Want to Stop Bullying? You Can’t Without These 4 Critical Steps.

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Students are tired of bullying awareness programs.

Students are tired of bullying awareness programs.

Every time I am in front of a gymnasium full of high school kids to speak about bullying prevention, I start with the following question: “How many of y’all were bummed when you heard this assembly was about bullying?”

Pretty much every hand goes up in the air. There’s nothing quite like facing 2,000 students who have just let you know that they have no interest in what you’re going to talk about. But after close to a decade in public speaking for students, I know exactly what I’m walking into when I deliver my presentation on The Bystander Effect.

Then I ask: “Real talk…how many of y’all believe after we’re done here today that nothing will change and it will be back to The Hunger Games by next week?”

This time many, of the hands are held high by students with pain in their eyes silently pleading, “Give me something that will make things easier”.

The Bystander Effect is a social phenomenon that refers to cases in which cases do not offer any help to a victim when other people are present.

The Bystander Effect is a social phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any help to a victim when other people are present.

Imagine being a student targeted by bullying behavior. Imagine that the only solutions offered by trusted adults are suggestions to “be nice to others” and to “speak up” about your situation.

Unfortunately, many schools end up deploying these types of superficial approaches when trying to combat bullying behavior. The question is, what are educators and parents to do to create more meaningful conversations and actionable plans around issues of bullying?

The conversations that are the most difficult to have are usually the ones that are needed the most.

The conversations that are the most difficult to have are usually the ones that are needed the most.

Starting The Conversation

In our Student UPstander Intervention Trainings, students write down what behaviors they have witnessed on campus and/or online that they would consider to be bullying. Participants also identify groups of students who may be targeted. I have worked with thousands of students across the country on this exercise and consistent patterns always emerge. These patterns demonstrate that bullying is not as simple as children being cruel.

Students’ ethnic, gender, racial, ability, body size, and other personal identities are often targeted. Incidents may be complicated by racism, sexism, classism, and hate. While too few adults possess the skills to openly discuss these kinds of hard to broach subjects, we often expect students to navigate these issues as best they can without providing them the critical tools necessary to promote civility.

The solution is an evidenced-based strategy that, if implemented properly, will positively influence beliefs and behaviors to change the culture of a school. A healthy school culture, where every student feels valued and connected, is the only way to truly prevent bullying behavior.

This type of behavior in our schools is much more common than people think.

Students’ lack of perspective on issues related to diversity is problematic and can cause conscious and unconscious biases to surface in dangerous ways.

1. Get Clear On Pro-Social Behavior 

It is critical that students understand what behaviors promote healthy relationships. Kids want to be shown a pathway to healthy relationships. As educators and parents, we want to guide students to become adults capable of developing authentic human connections and trust.

During UPstander training, students write down indicators of pro-social behavior. What are the action steps to healthy relationships?

This exercise always proves more challenging than identifying bullying behaviors. Students most often write down broad qualities such as:kindness, integrity, honesty, empathy, etc.

The language we have equipped them with is not specific enough to influence action. We must be crystal clear on high leverage behaviors that create civility.

What does being kind look like to a high school student?

What does it look like to be a person who speaks up?

What are the behaviors of a person who has integrity?

These behaviors can be as simple and specific as holding the door for others, expressing gratitude, celebrating others’ successes, or resolving conflicts without emotion.

We must get specific and help them identify behaviors that are easily recognizablereplicable, and accessible. 

This helps students to build a positive mental model. Civility and incivility are both contagious forces that either push communities towards or away from their collective brilliance.

Pro-Social Behaviors are contagious.

Pro-Social Behaviors are contagious.

2. Empowering Students

Many high school students don’t realize how critical they are as individuals to the social landscape of their school. Students wield incredible influence.

We need to be deliberate about empowering our students to use their influence for the good of their community and to remind them that greatness is not achieved alone.

One way to do this is through the power of choice. A group of Columbia University psychologists wrote in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences in 2010, “The need for control is a biological imperative.” When people believe they are in control, research shows that they work harder, are more resilient and push themselves more.

Rather than tell students what not to do, we provide them with the tools to confidently choose civility and respect over incivility and bullying. Students, like the rest of us, cherish autonomy and the freedom of choice.

Once students understand what bullying looks like and are clear on the high leverage pro-social behaviors that move communities away from it, they are ready to identify what social role they can best step into to build a culture of civility in their community.

3. Building a Framework for Engagement 

The final piece of our CivilSchools Student UPstander Intervention Training is where transformation happens. Research indicates that one of the most effective means of addressing bullying behavior is to engage bystanders to act as UPstanders when unhealthy behavior surfaces.

That can only happen when students possess the skills necessary to act with confidence and competence. Not every student is the same and each individual has personal strengths.

The CivilSchools methodology allows students to self assign how they personally are going to deploy pro-social behaviors to inspire acts of civility.

Students choose where they best fit from the following UPstander Roles (they can choose to fill single of multiple roles).

