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Part Two: Does school feel welcoming to parents?

So, Trevor is in trouble at school. It’s time to contact his parents.

You want to get the parents to work with you to find a solution, so keep in mind that you are talking about an emotional issue–the welfare of their child. This conversation relies on your communication skills and ability to empathize. Hopefully you have had some of the positive contacts with Trevor’s parents, like those mentioned in Part One, before this problem arose and you have to make the call home. This foundation of positive experiences serves you well when you have to contact parents about unpleasant situations and field their calls and visits when they are unhappy. This helps you go into the situation with the frame of mind and self-confidence that something good will come of your joint efforts.

As the teacher (the professional in the relationship), you can do a lot to make these kinds of phone calls and meetings successful. You have the power to set a positive, respectful climate conducive to problem-solving. Being prepared boosts self-confidence and your chances for success, so take time to prepare for the call or meeting. You are more relaxed and communicate more effectively if you know what you want to say and how to say it in a straightforward, kind way. You are also better situated to actively listen to the parent.

When there is a problem or concern:

  • Wait until you calm down before you call.
  • Choose your words carefully; use non-labeling words that describe the situation instead of disparage the child, especially if you are sending something to the parents in writing, including email.
  • Review what you want to say.
  • Keep in mind that if the problem happened at school, the school has the primary responsibility to solve it, not the parent; you are looking for insight and help.

Initiating the Call or Meeting:

  • Have a paper and pen ready to take notes.
  • Take a minute to put yourself in the parent’s place.
  • Be friendly, polite, and professional and begin the call on a congenial note.
  • Address parents by their correct name (check the records first).
  • Be aware of cultural differences.
  • Share your genuine concern for the child and your wish to work toward a solution.
  • Convey that you want to help through your choice of words and tone of voice.
  • Be honest and tactful. Avoid blaming or making accusations that put the parent on the defensive.
  • Establish a calm, professional climate.

Discussing the Issue:

  • Calmly explain the situation and/or have the child explain it.
  • Let the parent talk and listen carefully to what he or she says in words and between the lines.
  • Jot down ideas during the conversation.
  • Put a realistic, yet encouraging, spin on being able to solve the problem.
  • React calmly to parents if they are upset; keep in control of your own emotions and responses.
  • Invite them to come in to talk if they would like.
  • In person look at body language, facial expressions, and signs of agitation and relaxation.
  • Assure them that you know it is not easy for them to hear their child has a problem.
  • Ask them if they have any thoughts about what happened.
  • Listen to them and stay understanding of their perspective.
  • Confidently share your professional assessment of the issue. Educate the parent to the possibilities, and make suggestions.
  • Remain professional and positive.

Finding a Solution:

  • Share school expectations, services, and policies.
  • Ask about approaches that work at home.
  • Discuss the approach you will use.
  • In a tactful way, discourage suggestions for punishment and other non-productive ideas.
  • Set a time to check back with each other to see how the plan is working.
  • Ask them if they have any more questions.
  • Thank them for their support of the plan and for working with you.
  • Remain professional and positive

Concluding the Contact:

  • Have a three-way meeting with the child to explain how you and his parents are working together to help him make better choices.
  • Send a letter home that summarizes the problem and the solution, and that thanks them for their help (run it by a colleague or principal first).
  • Sign and date it, and keep a copy for yourself.
  • Implement the plan and do what you can to help the child be successful.
  • Provide progress reports to the child and parents.
  • Contact the parents at the agreed upon time to assess how the plan worked, and make changes if needed.
  • Stay in touch.
  • Remain professional and positive.

You need parents and they need you, and your students need both of you. If you work confidently from a place of professional expertise, openness, and empathy, with the belief that parents love their children and ultimately want to do what is best for them, you will make parents feel welcome and valued and you will discover the power of a strong parent/teacher partnership.

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Back to School: Do you have highly sensitive and introverted students in your classroom?

The odds are great that you do.

And odds are you have a few students in your classroom who are both highly sensitive and introverted.

We know this because experts who study personality types agree that:

Given these odds, it’s to everyone’s benefit that as we prepare for a new school year, we think how we can meet the needs of our highly sensitive and introverted students, so they can feel safe, secure, and have their gifts appreciated.

