsibility and taking effective collaborative action against bullying incidents and any antisocial behaviour.
Moreover, our personal mastery activated us to utilise those ‘resources’ that came from the interaction of the stakeholders, especially from children and adults (i.e. syneducation model), which might have remained unutilised, thus enhancing our dedication to our own vision, our sense of mission and our enthusiasm and effort for action.
Mental models have helped us to reconsider, judge and redefine our personal perceptions, beliefs, assumptions and generalisations and become aware of how crucially all these affect our interpretation code, our mindset, our attitudes and how they guide our behaviours. This process was supported by the interactive and communicative function of the team.
We found that the perception of the diversity of the ‘other’, that we as stakeholders had initially, is directly linked with our emotional patterns, our perceptions and underlying representations and our interpretation code, which are greatly influenced by our cultural and social experiences (that is, by ‘habitus’, according to Pierre Bourdieu, 1986). We also been found that the age of stakeholders correlated positively with holding prejudices and stereotypes on diversity and negatively with transforming these.
With the aid of mental models we have gradually learned how to study and how to better understand our own theories, our needs and our own practices, among other things.
Building a shared vision was created with the active participation of all stakeholders; it was affected by our personal vision and amplified to a great extent by the syneducational interaction between children and adults. This shared vision has extended every stakeholder’s personal mastery; it has inspired and encouraged experimentation, creativity and innovation and has incorporated values and principles into practices.
Building a shared vision was largely facilitated by the stakeholders’ experiential collaborative engagement in the initial hypothetical situations (within the methodological framework as described above). This helped us reconsider and reorganise gradually and progressively, depending on the level of existing understanding, previous opinions about and our perceptions of various forms of antisocial behaviour; it helped us experience new behaviours and potentialities. Thus we were led to extensive interpretive schemes and gave a new meaning to various terms and conditions, such as: diversity, uniqueness, the need for human communication and unity, forms and possibilities of cooperation, taking personal and collective responsibility as well as collaborative action so that a negative situation could be changed and enhanced. All this inspired and motivated us to build our own shared vision, to commit ourselves to it and to feel personally responsible for the programme’s effectiveness and the overall performance of the system of which we were parts. Aiming at our shared vision, we also created a long-term perspective on the programme’s effectiveness and we were pushed to unpredictable and very creative ways.
Team Learning was influenced by personal mastery and the shared vision; it was strengthened by the dialectical interaction of the stakeholders (within the logic of the SECI model of knowledge, creation and conversion) and developed and ‘blossomed’ in an interactive, collaborative environment that was characterised by mutual influence and mutual mentoring - despite the difference in age groups (i.e. syneducation model). The logic of the linear transmission of knowledge and experience from the older to the younger generation was not that of the programme. This logic was reversed, especially when the stakeholders (through the educational material) encountered specific forms of diversity, during which adults’ pre-existing stereotypical knowledge and experiences were replaced by the imaginative and creative interventions and approaches of the younger and ‘less experienced’ people.
Team learning was also based on a feedback loop between we search by learning, discovering, creating, organising and developing personal and collective knowledge and we learn by searching in a syneducational way. Moreover, the syneducation collaborative environment and special learning conditions that this environment created (combined with the SECI model of knowledge, creation and conversion) supported the emotional and social skills that were projected and highlighted within teams that would finally be ‘taught’ – in a broad sense - and be cultivated through experiential, team, interactive and collaborative learning. This led to an ongoing management and evaluation of knowledge and the recreation of new knowledge through the intellectual, emotional and social interactions of the stakeholders; it also enriched emotional and communication skills.
Team learning was supported by the very positive psychological climate that prevailed, as the stakeholders noted, and was fed by children’s spontaneity and creativity, all the stakeholders’ interactive humor, team spirit and by the sense of shared mission that was gradually strengthened. That positive and pleasant climate fed back into a motivation for participation, team learning and action, and affected the quality of the team function.
Ultimately, team learning supported continuous ‘thinking and act together’ (according to Senge, 2006) and learning from each other.
All this process led to what could implicitly stated by Bacchylides of Ceos, one of the Greek lyric poets (518 BC – 452 BC): ‘From ancient times up to now, [it is known that] one becomes wise / learns from the other.’ [Ἕτερος ἐξ ἑτέρου σοφὸς τό τε πάλαι τό τε νῦν. (Paean., fr. 5 Maehler)].
