Everyone has the right to a workplace environment that is fair and equitable, in which they are treated with respect and dignity. Working in a collegial manner is challenging when staff engage in unprofessional behavior. Anti-bullying measures have been implemented in schools across the United States of America, often intended for children and adolescents. However, mobbing, which is defined as adult or emotional bullying, is often dismissed and/or perceived as an issue that does not impact the entire school system. The purpose of this article is to explore the term mobbing and to illuminate examples of mobbing that are frequently witnessed, discussed, and reported among professionals working in schools and programs serving Deaf and Hard of Hearing (D/HH) children and adolescents. It should be noted that mobbing is one part of a systematic problem in schools serving the needs of the D/HH. If the morale of staff in a work environment is low, it ultimately affects the individuals being served.
What is Mobbing?
Mobbing is a term defined by Swedish researcher and industrial psychologist Dr. Heinz Leymann in the 1980s. Leymann defines mobbing as “psychological terror involving hostile and unethical communication directed in a systematic way by one or few individuals mainly toward one person” (Leymann, 1993). Mobbing is bullying without the physical force. The five ways in which Dr. Leymann categorized mobbing are described below with broad examples of how each category could be identified among professionals working with D/HH students.
Five Categories of Mobbing
Mobbing is aggression towards anyone, without discrimination towards an individual’s gender, age, race, religion, nationality, disability, pregnancy, or sexual orientation.
Category one: Aggression against an individual’s self-expression and the way they communicate;
Category two: Attacking one’s social relations;
Category three: Attacking one’s reputation;
Category four: Attacking one’s professional and personal life; and
Category five: Directly attacking a person’s health.
Category One: Aggression against an individual’s self-expression and the way they communicate
Sloan et al. (2010) remark that there is nothing benign about bullying within the mobbing framework, although behaviors within an organizational or business context may be seen as non-aggressive at times. The buildup to total terror is what forms the overall damage to the victim.
An example of this is an individual who is a native signer attempting to express themselves in ASL and being constantly interrupted, yelled at in front of others, criticized for how they communicate, given verbal or written threats, or receiving innuendoes of gestures or “looks”. The target individual will be constantly criticized and subjected to “nit picking” and/or trivial fault finding.
An unfortunate common occurrence of this is when the only Deaf teacher in a school is using ASL as their primary language and participates in an Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting with the assistance of an Educational Interpreter (EI). The school district may have poorly screened applicants for the position of EI by not consulting with organizations such as RID, NAIE (National Association for Interpreters in Education), or local interpreting agencies. Therefore, they choose an individual who is incompetent – did not attend a recognized ITP (Interpreter Training Program), has not attended interpreter trainings or continuing education programs, and/or is not a member of the Deaf community. During the IEP meeting, the teacher’s use of language is poorly interpreted which reflects on the teacher rather than on the “bigger” issue – that the district hired an incompetent EI. The administrator, who lacks understanding of Deaf education and the Deaf community and is unable to communicate with staff in ASL, begins questioning the teachers’ competency and attacking the teacher for their lack of knowledge. This eventually leads to the teacher being terminated by the “mob”, i.e. the administrator and others who engaged in attacking the teacher’s lack of “proper English.”
Category two: Attacking one’s social relations
Category two is attacking one’s social relations by excluding individuals who belong to a social group that is different from the school norm or culture. The ultimate goal is solely for personal gain. A common example that has been witnessed in various work place settings is an employee being “friendly” with the person responsible for re-hiring or promotion. The employee attempts to gain personal satisfaction by forming a “mob” to belittle competitors in the workplace.
One example that has been unfortunately witnessed among the Deaf community in United States of America has to do with Deaf awareness week at school. A “mob” will design, create, and implement the ASL/Deaf activities without including the main audience – D/HH students and/or staff. The “mob” indirectly ensures the hiring of individuals (usually friends or family members) to fill the role of an ASL specialist, a D/HH resource teacher to teach emerging signers, an EI or freelance ASL interpreter, an Assistant Principal for the Deaf Program, etc. It should be noted, the “mob” does not have to consist of D/HH individuals or allies of the Deaf community, simply individuals who are in the aggressor’s exclusive social network.
