I think it’s time we revisit an important subject: School Bullying   Leave a comment

It’s a topic ALL schools think about. Some folks might find it hard to believe but even before Columbine, it’s something schools have been trying to minimize for decades. I think it would be fair to say the explosion of school violence in America during the late 1990s was the tipping point. I know simplifying the chain of events from a troubled young person with access to weapons who is bullied to their decision to respond with violence is often characterized a certain way by the media but it’s never that “simple”.

As I’ve said in past blogs and YouTube videos I was bullied as a kid and teenager. I’ve been bullied as an adult, yes but I want to keep the focus on how bullying affects children and teens. First, let me back up a second and explain two things. The first is unlike my past blogs and videos on the subject nothing has recently happened that led me to talk about this now. Second, I think it’s an important topic for those who either don’t have experience with bullying, are in the Education profession, have children or a combination of all three.

First, I want to say something to those who have little to no experience actually working with children in a school: Speaking for all of the school communities I’ve been a part of over the last 10 years (including the schools I worked in when I was in City Year), I don’t think I’m wrong when I say ALL schools take reports of bullying either at school, on the bus or on school sponsored field trips very seriously. There seems to be a growing belief by many outside education–and even some inside the education industry–that schools today aren’t  doing enough to address “the problem”. At the same time, there is another camp that believes gun violence is so deeply engrained in American culture it’s impossible to really be free of bullying and/or violence.

Both viewpoints are wrong and I’ll tell you why.

First, kids are human. They’re still trying to figure out their emotions let alone everything else. As educators, caregivers and beyond it is our duty to help them understand what they’re feeling, why they feel the way they do and help them express their feelings in a way and place that is healthy and safe for them and those around them. The key is actually making the time to do it. This is something that is often talked about at the Mission Hill School where I work. If you’re going to do something, you need to make the time to see it through. The first step is making the time to sit down and have those difficult conversations, preferably long before an incident occurs to necessitate the conversation.

As for the second viewpoint, the conversation needs to shift from impossible to what is possible. For starters, how many families, classrooms and/or school communities are talking about it? It’s not enough to say “this is not okay”. We also need to say why we feel it’s unacceptible for a Second Grader to be playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Call of Duty Ghosts and Grand Theft Auto V along with why these and other similar games have the Mature rating. For those who don’t know, that’s the equivalent of the R-rating for movies. One feature added a few years ago to The Entetainment Software Rating Board’s website–or ESRB for short–is the ability to look up games and see why exactly every game gets their particular rating.

I’ve linked you to the ratings for those three games in particular not just because they were all released in the last few weeks and are very popular but because of the depictions of violence in all three games most families would not knowingly expose their children to had they known in advance. Most families really don’t know what is in some of the games they buy for their children and as someone who’s bought video games over the last 14 years, you won’t get much help from the box or the video game industry (other than the usual jargon about their games not being marketed to younger audiences) when it comes to the question “is this game ok for my child?” and by ok parents mean “is there anything in this game I don’t want my child to be exposed to?” To their credit, the ESRB’s website goes above and beyond in explaining what exactly is in many popular games. It’s really up to families to be vigilant about what kinds of things they want their children to be exposed to.

Having answered both extremes in detail and within reason, I’ll sidestep the various causes of bullying for now and instead talk about how the Mission Hill School addresses a few instances of bullying. As for why I’m sidestepping the causes right now, I want to give that a separate conversation because of the numberous factors that may or may not be involved. The reason I’ve chosen to talk about how the Mission Hill School addresses bullying is because I feel it’s something that can be implemented not just at any other school but in at home, too.

First, the two parties meet with an adult who facilitates the conversation. They discuss what happened, and what steps can be taken to either avoid or stop the undesired behavior. Next, the class community(ies) the students belong to hold a meeting to discuss what happened mediated by an adult, usually a classroom teacher. This isn’t a time to put the offender’s feet over the fire. It’s  a time to talk about why what happened had happened and how the offender’s actions hurt the community. Finally, the community help the offender come up with steps to avoid landing in the same kind of trouble again. If they are unable to come up with an action plan at that first meeting they can revisit the conversation at a later time.

Involving the class community it not only important but it’s also powerful. It shows both the offender and the offended they are valued by their peers as members of the class and school community. It also shows the community they have a say in how both parties fit in the community.

Kids are not adults. They can’t process things the same way (most) adults can. That’s why it is out duty as educators and families to help the understand the world around them. When there is reported undsired contact between two students, the offended student needs to tell the offending student about the contact and how it made them feel. Even if it was an accident (and in most cases no harm was intended) it’s important both of them understand that. This speaks to the belief at Mission Hill that when two sides have a dispute–student, adult or a combination of the two–they talk about it until it’s been a resolved in a way that is satisfying for both sides. usually a hug, handshake or high-five.

Believe it or not this IS possible. I’ve seen it done with 3-year olds. The key is making the time to do it and making it a part of your daily routine. Two of the main reasons disputes happen are a lack of a willingness to try to understand one another and a lack of a willingness to try make the time to understand one another. If everyone took the time to try one they will automatically get the other.

As a whole, the Mission Hill School has two rules: Be Kind and Work Hard. Generally speaking, everything you can think of falls in one of those two categories. Anyone can be kind and anyone can work hard.

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