This week, the Herald profiles our finalists for New Zealander of the Year. We have chosen people who we believe made New Zealand a better place in 2012, whether they responded heroically to a moment of need or have worked consistently to improve the lives of others. Our sports and business teams have also compiled their lists and the overall winners in each section will be announced in the Weekend Herald this Saturday. For our entertainment winner, see today's TimeOut.

Mike Williams, a counsellor at Edgewater College in Pakuranga, is one of our nominees for New Zealander of the Year because he is part of a worldwide movement to model non-violent relationships in the institutions we have created to educate our children - schools.

"School counsellors are in some ways at the forefront of a culture change, a revolution," says Northcote College counsellor Nigel Pizzini.

"I lived in the United States for eight years and in New Zealand we don't appreciate just how on the cutting edge of these things we are here, and Mike's work is at the far end of the cutting edge in terms of a practical mechanism to implement these ideas."

In most schools, Mr Pizzini says, the predominant response to bullying is to punish the bully. That just makes the school the top bully.


At Edgewater, Mr Williams has developed alternative responses that aim not to punish but to restore good relationships.

"What we wanted to see was bullying not as an inherent aspect of an individual, but as part of the relational climate in the school," Mr Williams says.

"This gave the kids a chance to say: 'This is not who I am, this is how I am behaving'. And it gave them an opportunity to change that."

His techniques, described in Safe and Peaceful Schools, a book he published this year with former Waikato University academic John Winslade, include standard one-on-one counselling, peer mediation, group sessions and "circles".

He also recruits bullies, along with respected class leaders, to join teams that work "undercover" to support a classmate who was being bullied. The bullies get a chance to remake themselves as caring and supportive people without ever being publicly named or shamed.

"Anybody can step outside of a reputation the way Madonna sort of re-creates herself," Mr Williams says.

"People often like the opportunity to do that - especially young people, they are changing and developing and trying on new roles and reputations.

"Undercover teams can help even teachers see them in a different light. If someone sees things in you that you know are there, but they have been hidden by life's experiences, how amazingly transforming that can be. You think: other people can see this so maybe it's there, so you start acting accordingly."