It’s just cruelly ironic. Me, an avid gardener who loves nature to the nth degree and gardens indoors and out all year long should be struck down these last two weeks by allergies. I mean really stuck down. My doctor advised me to stay indoors with the windows closed . Right. It’s June and I’m not supposed to go outside. I’ve noticed when I do go outside, I pay a heavy price- I can barely breath after a while, but the garden looks great. Oh well. OK now that I’ve had a chance to rant on how unfair things are (don’t I just sound like teenagers at school-it’s not fair, it’s not fair. ) I want to turn to the topic at hand: 911 for kids who bully.
Bullying behaviour needs to be stopped. That’s definitely a no brainer. Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend a two hour workshop after school sponsored by the board’s Anti Bullying Collaborative Network. I say that I was fortunate enough to attend because it was well worth the effort of dragging myself to another school to attend the two hour workshop after my day in the classroom. I was tired before the workshop started, but absolutely energized after it. I ‘d rate this workshop a a ten out of ten because it was practical, informative and engaging. It never hurts to be practical, informative and engaging. The meeting delivered what it promised. it promised we would
explore ways in which to respond to bullying incidents when they happen in our schools. We will consider how schools can work with all three players in bullying incidents (the bully, the bullied, and the bystander) to have positive, learning-based outcomes for all. Hear from guest speakers, learn about resources, and network with other schools as you work to develop your school’s comprehensive anti-bullying program
That’s exactly what happened. We heard from guest speakers, learned about resources and networked with teachers from different schools. It was great. Now, I attend a lot of professional development sessions throughout the year. Some I volunteer to attend and some are laid on, and I have to attend. You’d think by now after 20+ years of teaching, I’d be professionally developed enough. But you know, there’s always something new to learn. So much has changed. No make that so much more has been added to the art and science of teaching since I graduated. Of course, curriculum has over the years and we need to be on top of those changes. It’s amazing. Now of course, not all the PD sessions I attend capture my imagination, but I make it a point to keep an open mind and try to take away at least one thing useful from them. That seems to work for me. What I’ve noticed about the professional development sessions I volunteer to attend is that the other teachers who also volunteer to attend are usually so positive. The vibes are good at these sessions. Sometimes I think that the positive vibes that I get from these sessions are more important than what I actually learn. Those positive vibes energize me, and I go back to my classroom with renewed optimism.
It’s easy to get discouraged as a teacher when you teach at-risk kids. They aren’t winning the scholarships and the medals like the gifted kids do. Our school is a regional centre for the gifted and these kids are winning medals all the time for local, provincial, national and even internation competions in the music, sports, marketing, drama, math, science etc. It’s absolutely amazing. Of course the teachers of these students can take pride in the part they’ve played in helping the kids be so successful, and of course some of the glow from the student’s accomplishments rubs off on them. The kids I teach don’t win gold medals in anything. There’s no glow to rub off.
If I could, I would give each one of those at-risk kids who graduated a gold medal for graduating because they had to overcome so many hurdles to do that. Granted some of the hurdles are of their own making , but not all. Some kids have the bad luck to be born into dysfunctional families. Other kids have the bad luck to be born with a brain that is wired in such a way that is makes it difficult for them to do well in school. Some kids have just made poor choices because they are are kids and don’t know any better. When I see students of mine cross the stage at commencement to receive their diploma, I applaud wildly because I feel that by earning their graduation diploma, they have earned the equivalent of an Olympic gold medal. I’ll never forget the student that cameto me after commencement ceremonies a few years age and told me that half of his graduation diploma belonged to me because I helped him so much during his four years at school. That’s when I glowed.
Wait a minute. I just realized I’m off topic. Gee what a surprise! OK, let me get back to the topic of kids who exhibit bullying behaviour. Notice, I’m trying not use the label bully to identify someone who bullies. I’m trying to make the distinction between the person and his bullying behavior. Why? Well, labeling a kid a bully instead of labeling his behaviour as bullying behaviour affects how people treat him. People see the label and not the person making it more difficult to see that the bullying behaviour is only one aspect of that person and does not define him totally. If we give a kid the label of bully, then people only see that part of him that exhibits the bullying behaviour. We are all multi-dimensional. Kids who bully other kids are no different. I don’t think what I’m trying to do here is just a matter of semantics. If all we see is that label, then we will only treat him as a bully. Goethe, the German Poet and Novelist who lived from 1749-1882 said
Treat a man as he is
and he will remain as he is
Treat a man as he can be
and he will become
as he can and should be
I’d like to change that slightly to
Treat a kid as you see him
and he will become that
Treat a kid as he can be
and he will become
as he can and should be
I don’t know if I’ve made my point, but I’ve noticed over the years when students are labeled “bad” and identify themselves as bad they act bad. It’s a vicious circle. Bad begets bad. They seem themselves as bad, and so they are bad. The vicious circle needs to be broken.
I want to talk about helping students who exhibit bullying behaviour not just labelling them Yes, I did say help bullies. I believe that we need to help kids stop their bullying behaviour out of respect for them as people. If we don’t help them unlearn their bullying behaviour, their prospects for a happy life are slim. Yes, bullying is a learned behaviour and because it is learned, it can be unlearned. We and by we, I mean parents, schools, and the community at large need to help kids unlearn that bullying behaviour. We want all kids to grow up up to be adults who have satisfying inter-personal relationships. We want all kids to grow up to be adults who can keep jobs and not lose them due to bullying behaviour. We want all kids to grow up to be adults who do not end up in jail because of their bullying behaviour. It’s not about blaming kids for their bullying behaviour. It’s about teaching them new more appropriate ways they can utilize to get their needs met – new ways that respect other people and themselves.