Standing up to the mob
Every employee naturally wants to fit in with the group of individuals at their work. It is crucial for victims of mobbing to take a stand against workplace mobbing (Sandvick, 2013). It is also important for victims of mobbing to find someone they trust. Addressing mobbing does not mean having to physically attack someone. In most cases, the situation warrants a report made to the administration, the union, or a grievance committee. Unfortunately, not all of these bodies are culturally competent in Deaf culture. As a result, there may be times when these bodies side against the victims. Mobbing is often a symptom of a poorly managed administration that is either avoiding the issue or hoping the problem will resolve on its own. Mediation with the administration via an attorney or the union that represents the department as well as and positive thinking are some ways to help improve the situation.
How can school counselors and ASL interpreters be advocates against mobbing?
An unusual “marriage” is often the best approach to addressing mobbing in schools. School counselors and ASL interpreters share unique job characteristics: they both have to adhere to a stringent code of ethics and confidentiality.
- School counselors and ASL interpreters need to take one the role of “allies” in helping to make school-wide climate change.
- Schools can create and promote the implementation of a “Mobbing Proof” policy to include possible consequences for engaging in mobbing.
- Schools should include diversity awareness and multicultural initiatives focused on working with D/HH individuals, Deaf Culture, and Deaf Education.
- Counselors and interpreters can encourage school administrators to allow written information on bulletin boards and in school brochures detailing resources and community activities for students, family members, and employees who are D/HH.
- ASL interpreters can assist school counselors in recognizing common inclusive language among non-signing staff, which in turn will allow school counselors to challenge mobbing behaviors and attitudes.
- ASL interpreters can display Deaf-related symbols or art in their offices or on personal clothing to demonstrate being an ally of the D/HH.
- School counselors can collaborate with the school community to facilitate ongoing communication about the climate of the school. This becomes especially helpful during difficult situations at the school.
- Both school counselors and ASL interpreters can actively search for ways to encourage the Deaf community to promote a “mob”-free environment.
*adapted and modified from “School Counselors as Advocates for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Students: A Call for Action from the U.S. Supreme Court,” in the Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development.
Danielle Thompson-Ochoa, NCC, NCSC
Danielle Thompson-Ochoa, PhD, currently teaches graduate school courses in school counseling and clinical mental health counseling at Gallaudet University. She loves her department (Department of Counseling), Gallaudet University, and teaching/watching her students succeed in becoming phenomenal school counselors. She has her Master’s degree in School Counseling from Gallaudet University and her Doctor of Philosophy in Behavioral Health from the International University of Graduate Studies from St. Kitts & Nevis in the West Indies. Dr. Thompson-Ochoa is a native of Trinidad (Trinidad and Tobago) in the West Indies. She currently lives in Virginia with her husband and two children.
Joseph Batiano, MA, LMHC, NCC
Joseph Batiano, Deaf himself, is a licensed mental health counselor for the State of Rhode Island and a school & guidance counselor for the Rhode Island School for the Deaf with over ten years of experience providing counseling services for individuals, family, or group therapy. Batiano graduated from Gallaudet University with a Master of Arts degree in School Counseling with a mental health emphasis. Batiano has published several articles, including, “Searching for the ‘Ah-Ha! Moment in Counseling,” “Can You Hear My Hands? Counseling the Deaf,” “Keeping ADARA Relevant,” and more. He travels around the country giving presentations on topics ranging from providing appropriate services for the Deaf, trauma informed care, and systematic changes and creative techniques in counseling. Batiano is a member of a variety of associations pertaining to the field of counseling and Deafness. He is a strong advocate for accessibility to mental health services for those who are Deaf and/or Hard-of-Hearing. Batiano grew up in the New England area and is excited to return to his New England roots after living in different parts of America. He enjoys hiking, camping, traveling, and spending time with his family.
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