Social Normer-

The theory of Socio-dynamics states that only around 1/3 of a community determines what is considered to be socially acceptable behavior. Social Normers use pro-social behaviors to strategically inspire others to engage in healthy behavior.

This is a low risk social influence tactic where most kids can easily step into. These students may decide to smile more than their peers, acknowledge other people, be good listeners, hold doors for others, etc. These students make a conscious effort to model healthy behavior on campus and within the digital world with goal of influencing pro-social behavior in their peers.

Objective=Inspire acts of civility and respect through pro-social behaviors that are recognizablereplicable and accessible on campus and on-line.

Interrupter-

These students tend to have a little more social capital and are better at conflict resolution than most of their peers. They tend to be able to control their emotions and are creative thinkers. They are able to take the perspective of and recognize emotions in others.

These UPstanders recognize potentially unhealthy social situations and interrupt the behavior in the moment. They may strategically redirect the attention of a group or find away to deescalate the situation.

Objective-On the spot intervention or distraction of attention to stop or redirect behavior that could be unhealthy.

First Responders-

These students are dialed in to the emotional well being of others and possess a high level of empathic concern. They understand that we are all connected and that the health of their school ecosystem is best when all stake-holders feel safe and valued.

These students deliver positive feedback loops on-line and in person to those involved in unhealthy behavior. They not only deliver emotional first aide to those targeted but they can also provide reflective feedback to offer perspective to those engaging in bullying behavior.

We would not run a school without people certified to administer First-Aid/CPR. In the digital age we cannot send our kids to a school where people are not certified to administer Emotional First-Aid

We would not run a school without people certified to administer First-Aid/CPR. In the digital age we cannot send our kids to a school where people are not certified to administer Emotional First-Aid

These students remind their peers of the big picture and speak to people in a manner that appeals to their altruistic side. They understand the difference between empathy and sympathy and can stay out of judgement when responding to a situation.

Objective-Remind people involved/effected by unhealthy behavior that they matter and are valued by their community.

4. A Bias Towards Action

If we want students to cross over the chasm from being a bystander to acting as an UPstander, we must teach students how to take control of social situations and experience the fulfillment that comes with looking out for the well-being of others.

Students do not show up at school as natural born Upstanders, yet they all show up with the virtues to act as one.

Being able to positively influence social situations and inspire acts of civility is learned and is the product of a community effort.

So, PAHLEASSSSEEEEEE, next time you hear an educator suggest a bullying prevention assembly. Or hear an adult advise a student to simply “Be kind and Speak Up!” Enthusiastically send them this article.

Times are too complicated to let our students navigate these issues the same way most of us did. There are proven systems that work. CivilSchools offers one of those systems… this is not a cure all and there are plenty of other pieces to our CivilSchools program, however, this is a relatively quick and effective approach to building safer and healthier learning environments.

***

At the conclusion of every Student UPstander Intervention Training, we have students approach us, expressing that for the first time they have hope. They have hope because they were given the tools to prevent and respond to bullying behavior.

Not to sound cliche, but think of the kids and put this information into the hands of the people committed to serving them. If you need some guidance or would like to work with our team, please email me.

CivilSchools cofounder, Eric Thompson

CivilSchools cofounder, Eric Thompson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eric is available to help facilitate change in your school community. To book Eric as a speaker, please contact Director of Business Management and Outreach, Erin Frisby at  erin@civilschools.com

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UPstanders in Action: The HIVE at Woodstock Union High School

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I recently had the incredible opportunity to work with Woodstock Union High School in Woodstock, VT. My visit was organized and championed by a phenomenal young leader, a Woodstock student named Holli Olson. The goal was to empower more people in the community with the tools to be agents of positive change to prevent negative culture/climate and bullying.

These are the kinds of schools I most love to work with, communities where students are the drivers of positive social change. That’s not to say I don’t love it when the teachers or administration or parents are committed to building an inclusive community, but when students are working to improve their community, you really see powerful results.

In addition to a few assemblies that I led at Woodstock, we conducted a UPstander Intervention Training with students. During that training, some of the students were discussing what it would look like to change the social norms at Woodstock so that it were seen as more socially acceptable to be positive and uplifting rather than negative and mean. We discussed the need to get a critical mass of students on board, and we brainstormed what this kind of change could actually look like.

Jamie Utt with students from The Hive at Woodstock

Jamie Utt with students from The Hive at Woodstock

It was during this training that the students came up with the idea for The Hive at Woodstock. Hoping to combat some of the negativity they see on social media, they wanted to combat it directly by creating a positive social media presence. By having a positive, affirming presence both in person and online at the school, the students thought they might be able to actually make headway in building a more inclusive school environment.

Since my visit, I’d been checking in with some of the students about the work they’re doing, and it seems that they’ve been able to maintain some momentum, which is great.

Then this came across my social media the other day:

WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

It’s stories like that of The Hive at Woodstock that keeps us doing what we do at CivilSchools, knowing that we can empower communities with the simple tools they need to have a powerful impact.