Let’s start with some ways to recognize these students. They…

  • Deliberate internally (inside their head) before coming to a conclusion.
  • Are slower to raise their hand to answer questions and offer ideas.
  • Take more time to answer when called on.
  • Better show their insight and creativity in solitary activities such as writing, art activities, and individual assignments and projects.
  • Enjoy talking to or playing with one or two people at a time and not a large group.
  • Thrive with quiet alone time.
  • Dislike presenting in front of a group.
  • Might look like they aren’t paying attention or are day-dreaming.
  • Have a strong sense of fairness, and right and wrong, and a want to help others.

Introverted or Shy?

As you read the list, you may find yourself thinking, this sounds like my shy students. It’s important to understand that introversion and sensitivity are not the same as shyness. Shyness is fear and anxiety in social situations. Introverts might seem or are treated as shy because they are quiet while they listen to others, process internally, and then reflect on ideas and possibilities. It’s not surprising that introversion in a typical noisy, busy classroom, where answering questions quickly and moving on is part of the daily pressure to keep instruction on pace, is often misunderstood as shyness or even slowness. But introverts and extroverts are simply wired differently and therefore react differently to stimuli. The brain of an introvert would feel pleasantly stimulated by solitary activities, while the brain of the extrovert would be pleasantly stimulated by a higher level of sensory input. And both personalities need the chance to merely feel and act like themselves without feeling they are lacking.

Are today’s schools biased in favor of extroverts? Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, believes schools are biased against introverts who are usually more quiet, introspective, and sensitive, and, as a result, overpowered by those more extroverted students who love to talk, work in teams, brainstorm, and to think out loud. She wishes teachers could see inside the mind of the sensitive child, the rich world where the creativity, wisdom, empathy, and compassion lie. There are ways you can do this.

Suggestions to respect and accommodate all students –introverted and extroverted – in the classroom.

  • At the beginning of each year, plan activities to get to know your students as unique people, and use this information to develop a feel for where they are on the introvert/extrovert and highly sensitive continuum.
  • Teach and model an acceptance of the diverse learning and communication styles in your classroom.
  • Create areas and times of the day for students to work quietly and by themselves. (Quiet reading and writing time is a welcome break for those who are easily over stimulated.)
  • Cooperative learning isn’t the best approach for every student and for every lesson. Provide a balance of large group, small group, partner, and independent work so both introverted and extroverted students have a learning environment conducive to their thinking and learning style. Build these into your classroom structure so your students come to expect and feel more comfortable in each setting. They can surprise you with their insight if given the right setting to share it with you.
  • Allow students to show what they know and can do in a variety of ways, and adopt a broad definition of classroom participation that goes beyond participation in discussions. One-to-one conferences with the teacher are particularly revealing.
  • Slow down the instructional pace by giving more wait time for students to think before answering and resist the urge to call on the first child to raise his or her hand. Be patient and wait until more students raise their hands.
  • Avoid putting introverted students on the spot to answer questions or read in front of the group.  Let the learning setting create the confidence and opportunity they need.
  • Use a variety of student response strategies, such as think, pair, share where the first step allows time to reflect quietly on their own to gather their thoughts, where step two allows them to try out their ideas with another person, and step three gives them a chance to share with the larger group the ideas they have thoughtfully considered beforehand.
  • Use power writing as a way for students to process before they must answer. (Take three minutes to write all you know about… or, Take five minutes to respond to this quote…)
  • Hold regular class meetings where each person is given the opportunity to speak, one child at a time has the floor during discussions, and the emphasis is on thoughtful solutions to problems and respect for the ideas and perspectives of others.

And work to understand yourself better. Figure out where you are on the introvert/extrovert and sensitivity scale. Then consider how this personality style affects your teaching. What adjustments could you make so all children have a chance to thrive and shine in your classroom?

 

 

 

Hazing: A sugarcoated name for bullying and assault

A Case of Rights vs Rites

We owe it to our students to call it what it is.

Hazing is violent behavior we’d never excuse under its real name: bullying and assault.

