News intern reporter
The Victoria-based WITS initiative has been declared the best international bullying prevention program from among six others evaluated by Dalhousie University researchers.
Of the programs studied, WITS – which stands for Walk away, Ignore, Talk it out and Seek help – was the only one that could be recommended in terms of its effectiveness.
More than 600 Canadian schools have used WITS, while another 280 schools in British Columbia are currently using it.
“Promoting healthy relationships is the very foundation of WITS,” says Bonnie Leadbeater, University of Victoria psychology professor and co-developer of the WITS program.
“The Dalhousie study is the first review to really recognize the value of our positive approach to ending bullying by promoting caring relationships and responding to children’s requests for help with peer conflicts.”
The WITS program was created at Lampson Street Elementary School in Esquimalt in 1993 by principal Judi Stevenson and school police liaison Tom Woods, founder of the Rock Solid Foundation.
Leadbeater joined the team in 1998 and continued to develop, evaluate and implement WITS.
With WITS, “We want to know if someone’s having trouble with (peer conflict) or if someone’s being repeatedly victimized, and we really want to be able to do something about that.”
Now, 23 years after its founding, WITS is said to be the best of its kind in Canada.
The program provides a number of books that depict conflicts and situations students may face, along with online training for elementary school teachers to incorporate its fundamentals in their classrooms.
The well-known acronym – WITS – also helps children discuss and respond to bullying.
“The mission of the program is to create responsive environments for the prevention of peer victimization,” Leadbeater says.
“So it’s a program that really helps the communities (and) schools to help children to report if they’re being victimized – seek help – and also beginning strategies to deal with it: so if someone’s bothering you, you can walk away, you can ignore, you can talk it out.
“But eventually…kids are really in the power to seek help… That’s kind of the idea of the program.”
Leadbeater also said that WITS “works through enhancing emotional responsibility.”
Additionally, WITS is working with LEADS: Look and listen, Explore points of view, Act, Did it work? and Seek help.
Together they provide strategies and resources for older elementary school students (Grades 4 to 6) to become “WITS LEADers.”
The program also teaches the five strategies previously mentioned to help this age group problem solve conflict (likely among younger elementary school students) properly and effectively.
Although WITS is used throughout Canada, it’s mainly based around British Columbia.
“Most of the schools in Victoria have used (WITS) at some point or are still using it, and our greatest expansion has been to British Columbia,” Leadbeater says.
“We have a not-for-profit group that brings funds for the WITS program, particularly for books and schools…rural and remote schools or schools that don’t have very much funding for a library, and so they do a lot of work and their attention has mostly been focussed in British Columbia,” she says.
Why is WITS seen as more effective than other programs?
“I think what the Dalhousie study was arguing is that a more proactive approach is a better way of preventing bullying and peer victimization than the approach to sort of identify the kids as bullies or label them as bullies and try to address the problem…once it’s already occurred, as opposed to preventing it,” Leadbeater says.
Leadbeater acknowledged that “there are kids who are highly aggressive (and) they need to learn not to be aggressive. Sometimes that takes some higher level care or intervention than you get out of a universal program like WITS.”
However, this program is both a very popular and effective tool throughout Canada that can greatly minimize instances of peer victimization by simply teaching children how to act and respond in those situations.
For more information about the WITS program, visit witsprogram.ca.