1.1 Cyber Bullying as a rising problem

Newspapers and website are full of articles relating to problems and weaknesses of the educational system. The role of teachers is becoming more and more important. Violence at school is an everyday issue, not only between students but also against the school structure itself. The core values of the school community are oftentimes missing, that is why, teachers are increasingly playing the role of educators. But how is that possible?

The recently deceased former associate editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frank Schirrmacher, writes in his book “Minimum (2006)”: “… our children have fewer friends than previous generations. So not only the lives of individuals radically changed, but our society is reprogrammed insidiously; …. More and more we will be on our own, but alone we can not survive. At a time when the most valuable asset is its social capital – as we are forming new communities? … We are not prepared for the minimum of social relations. We suddenly standing in front of the original question a society: What is a family? How is trust? Who help whom? ”

1.2 Our Commitment: Learn to trust!

These questions are quite interesting and pretty related to what we have been experiencing so far as Starkmacher association. One consideration came into my mind:

We need to create spaces of experience, where people can learn to trust!

For this reason, the target group of our activities and our allegiance should not be only the young people. These latter certainly live in large transitional situations and struggle in finding their own position, their place in the society. However, equally important are the teachers in the schools, the social workers in youth and educational institutions, youth leaders and educators who often drag with a steadfast passion and against a negative opinion wave to the concerns of young people into the field.

Most of my colleagues are extremely committed and involved in activities targeting youth, and yet many of them feel overtaxed and alone. Teachers further of the transfer of knowledge are increasingly taking on educational tasks, which is no longer provided by parents or families. I was really surprised when I heard about teachers from the Berlin Rütli School (Berliner Morgenpost, 21.08.11 education crisis) who literally “gave up” because of the lack of ability to communicate in many schools. In recent years, working with teachers all around Europe, what I have been experiencing and witnessing is resignation and helplessness. It is a devastating feeling, leaving no room for improvements and no hope since these teachers are the ones our future generations will learn trust and confidence from. Therefore, it is not easy to find good and positive climates in the schools. This directly links to the violence and bullying I have witnessed in many schools. This behaviour translates into powerlessness and insecurity, and a great need for help.

Since 2003, along with friends and colleagues, we have been promoting a shared vision to tackle these challenges. Our wish was to combine our successful projects, exchanging so good practices and results, as well as difficulties and challenges in order to come up with new common effective projects. This was the inception phase of Starkmacher e.V. This latter was born in 2006 and it is currently based in Mannheim, with 5-7 permanent employees and numerous partners and volunteers from all around the world.

1.3 Our Approach: The change starts from me!

In the last years, Starkmacher has sustained more then 50 schools. Our approach has been focusing on the quality of the schools, in terms of climate, positivity , talent-oriented pedagogy and joyfulness. Unfortunately, most of the times we met a deficit-oriented approach, missing so the chances to empower the students, discover and appreciate their talents and positively make them active actors of the schools. Children from all around the world need to be sustained and guided with the hand in order to promote their holistic growth. They need to be treated first of all as human beings, not as a target group. This is the reason why, with some colleagues, we developed a pedagogy that gives more space and chances to discover the beautiful gifts children and students are born with, unfolding and promoting their talents, first of all at school. In the era of “patchwork-families” this accompaniment is not guaranteed and sometimes not available at all. Oftentimes parents are, or pretend to be, overwhelmed and too busy. However, teachers cannot absorb at school the lack of solid life-structures, the feeling of reliability and trust children should get from their families.

This thought is not new. Particularly in private schools or high schools there is a wide range of additional services and programs designed to promote students’ individual talents and abilities. However, disadvantaged students are often dropped by the wayside. At the same time, teachers are under enormous pressure to meet the demands of parents, Ministry and the public opinion.

Starkmacher projects perfectly match these challenges, targeting accurately teachers, pupils and families. The starting point of Starkmacher principle is: “The change starts from me: only when I, myself am strong, I can make others stronger”. Starkmachers’ projects create spaces of experience, in which individuals are strengthened and can experience being part of a community and the extreme importance of this latter.

Our approach has been developed establishing trustful relationships with teachers and, generally speaking, the administrative body. We bring everybody into the boat, to navigate the challenges and chances all together. This is an empowering exercise a “Starkmacher” exercise, in which everybody, teachers and pupils, those pretty much involved and those left out, feel being part of a unique and strong body. Fabio, a young guy involved in a “musical Project”, said: “I have learnt that, what matters is being on the stage with the heart, as one body with the others. It is not a competition and, if you do something wrong you just keep going, with the help and support of the others”.

1.4 Our Project: Joining Forces to Combat Cyberbullying in Schools

The challenges and issues raised by new forms of bullying in schools are of concern to Starkmacher and its partners. Together, as a consortium, we came up with a project called “Joining Forces to Combat Cyberbullying in Schools”, with the main goal of creating “cyberbulling free schools”: the project was carried out by 8 NGOs from 5 EU Member States (DE, IT, PL, SI, HU) which closely cooperated with local partner schools. The implementation started by offering trainings to NGO staff from partner organisations in Conflict Resolution, Training of Trainers as well as new Social Media Management. The second strand was capacity building in schools, which was executed by the trained multipliers from a partner organisation. This included information and awareness raising activities with teachers/educators, school management, and parents in order to raise their awareness about the issue of cyberbullying and to increase new media know-how and critical awareness. It also intended to conduct local trainings on conflict resolution and social media competence with pupils and teachers, establishing so mediation clubs in each partner schools that shall provide trainings as well as peer mediation.

The second year was characterised by an individual empowerment of youth through creative social media. Organising Int’l Media Camps and local Creativity Groups helped in familiarising youngsters with respectful and safe media usage, but also unlocking hidden potentials, helping to promote a mentality of non-violence and respect in partner schools. After the 1st int’l workshop, the partner started local creativity contests for youngsters in order to produce new artworks. The winners have been then invited to the second int’l workshop. The final stage focused on awareness raising through a youth-led social media campaign helping to spread “anti-cyber violence messages to a widest possible public audience and especially younger people. The official launch of the campaign was on 20th November 2016, which marks the Universal Children’s Day.

In the following chapter, we are going to talk about Cyberbullying and which ways of intervention and prevention are known.

Our holistic approach will be described by Matej Cepin talking about our goal of changing school cultures towards bullying-free zones, through addressing the challenge of cyberbullying from many different angles, through the combination of different action. We believe our approach is Holistic (promotion / prevention / intervention, determinants of health), Community oriented (teachers, pupils, parents) and able to develop competencies through an active participation of stakeholders. Our actions and supportive actions (training of multipliers, creativity campuses, social media campaign) will be extensively described in the different paragraphs.

Finally, we will provide the readers with useful guidelines on how to implement the project in different schools and environments.

Let yourself embark on this journey! Look around and get involved with us for young people who need your encouragement!