Hazing is tacitly permitted and spans the violence continuum from taunting, extortion, and humiliation, to forced substance abuse, and physical and sexual assault. Like all bullying, hazing is an abuse of power and it negatively affects both girls and boys. The problem continues to exist because students are afraid to report it, it flies under the radar of adult scrutiny, or adults are aware of it and do nothing. Looking the other way and this veil of secrecy provide the perfect mix for uncontrolled, destructive behavior under the guise of tradition and good fun.

The traditions and myths surrounding hazing allow it to enjoy a protected place in our culture, not just in our colleges, but also in our public and private elementary and secondary schools. Status as a cultural norm, which considers negative initiation rites benign and even character building, is an imposing barrier. The norm is strengthened even more by student peer pressure and the need for acceptance into the group. The effect is students routinely give up their rights and quietly suffer humiliation and put themselves in emotional and physical danger in exchange for the chance to be included. They don’t see a way out of going along with the initiation rites if they want to be able to take part in the group activity they enjoy. We need to develop and present a new mindset and set up policies that give students a way out.

Who is in charge of eliminating hazing?

Clearly we are, just as we are responsible for maintaining academic standards and establishing a safe school climate. The adult staff is accountable to do no harm and to allow no harm be done to their students. Coaches and advisors for sports teams, music groups, social activities, and clubs have a specific responsibility to keep safe the students under their care by prohibiting and reporting hazing that occurs on or off school property and during or outside of school hours. If a college fraternity chapter can be suspended from campus for life for hazing abuses and members charged with assault, coaches and other adults who allow our young students to be abused and those students who abuse others should face comparable consequences.

The reality is most students want us to protect them from hazing. They don’t want to be victims and many don’t want to be put in the role of victimizer. They want adults to intervene, hazers disciplined, the police called, school leaders who are educated about the underground of initiation rites, and hazing replaced with positive experiences.

Adult culpability for what happens to their students is a wake up call to all elementary and secondary school staff. The Ohio State Education Department takes this responsibility seriously. Their anti-hazing code warns that any adult who “recklessly” permits hazing, or who has knowledge of the hazing and takes no action to stop the behavior is liable for civil action for injury and damages, including mental and physical pain and suffering. They have placed hazing into the realm of a crime where it belongs.

But students fear nothing will change, and some adults justify hazing, because it is difficult to break down well-established traditions. Yet we have repeatedly proven we can change school climate and school culture. Think of what used to be ingrained in the culture and policies of our schools: students segregated by race, separate schools and classrooms for students with disabilities, different courses and graduation and post graduation expectations for boys and girls, rigid academic tracking from a young age, the use of corporal punishment for discipline. From experience, we know that the most effective way to change the status quo is to get the cooperation of those involved and to take a clear and firm position together.

In the unique case of hazing, school policies, staff, students, and families need to be clear and firm that no emotional or physical violence, couched as a harmless initiation rite for acceptance into a group, regardless of tradition, will be allowed, ignored, or excused. Any anti-bullying policy that does not specifically address hazing is incomplete.

Instead we will:

  • Create a written code of conduct for extra-curricular groups that specifically prohibits any form of hazing. (See Evergreen Colorado HS anti-hazing sample policy below.)
  • Bring parents together to review the code and to enlist their support for its success.
  • Consistently publicize and enforce the anti-hazing policy.
  • Create a confidential hotline so hesitant students and parents can report hazing to the authorities.
  • And as our new mindset, offer positive, respectful adult leadership and collaborative activities to welcome new students into a group.

Sample policy

Evergreen Colorado High School Anti-Hazing Policies

Evergreen High School prohibits recognized groups, organizations, athletic teams or those that attend events or activities sponsored, organized or supported in any way by those organizations, from hazing members, prospective members, or other persons seeking to obtain benefits or services from any of these organizations.

Hazing is any action or activity, with or without consent from a person, whether conducted on or off Evergreen High School property, which is designated to or has the reasonably foreseeable effect of humiliation, denigrating, offending, physically or mentally abusing or exposing to danger a person, as a condition, directly or indirectly, of the person’s consideration for, continuation in, admission to, membership in, participation in activities of, receipt of benefits or services from, an organization or group.