Overall, this programme has shown how well Systems Methodology fits with social pedagogy and how it can be used to determine the success of social pedagogic programmes and actions?
The evaluation has shown that the objectives and the general aim of the programme have been achieved to a very satisfactory level. The weaknesses of the programme are due to the fact that there required several hours beyond those spent during formal school operation as well as time commitment of different categories of participants / stakeholders (i.e. pupils, parents, teachers, community representatives, etc.)
Furthermore, all stakeholders’ familiarisation with Systems Thinking and methodologies combined are, as we have seen, feasible (even for pupils), but it requires that coordinators should be continuously present in stakeholders’ teams (with a role, of course, of an equal partner and coresearcher) and should have good knowledge of Systems Science, the methodologies of Collaborative Action Research, the Syneducation Model and Knowledge Management.
While the social pedagogical programme was being conducted, the stakeholders developed a remarkable feeling of ‘belonging’, ‘participating’, ‘communicating’, ‘co-acting’ and ‘contributing’ and had a sense of duty, mutual trust, mutual understanding, mutual support, mutual encouragement, collaboration, shared values and the adoption of rules and boundaries. In other words, social capital was created and developed.
But what should be noted in particular is that this programme gave rise to a number of interrelated virtues, principles and beliefs that constitute an entire ethical code, which has affected the interpretation of our owncode and has been guiding our actions and behaviours. In other words it has led to the building and strengthening of what we call ‘social pedagogical ethos’12.
Creating and strengthening social pedagogical ethos is the essence of social pedagogy. Social pedagogical ethos is not just a genuinely ethical stance that guides a corresponding mentality or is adopted occasionally in a particular situation. It is a broader and a stronger value system that underpins principles, perceptions, thoughts, attitudes, behaviours and actions of the person who is bestowed with it. The social pedagogical ethos creates a philosophy that translates into a way of life and consists of core values and principles, such as love, humility, modesty, solidarity, justice, magnanimousness, self-respect, decency, taking personal responsibility, a deep respect for every person’s dignity and highlighting the uniqueness of every person of any age, acceptance of any form of otherness, emotional interconnection, empathic understanding, honesty, trust, consistency, continuous effort for self-improvement, team spirit, cooperativeness, selflessness, dedication, diligence, responsibility, democratic principles. This social pedagogical ethos can gradually build and consolidate the school community and then can get diffused and guide all school life and eventually influence the wider community.
We should further note that one of the important results of the social pedagogical programme has been the systemic transformation attained in the culture of the school and the wider community, especially in motivating people against antisocial behaviour. Briefly, six months after that social pedagogical programme was completed, an additional evaluation took place so we could see what had remained of that programme.
We consider as a very important result that none of the former stakeholders of social pedagogical research programme remained impassive when becoming aware of phenomena such as bullying, aggression, undervaluing of others, scorn or marginalisation. According to this second evaluation, all the former stakeholders felt that they were in an ongoing and important mission and that feeling pleased them and at the same time made them feel responsible.
Well-trained as they were by the programme and inspired by the social pedagogical ethos, they knew how to react to negative behaviour event, not allowing - with decency and determination – it to trample over the boundaries of decent behaviour. Whenever an antisocial activity, such as bullying or related behaviours loomed, it was immediately met by an immediate, strong and, when required, collective and organised response and thus was discouraged systematically.
Bullying (like weeds) manifests itself and proliferates when it finds fertile ground to grow and circumstances that allow it to happen; that is, bullying occurs and primarily continues when the bully either encounters no reaction (not only from the victim but also from others, like bystanders13, teachers, school staff, residents of the local community) or when there is a lukewarm, insufficient, occasional or inappropriate reaction, so that it accentuates and worsens the bully’s behaviours.
Moreover, given that the school pupils who participated in the social pedagogical programme were all trained, every bully or a ‘candidate bully’ was either really affected by that education and had redefined his / her perceptions and consequent behaviours, or (if that was not applicable) s/he knew in advance that s/he would be met strong and systematic reaction.
It is noteworthy that in the process of that evaluation and previous evaluations, statements like the following were often made: ‘I am ashamed of some of my actions in the past’ or ‘I am sorry that I did not know about them earlier,’ or ‘Now I know how to be a better person’. And most importantly such personal statements came not only from pupils but mainly from adults - from all the categories of stakeholders, i.e. from pupils’ parents and other family members, school staff, even from teachers and people from the local community and, depending on who made it, the statement carried different weight.