Let’s look at who exhibits bullying behaviour and where and how he learns that behaviour. I’m using “he” through out this podcast just for simplicity sake. Girls and women also exhibit bullying behavour. So when I say he , know that I mean he and she. I just want to make that clear. You know how they say you can’t tell a book by it’s cover. Well, you can’t tell a person who bullies by his cover either. You need to look at his behaviour. So what does bullying behaviour look like? I’ve read a number of different definitions but I like Barbara Coloroso’s definition the best. She says bullying behaviour “is a conscious willful, and deliberate hostile activity intended to harm, induce fear through threat of further aggression, and create terror”. Her book The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander was very useful in helping me understand bullying behaviour more fully. I’ve used her book as one of the resources in preparing this podcast. Coincidentally, the workshop on anti-bullying behaviour that I attended recently and rated so highly was based on her work too. I highly recommend The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander.
I’ve found that when kids are caught in the act of bullying, more often than not they’ll insist that they were only teasing. ” Miss, I was only teasing, or Miss, we were just fooling around . We’re really friends.” How can you tell the difference between playful teasing and taunting or bullying? That’s sometimes hard to do, especially if you don’t know the kids, and with over 1700 kids at our school, how many kids am I going to know? I need some criteria to help me decide quickly whether the behaviour is teasing or bullying. I let this be my guide: attacks about race, religion, physical attributes, gender, or mental ability are definately not teasing and are bullying. Friends, when they tease each other in that good natured way friends sometimes do, don’t show the contempt a bully will when he taunts his victim. Friends don’t intend to humiliate or demean each other. Their motive is not sinister.
So if bullying behaviour is learned, how do kids learn it? Let me just say here before I forget that although bullying behaviour is a learned behaviour , inborn temperament plays a role as well. We mustn’t forget that. Environmental influences combine with temperament to encourage bullying behaviour, or at least permit it. Look at the violence that is glorified in the movies and on television. Listen to the lyrics of some of the most popular music kids listen to that is so disrespectful to certain groups of people. I talk to the kids about this,but they tell me it’s just words Miss. It doesn’t really mean anything. They don’t realize that they are being brainwashed to accept violence and disrespectful behaviour as the norm. They gradually learn that intimidation and violent behaviour gets you what you want, especially if no one shows them more appropriate ways to meet their needs.
Barbara Coloroso believes that kids who bully do so out of contempt, not anger or even conflict. I agree with her. I see that in my classroom. Some of the lyrics that are so popular with my student’s foster contempt-that feeling” of dislike toward somebody considered to be worthess, inferior, or undeserving of respect” . This mistaken thinking encourages them to feel a a sense of entitlement the right to control and abuse another person. Some of my students are so intolerant of differences and see different as inferior and not worthy of respect. These students feel justified in treating people who are different with contempt. They think they have the right to act disrespectfully and will often exclude or isolate other kids because they are not “worthy”.
How are we going to help kids who bully. More importantly, why should we even think about helping them? Studies have shown that kids who bully often grow up to be adults who bully. They have dysfunctional families. They have higher divorce rates. They have more difficulty maintain jobs. They end up being incarcerated more. They fail to live up to their potential. OK, I can imagine that some people couldn’t care less about the happiness of people who bully or even care whether people who bully live up to their potential. But think about this. Bullying behaviour costs the taxpayers money. Families that break down because of bullying behaviour need and get financial support from taxpayers. People who can’t keep a job because of their bullying behaviour also need and get financial support from taxpayers. People who end up incarcerated also cost the taxpayers huge sums of money to keep them there. So even if you don’t care about the happiness of a person who bullies or about the fact that it’s such a waste of human potential when someone doesn’t become what he could and should become, you might care about all the money that bullying behaviour costs you, a taxpayer and because of that take an interest in helping stop bullying behaviour.
How do we stop the bullying behaviour. Traditional intervention strategies haven’t been all that effective. I’ve been disappointed to learn while researching the topic of bullying for my series on bullying, traditional interventions are only about 15% effective on average. We need a new approach, one that involves parents, schools, and the community. It will definitely take the entire village to reduce bullying behaviour. I believe that we need to reculture schools before the bullying behaviour can stop. No, just a minute. Actually, what I really think is that we need to reculture society before the bullying behaviour stops. I think we can start by including character education tn the school curriculum. Some schools in my board have done that and have been very sucessful in changing the climate of their school and drastically reducing the amount of bully behaviour that goes on. One of the outcomes of this is that students are learning more than before. When kids are stressed out because of bullying or the fear of bullying they cannot concentrate on their studies. When they feel more secure they can. The provincial literacy test scores improved re markedly after a few years of character education and the reculturing of the schools. Kids were able to live up to their potential and do better on the provincial tests. That’s a good side effect of the decrease in bullying behaviour.
I’m going to do more research on the topic of character education and report back to you my findings in a future podcast. For now I just want to reiterate that I believe that out of respect for persons, we need to help people who bully find other more positive ways to meet their needs and enable them to live happy fulfilled lives . If however you don’t think that should be our goal and you think I’m one of those bleeding heart liberals, then think about respecting your pocket book and think of the increasing financial costs to taxpayers because people continue to bully and don’t live up to their potential so they can contribute to society in a more positive way. That’s the way I see it.