Take back your power. No more “please.”

I used to say please. I don’t anymore.

I have red hair.

I wear glasses.

I have freckles.

Please don’t call me names.

I am short.

I stutter.

I have learning problems.

Please don’t make fun of me.

I don’t speak English well.

I have dark skin.

I am quiet around others.

Please don’t laugh when others taunt me.

I wear wrinkled clothes.

I get free lunch.

I like reading more than sports.

Please don’t try to embarrass me.

I am gay.

I live with my father.

I have few friends.

Please don’t gang up on me.

I used to be your friend.

I like the same boy that you do.

I don’t want to drink or smoke with you.

Please don’t write mean things about me.

I shouldn’t have to say please.

I am a person, like you are. I have feelings, like you do. I have rights, like we all have. You are not better than me.

I shouldn’t have to say anything.

But until it stops, I won’t say please.

What’s your no bullying plan?

It’s a new school year, a clean slate.

You want to create a safe, encouraging, positive climate for learning. You want to develop a relationship of mutual respect among your students and between you and your students. You want your room to be a place that students enjoy coming to, where they cooperate, collaborate, and work hard.

Don’t miss the opportunity to establish, from day one of the new school year, that your classroom is a safe haven – a bully-free zone. Students need the adults in the school to enthusiastically and seriously lead this effort by word and deed. The message you want to send to your students is clear and firm…

  • We all have a right to be treated with respect and care.
  • We do not allow members of our school community to use power over others to hurt them in any way, emotionally or physically.
  • We do not condone bullying by standing by doing nothing or laughing and encouraging the bully.
  • We tell an adult if someone is bothering us or if we see bullying happening to someone else.

The best way to convey your commitment to a healthy classroom climate is to get your students talking about what respect, disrespect, and bullying look like. They already have the answers in their heads and hearts; they know what is okay and what isn’t, even if they might not always seem like they do.

It’s a simple process that needn’t take long. Ask your students to work with you to set the guidelines for acceptable classroom behavior. Through a meaningful group dialog about how to treat each other, they can decide what they want their classroom to feel like and then commit to making it happen.

So instead of starting the new school year with a pre-made list of class rules, actively engage your students in this critical discussion. Their ideas about what respect looks like can easily be made into brief statements of positive classroom behaviors and attitudes that show the goodness they have inside them.

Now your students are an integral part of your no bullying plan! You have a common purpose!

They have described the positive classroom climate you want for them and that they deserve.

New School Year Tip: Create a no sarcasm zone

Worth reposting as you get ready to start a new school year…

Witty humor or caustic mockery? Good-natured ribbing or anger with a smile?

Sarcasm. Widely used and widely misunderstood. Some people defend it while others condemn it. Is the line between sarcasm and innocent humor really that fine?  Not if you look at what makes sarcasm unique.

We know it when we hear it.

Read these statements first with sarcasm and then as if you honestly mean them.

  • (Student says she’ll bring the book in tomorrow.) Right, that’s going to happen!
  • (Teacher was talking to a student.) It’s going to be a great year with you in my class.
  • (There are papers scattered under a desk.) I love the way you always put your papers away so neatly.
  • (Student couldn’t answer a question.) Keep this up and you’ll be a big success when you grow up.
  • (Class has been doing poorly on tests.) I’m sure everyone is going to study hard tonight.
  • (Student has a disciplinary note to give his parents.) I know you’ll have your parents sign that letter like you always do.
  • (Teacher is looking at a messy paper.) Thank you. Your essay is  so neat and legible.
  • (Teacher is frustrated with the noise level.) I’m so glad I get to start each day with all of you. I must have a guardian angel.

Hear the difference? That core of insincerity and meanness? The little dig?

Sarcasm is saying the opposite of what we mean; there is an intentional contradiction between the literal meaning of the words and the social and emotional intent. It is a putdown couched in humor meant to embarrass or hurt, motivated by negative emotions – frustration, disgust, disdain, futility, anger, even hate – communicated through the context, the words chosen, and the inflection used.

Why is sarcasm one of the deadly sins of relationships?