We can say that, this evaluation has shown that the social pedagogical programme did indeed prevent bullying. It seemed that issues of diversity and bullying in schools are interconnected and are two sides of the same phenomenon. The discrimination against and undervaluation of the ‘weak’ or the ‘different other’ leads to marginalisation and exclusion, inside and outside the school environment and often causes behaviours of intimidation and violence. Promoting a social pedagogical perception of diversity / otherness seemed to have a positive effect on the prevention of bullying.
Finally, the results from this social pedagogical programme have shown that when, within a systemic framework, interactive learning environments, are created especially for children and adults together, the enhancement, enlargement and development of emotional, communication and social skills in general and the modelling of positive behaviour can be attained. These can lead to the formation and strengthening of social pedagogical ethos, which motivates stakeholders to reexamine and transform their way of approaching, thinking about and interpreting events, to develop and reinforce positive behaviours, particularly those that respect all forms of diversity. These highlight every person’s uniqueness and make people aware of the value of living together with others. The aim was to develop and strengthen these skills and perceptions so that attitudes towards antisocial behaviours, such as bullying, marginalisation and exclusion, should get restricted or/and prevented.
Furthermore, this programme has shown that authentic relationships between the participants are built gradually within a social pedagogic value framework. In fact, such relationships: a) start from a personal and a shared vision and commitment as well as from a sense of mission; b) continue with positive interaction, by respecting the uniqueness and diversity of all persons, bolstering self-respect, self-esteem, self-control, self-efficacy, empathy, respect for the dignity of the other, broadening and strengthening emotional, communication and social skills; and c) become authentic relationships based on mutuality, trust, intimacy, genuine interest in the other, cooperation with each other, a sense of duty and the assumption of personal and collective responsibility for collaborative action, resulting in the production of ‘social capital’.
Trying to capture the course of this social pedagogical programme conducted in Greece in the time of crisis, in Table 1 we are presenting and recording the development of this programme that have been permeated by quotations from Greek philosophers and poets from antiquity up to the present – our intellectual and cultural heritage. It is exactly this heritage that have been nurturing, fostering and moulding our perceptions, ideas, emotions, actions and experiences for centuries now.
The social pedagogical research programme has been conducted during the years of economic crisis in Greece (it is still being conducted in school communities) with the overall aim of preventing bullying in schools. It has shown that preventing pathogenic phenomena such as bullying, racism, social exclusion and any form of rejection of the ‘different other’ can be effectively attained by addressing personal attitudes towards diversity and broadening and strengthening emotional, communication and general social skills. This social pedagogical tackling of these multidimensional and complex phenomena has been attained with the methodological support of Systems Science and the activation of those involved directly or indirectly in the school and wider community (i.e. pupils, teachers and all school staff, the pupils’ parents and family members, neighbours, community leaders, responsible for educational matters, policy makers etc.).
The programme has shown that it is feasible for stakeholders – who are people of different age, knowledge, experiences, skills, interests, occupation, socio-cultural level and so on – to participate in a joint and interactive learning experience and develop an effective cooperative action to address their shared issues, enhance, change and above all prevent negative situations and antisocial behaviours.
The effectiveness of the programme is considered very satisfactory, and this creates favourable prospects for its continuation, once there is an effort to overcome the difficulties and limitations, which undoubtedly exist, and to strengthen the multiple opportunities that have been risen.
The whole experience of this course of the programme, reflected in the transformation of stakeholders’ thinking and action, has yielded an additional enlargement and enrichment of methodological techniques and tools for teachers; these tools have indeed practical educational value and can be used by teachers in the future, thus improving the school relationships, the school climate and the quality of the operation of the school community. The social pedagogical programme seeks to have not only a short-term but also a medium and a long-term impact on everyday school life.
In other words, what is considered as the most important result of the programme and gives life and feeds its continuation is the creation and progressive strengthening and enhancement of the ‘social pedagogical ethos’ which systemically transform the school culture, forms, establishes and consolidates a new ‘social pedagogical culture’ at school, in the family and the wider community and which highlights the necessity and effectiveness of strengthening and extending the social pedagogical role of the teacher and the school.