Bullying Prevention Month
October is Bullying Prevention Month
By Jill Strong, Mentor & Second Steps Specialist
During my time in the educational system, both as a student and an educator, I have witnessed a change in the way bullying has been viewed by school administrators, teachers, parents, and children. I can recall a time when I was much younger, and bullying behaviors at school were handled with a “kids-will-be-kids” attitude, usually resulting in small consequences or more often than not, outright dismissal of bullying complaints. However, we now know that bullying is a much more serious problem than just kids teasing each other. It can lead those who have been bullied to feel ostracized, which can manifest in serious mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.
Over the last two years working with CHADS Coalition, I have had the opportunity to work with students in schools that were struggling to get ahead of their bullying problems. I have seen amazing examples of these schools turning things around and making their schools feel safe for students. How has this been accomplished? I feel the answer is empathy. Empathy means to understand how others are feeling. It seems simple enough, but this skill is often an abstract concept to many children. Once a child is introduced to the idea that everyone has feelings and that they can be the same or different than their own, the child is then able to understand how their behaviors affect others. A child that understands empathy is able to put themselves in someone else’s position and then make decisions based on how that person would feel. For example, I recently had a teacher tell me that a boy in her class had called a girl “fat” in the middle of class time. Before she had a chance to say something, three girls in the classroom immediately came to her defense and told the boy that what he said is not kind and that he needed to apologize. The teacher pointed out that in the past, the class would have just laughed along with the boy and then gone about their business. As a result, not only would the girl have been called a name, but she would also have been laughed at by her whole class. Instead, she felt supported and empowered and was able to shrug off the comment without much thought. Another classroom has decided to demonstrate empathy by holding up their hands in the shape of a heart every time they hear an ambulance or police siren outside. By doing this, they are recognizing that someone is having a hard time and that they can send out positive vibes and thoughts to them. These changes in behavior may seem small, but over time, they change the culture of the classroom and eventually the school.
Examples like these are why I am so honored to have the opportunity to teach the Second Steps Learning curriculum in schools around St. Louis. Second Steps was purchased by CHADS Coalition and is a comprehensive social emotional learning curriculum that teaches empathy along with problem solving, emotional management, and skills for learning. All these skills are impactful in changing how the students think and interact with each other. It shifts the notion of bullying being harmless to recognizing the need to stand up for victims and end bullying in schools and communities.
By Joan Hereford, Program Development Specialist
As a high school teacher for the past thirty years, I have witnessed the impact of bullying in schools and how intervention can make a difference. One of the first incidences occurred early on in my career. I had a 9th grade student who was always late to my 7th period class. When pressed for a reason he would always make excuses. John was less socially mature than his classmates and he didn’t seem to have any friends. After many days of being tardy to 7th period John finally told me that there was a group of freshman boys that waited for him and taunted him as he walked to 7th period every day. This was in the early 1990s before there were bullying policies in place. We were in a large suburban school where the principals and counselors seemed overwhelmed and unable to solve this problem. It was up to me to find a solution. I turned to another student for help. Greg was a senior in my 7th hour AP Physics class. He was also the captain of the wrestling team who wrestled in the heaviest weight class. He was smart, popular, and kind. I talked to Greg about John and we made a deal with Greg’s 6th period teacher. Greg would leave 6th period early every day and pick up John at my door in order to walk with him to 7th period. After a few days of this, the transformation in John was stunning. He was still socially awkward and immature, but he was holding his head a bit higher and communicating better with his peers. Greg continued to walk John to class for the rest of that year. He started to assume the role of mentor to John as they talked on the way to class. Whenever I would thank Greg, he would just shrug it off and say that it was no big deal. I truly believe that Greg was a life changing influence for John. Greg helped John in several ways. First, Greg was able to use his presence to stop the bullying because of his social status in the school. At CHADS Coalition we teach that bullying happens when there is a perceived difference in power which gives the bully more power than his/her target. We have learned that many of the traditional ideas such as forcing both involved students to face each other and apologize is damaging to the targeted student because of that imbalance of power. Greg also focused his attention on John, showed him he cared, and tried to help. We now also teach students that the way to stop bullying is to focus on the student who is targeted and treat them with caring rather than watching or participating in the bullying. We teach students to turn from bystanders to “upstanders”. The way to stop bullying is to change the culture and climate of the school community so that the behavior of a bully is not supported by inaction and complacency.