Because it comes out of left field like a stomach punch, with enough of a grain of truth to breed insecurity. It puts us off-balance, even adults, and is particularly hurtful when aimed at children who expect adults to speak the truth. Sarcasm is verbal aggression with a smile, a sideways way to express criticism, which is actually more hurtful than the honest criticism it replaces. It is intentionally dishonest and kids need honesty to feel secure. It damages relationships instead of  strengthening them.

Power differential + sarcasm = bullying + not funny

Teacher-to-student bullying, the same as student-on-student bullying, but with more emphasis on the power differential, is defined as  “a pattern of conduct, rooted in a power differential, that threatens, harms, humiliates, induces fear, or causes students substantial emotional distress.”

The lack of understanding of the difference between humor and sarcasm and the venting it provides, and the false belief that it produces results, perpetuate the use of sarcasm for classroom management, student reprimands, and motivation. Yet, fear of embarrassment or ridicule is not a healthy motivator. Younger children and those with learning disabilities or Asperger’s syndrome will just be confused. With older students, sarcasm might get a laugh from the other children and short-term compliance from the target. But at what cost? A child’s feelings of self-worth, sense of security, trust in adults, and ability to concentrate and learn? A backlash of resentment and retaliation towards the teacher? Modeling the very disrespectful, unkind behavior that we complain about?

Good-natured humor, unlike sarcasm, is not mean or targeted at a specific person or group. It is a shared enjoyment of a comical or ironic situation, cleverness, or wordplay, motivated by our basic need to have fun. Laughing together helps us connect with each other and strengthens our bond. It is healthy, even necessary, especially in classrooms where students are our captive audience.

How do we create a no sarcasm zone?

We know it when we hear it, so we can do something about sarcasm if we:

  • Evaluate and change our own behavior.
  • Make sure we are honest and kind, with pure motives.
  • Teach and model better ways of being.
  • Treat students and their families with genuine compassion and respect.

Albuquerque City Schools offers this advice.

Replace the old way…Teacher communicating with sarcasm: “My, my, my. Aren’t you a smart class. It looks like by age 12 you’ve all finally learned to find your seat and sit down after the bell. And to think it only took you half of the morning to do it. I don’t know if there is another class in the entire school as smart or quick as you guys.”

With a new way…Teacher communicating honestly without sarcasm: “One of the expectations of this class is to be seated and ready to go to work when the bell rings. I appreciate those of you who were quietly seated when the bell rang today.”

Exactly. Straightforward, helpful communication, with no victims. 

Part Two: From Bystander to Ally – learning how to speak out

Speaking out takes practice.

The only way to develop more allies is to educate students and adults about the roles they play in bullying. Participating in bullying role plays and discussing it with each other sensitizes everyone to the perspectives of all the players. This fosters empathy and compassion for the victim, builds a feeling of efficacy – I can do something to make this better – and creates a support group of peers who want to do the right thing. It teaches decision-making, the effect of our choices, builds character, and might even be the catalyst for a child’s self-realization that he is bullying others. Students come away with the powerful understanding that their choices affect how they and their classmates are treated.

For this understanding to translate into a change of attitudes and behavior, students must hear and believe these five messages from adults:

  • You are not responsible for the actions of the bully.
  • You do not have to live with it.
  • We want you to report bullying.
  • We promise, if you are being bullied, we will never leave you to handle it on your own.
  • Reporting a serious problem is not tattling.

To show you mean it, make posters of these five messages to post around the school.

Strategies that empower

With these messages clearly delivered and received, we can teach students to take a stand to not join in bullying using strategies that convey confidence, show resistance, and assess situations. Role plays offer practice for:

  • How to avoid being a victim.
  • How to assess danger and act wisely.
  • Ways to stand up to a bully.
  • The exact things to say to the bully.

Doing the right thing takes personal courage and the ability to assess the situation. Acting as an ally or defender does not mean trying to break up a fight or getting into an altercation with a bully, and if you are the victim, standing up to a bully at that moment is not always the best choice. There is no set approach to stopping bullies in their tracks; specific circumstances and those involved determine the nature of each interaction. Bullies are often physically and mentally strong, act in groups, and have a sense of entitlement that is resistant to correction. Standing up to them does not always work and the target or ally can get hurt in the process. Sometimes the best thing is to get away and seek help immediately. To encourage reporting, some schools have successfully set up bullying hotlines to give students a secure way to report problems.

Victims should only stand up to a bully and an ally or group of allies should only intervene face-to-face when it feels safe to do so. Then they can firmly tell the perpetrator:

  • Stop it!
  • Don’t call her that.
  • That isn’t funny.
  • What you are saying (doing) is mean.
  • I’m getting an adult.

Allies in cyberspace

The roles students play in cyberbullying are similar to face-to-face bullying, but cyberbullying requires additional cautions when you consider how public it is. Social media makes it easy to do, bullies can share photographs and cheerleaders can make anonymous comments, and the size of the potential audience is immense. The cyberbully feels protected and powerful because she does not have to face her victim, while the impact on the victim is immediate, widespread, and devastating.

First, young people need strategies to avoid being a victim of or encouraging cyber-bullying:

  • Choose social media sites and friends wisely.
  • Think about and be careful choosing what to post.
  • Do not post, text, or email anything you don’t want the whole world, including your parents, to see.
  • Do not take part in or cheer on cyberbullying.
  • Use privacy settings and do not share passwords.
  • Do not respond to cyberbullying.

Second, they need to know what to do if either they or someone they know is a victim of cyberbullying. A cyber ally:

  • Tells a parent, teacher, or other trusted adult right away.
  • Keeps evidence of cyberbullying.
  • Blocks the offender.
  • Reports it to school.

Positive action

There is safety in numbers, especially for young people who are greatly influenced by peers. The goal is to create an active majority of allies, adults and students, that knows what bullying looks like and the role they can choose to play. When people refuse to take part or to look the other way, and instead report incidents of bullying to adults who can help, the ally peer group grows and the school climate changes to one of positive action where bullying behavior is no longer tolerated.

Part One: From Bystander to Ally – the roles we play in bullying

Bullying involves more than just the bully and the victim.

My last post was on the Pepsi Max test drive commercial and how thinking that mistreating another person is funny and not speaking up to denounce what offends us encourage bullying behavior. PepsiCo, the YouTube audience, bloggers, commentators, and the business groups and ad agency reviewers who praised the commercial all played a role in perpetuating the myth that bullying, if done “in fun,” is okay.

This happens in school, too, when bystanders, both students and adults, choose to ignore or encourage this type of violence, and often think it is funny. But bullying isn’t funny. It is abuse committed repeatedly against a victim that escalates over time, where the perpetrator appears to enjoy the power to intimidate and hurt. It shows a lack of empathy, compassion, and respect for others. It is predator behavior and we are charged morally and legally to prevent it from happening, and to take swift action when it does.

What role do we choose?

Once we accept that bullying is a type of violence and is a problem in our schools, where do we start? Bullying prevention efforts begin by developing an understanding of what violence is, the forms it takes, and why it is hurtful. Then, to change attitudes and behavior, students and teachers need a breakdown of the specific ways we participate in bullying:

  • Victim (target of the bullying)
  • Perpetrator and co-perpetrator (the bullies)
  • Ally (defender of the target)
  • Bystander (is aware it is happening)
  • Audience (congregates and watches)
  • Cheerleader (actively encourages the violence)

Each of these roles is a choice we make as an individual and each has an impact on the continuation of bullying. The perpetrator, cheerleader, and ally choose to take a lead role and openly encourage or discourage the bullying. They make a decision to do something. The bystander and audience take what appears to be, but isn’t, a passive role. They make a conscious choice to not do anything. Taking no action one way or the other is not a neutral position. Inaction is a decision to allow the bullying to continue.

What do these roles look like in face-to-face bullying?

The perpetrator and co-perpetrators decide on a target, someone they perceive as weaker and more vulnerable than they are. They make a decision to tease, demean, threaten, dominate, and hurt the victim, and then they corner and attack.

Cheerleaders actively encourage the attack by verbally egging on the bully, suggesting things to do to the victim, laughing and cheering, and verbally abusing the victim. The perpetrator and cheerleaders feed off of each other and escalate the violence. Cheerleaders can easily cross the line and become co-perpetrators.

A bystander is aware of or actually witnesses the bullying, and the audience stands by and watches the bullying happen. In both cases they do nothing to intervene and help the victim. Their choice allows the violence to continue and, by their silence, they become accomplices.

An ally or defender is a bystander or member of the audience who makes a decision to do something to stop the bullying. It could even be a cheerleader or co-conspirator who has a change of heart and realizes it is wrong. The ally steps in and advocates for the victim by telling the bully to stop, helping the victim get away from the situation, and telling an adult what happened.

Adult and student allies who take positive action to support or defend the victim, and victims who speak up for themselves are the answer to reducing bullying in our schools. Once we know the important role we can play, we can become an ally.

Next: Part Two of From Bystander to Ally is about learning how to speak out.

My child is being bullied

My child doesn’t want to go to school. The reason? She’s being bullied.

No child should have to suffer being bullied or need to change schools to feel safe. In the span of two weeks, in two separate medical offices, I had a conversation with a doctor and a nurse about bullying in schools. The doctor expressed concern for her own daughter and dismay at how her receptionist had to move her daughter to a new school to avoid being bullied.  The nurse’s situation was not new to me, as we had talked about her first-grade daughter being bullied by other girls while it was happening, and how she finally went to the principal for help.

It was when I recently asked her how things were going that she welled up and told me things had turned around and were going well, thanks to a principal who took her concerns seriously and acted immediately. She was so grateful for the principal’s actions and couldn’t say enough about how much she respected and appreciated her. She wished all schools were blessed with a principal of her professionalism and compassion. I had to agree.

But what struck me was her anxiety over reporting the incidents in the first place, and the fear of being labeled a problem mother who is always complaining, and the repercussions of getting a group of her daughter’s classmates in trouble. Even with her child refusing to do homework and read each night as she usually did, and not wanting to go to school, she wasn’t sure how to handle it. It was with her heart broken over the pain her daughter was enduring that she went to the principal and exposed the bullying.

She knows she did the right and necessary thing, but it was not easy. The message that bullying is not tolerated and should be reported had not reached her and likely not reached the other parents. It took courage and some outrage to walk through that school door and march into the principal’s office. It took facing up to her peers – the other children’s parents – and righting a terrible wrong. And she feared reprisal and making her daughter’s life even more difficult.

She shouldn’t have had to feel this way. Effective school climate efforts are intentional and boldly advertised: We don’t do that here. We are better people than that. We know how to treat others with empathy and respect. This message changes school culture to where the protection of our students’ physical, psychological, and emotional safety becomes the norm. It is critical, and in most states a legal requirement, to have a school policy on bullying and harassment, but effecting change in the school culture to make violence taboo takes a concerted and visible effort by the school leadership. A policy is not a piece of paper; it is a living thing. Teachers, students, staff, parents, and administrators all need education about the many forms of school violence and accept that none of it is okay. They need to know there is a difference between “telling on” someone and reporting an abuse, and that the administration will listen to their concerns and bring the problem to resolution. The bottom line is they need to believe the school will and has an obligation to make the bullying stop.

Schools need to get out this message: Please speak up. We will listen and make it right. We promise.

My nurse’s daughter is now happy at school, back to reading for enjoyment and tackling her schoolwork. Her mother is a hero; she will look back with pride and satisfaction to the time when she stepped up and used her personal power to protect her child. We now need to change the way we do things so that we welcome all parents when they come to us with a concern and that we thank them for helping us keep our promise that our school is a safe haven for their children.

Bullying happens in all schools at all grade levels. This incident was in a first grade in a very small parochial school. For more information on what bullying looks like and what you can do, check out my other posts and my book, The Violence Continuum: Creating a Safe School Climate.

Back to School Tip: Create and apply the rules together

Obedience or Rights and Responsibilities?

As we set up our classrooms and start the new school year, we need rules that motivate students from within. Encouraging high personal standards in our students takes more than positing a chart of the classroom rules. It requires a positive approach to discipline that:

  • teaches responsibility (intrinsic motivation) over time
  • rather than merely expects obedience (extrinsic motivation).

Children are more likely to follow guidelines for behavior (rules) that they had a role in developing, understand, and view as fair. The school, classroom, and home are the most natural and logical places to give children an active role in defining what it means to be a contributing member of a well-functioning community. This includes defining and living according to the rights and responsibilities shared by all members of the group. They learn rules are not arbitrary and mean, but helpful guidelines for getting along with each other.

Classroom management based on personal responsibility is more effective than traditional authoritarian control. The obedience model sends the message that students must follow the rules that adults impose without question regardless of the students’ ideas of right and wrong, special needs or circumstances, instincts and experiences. The message from adults is, You must behave in a certain way because I have the power and I tell you to do it. The obedience model says, Here is the list of what you can and cannot do. The responsibility model tells children, I believe you know what is right and wrong and can do better. I will help you respect others and take responsibility for your choices.

The Obedience Model

Obedience develops behavior motivated by an external locus of control instead of an internal conscience. If a student’s primary goal is to avoid being caught and getting in trouble, this can motivate him to hide or lie about his behavior.  If caught, he may blame it on someone else or try to get even with the enforcer. This creates an adversarial and disrespectful environment that damages the single most important factor for a safe and effective school climate: positive relationships among members.

Obedience may tempt teachers and parents with:

  • The power of an absolute authority.
  • A sense that they have the power and control over their children.
  • A predetermined comprehensive list of rules and matching punishments.
  • Some hope of keeping children “in line.”
  • And the most alluring of all–compliance.

But a focus on obedience also leads to children who:

  • Lack emotional maturity and self-discipline.
  • Cannot own up to their choices and fix the messes they make.
  • Are not able to think critically or problem solve and make decisions.
  • Feel powerless and frustrated.
  • Withdraw or “act out.”
  • Blame others for their behavior.
  • Engage in power struggles.
  • And the last thing we want to promote: act in aggressive ways – covertly and overtly.

The Rights and Responsibility Model

Compare this to another message that is communicated to students: We respect you as an individual with basic needs and hopes, and we believe you have or can develop the skills to make constructive choices. We understand the context of your life and will hold you to a high standard while we guide you to being successful.

Such a climate, based on rights and responsibilities, offers teachers:

  • Healthy relationships with students.
  • Satisfying interactions and more time to teach.
  • Less frustration and more success with handling misbehavior.
  • A redefinition of their role from warden to mentor.
  • A sharing of power.
  • Steady progress toward accomplishing meaningful goals.
  • The chance to take discipline off the top of their list of concerns.

And it leads to students and eventually to citizens who:

  • Are motivated from within.
  • Have a sense of right and wrong.
  • Are critical and creative problem-solvers who make healthy choices.
  • Work toward the good of the community.
  • Are not afraid to take the emotional and intellectual risks needed to learn.
  • Recognize and respect the rights of others.
  • Act ethically.
  • Stand up for what they believe is right.
  • Take responsibility and fix any messes they make.

The rights and responsibilities approach asks students to develop the rules together. They discuss how they should behave in the classroom and school in order for everyone to get along, feel safe, and have an opportunity to learn. They can describe what the perfect classroom would be like and use that as the basis of a code of conduct. Students then come together to see the rationale behind behavior guidelines and understand the cause and effect of their actions.

When a child breaks a rule or code of conduct, we keep the focus on building the child’s self-control and remember that we are there to teach. We want them to develop an internal guidance system, and not to behave well just because we are watching. We can ask them to apply the New Golden Rule of Empathy – Do unto others as they would like you to do unto  them – when they find themselves in a challenging situation. And rather than imposing punishment, we use a verbal or written behavior plan that teaches problem solving and builds character by asking these questions:

  1. What behavior got you here?
  2. Why was that behavior a problem?
  3. What could you choose to do instead next time?
  4. How will you make amends for your behavior now?

With this type of positive discipline, children learn that:

  • Adults do care about them and want them to do well.
  • Everyone shares the same basic human rights.
  • Rules define how they should behave in a learning community.
  • What they say and do is who they are.
  • They have the personal power and responsibility to make good choices.
  • If they cause of problem, they have to fix it.