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Talking #ICantBreathe at Work

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Howard Shultz, The CEO of Starbucks

Howard Shultz, The CEO of Starbucks

During the economic crisis it seemed the best guidance financial advisors were able to offer was to tell us American’s to “Give up your $5.00 daily Starbucks and save that money.” A Starbucks coffee cup was like the logo for excessive spending when excessive spending was not cool.

Very few executives have shown as much resilience as Howard Shultz, the CEO of Starbucks. As if the economic climate was not enough to deal with, Shultz has had to take on the NRA, and Anti-Gay Marriage activists and shareholders.

Now Shultz is encouraging Starbucks employees and partners to openly discuss taboo topics like racism in an open forum setting. 

 

quote_simon-sinek_100-of-customers-are-people-100-of-employees-are-people-if-you-don_t-understand-people-you-don_t-understand-business_us-1

Increasing profits is accomplished through influencing human behavior.

If you want people to care about the bottom line, you have to let them know that you care about them.

We have arrived at a time where leaders need to be an expert in both human and financial capital. Leaders must be proficient at inspiring collaboration and comfortable with relinquishing control. They must remember that they are not leading through hierarchy, but they are leveraging networks. To do all of this, leaders must understand how to synergize people through meaning and purpose rather than push numbers.

It’s Never Convenient 

Recently, my check engine light came on in my car, which sent me into a frustrating place. You know that place, the one where you throw yourself a pity party and focus all that is wrong in the world.

After I pulled myself out of my mini-funk, I knew I needed to make a choice. I could take it in to a mechanic and gather more information or ignore the light and hope for the best until a more convenient time.

Well, America, our check engine light is on. Fact is, it has been on for a while and most of us have chosen to ignore it.

Here is the deal, it is pretty clear that we can no longer avoid taking steps to eradicate racial injustice, so we better become more comfortable engaging in meaningful discussions around race and racism in our workplaces.

Most American’s grew up being told not to discuss Taboo subjects such as Race, Religion, Politics, and Money.

As a result, race relations are strained, our political system is broken, religion has stifled spirituality, and most people only know how to let money go rather than understand how to make it grow.

Denial is Racism Rebooted.

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.”  Biologist E.O. Wilson

Just because there is a national conversation on racism taking place, we can not assume that it is meaningful. One of the greatest gifts a leader can give to person is to make them feel understood.

When we fail to acknowledge the struggles of another person, we are not creating a safe space where they can fully invest their unique talents and gifts. If the recent events have taught us anything, it is that pretending that there is no problem is THE problem.

Regardless of a leader’s intentions, if they fail to inspire civil discourse around racially charged topics in the workplace, their silence sends a powerful message.

Screenshot 2014-12-18 14.48.46

Moving Beyond Tolerance

In leadership, you get what you tolerate…if your workplace is teaching tolerance, then you are tolerating mediocre results. We know that employee engagement, creativity, and productivity all increase in healthy and inclusive environments.

Tolerance is about surviving together, empathic concern allows organizations to thrive together.

This is not about expressing sympathy or casting judgment. Meaningful connections are fueled through empathy. Highly valuable leaders make the time and emotional investment to learn how others think and feel. They know how to listen with the intent to gain understanding (not exactly a strong suit for a lot of today’s leaders).

As a White male, I would not say that I am the best-qualified person to lead a thought provoking discussion on the American experience for marginalized people. However, I am sure being a part of one will challenge me to grow.

Let’s hope that other CEO’s follow in Mr. Shultz’s footsteps in an effort to let every person in this country feel like they matter.

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What is Making These Modern Day Gladiators Speechless?

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Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault are hard subjects for everyone to talk about.

Speechless

Speechless

 

However, unhealthy relationships can start early and last a lifetime.

 

If we are going to say “NO MORE” to Intimate Partner Violence we must teach our young people to Know More and stop treating this subject as taboo.

Research shows that programs that teach young people skills for building healthy dating relationships can prevent violence and promote healthy behaviors.

Here is a powerful evidence-based training that can help you prevent teen dating violence and create a safer future for your students.

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How to Tell If Your Child Is Bullying Others (And What to Do About It)

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When I was in middle school, I was bullied pretty badly, resulting in depression and even serious considerations of suicide.

I carried a lot of hurt and anger, and I didn’t deal with that in the healthiest of ways. It pains me to reflect upon how I transferred my hurt from bullying by mistreating younger kids and by being terrible to a few of my friends.

I was displacing my hurt onto others so that I didn’t have to carry it alone.

But despite the ways I treated some of my peers, I was never labeled a “bully.” That’s because I didn’t fit the “bully” profile: My grades were good; I had no history of discipline issues; I was well-loved by my teachers. Yet I was acting in much the same way as those kids who were labeled “bullies.”

In today’s schools, we see the same. Some students are identified as “bullies” or “problem students.” Yet when we’re honest, many of us at different times in our lives have been mean to someone in the regular and sustained way that would constitute bullying.

In truth, the label of “bully” is in no way useful when actually attempting to address the problem of bullying.

bullyinggirlssmallTo simply label some people “bullies” and some people “victims” with the rest of us as “bystanders,” we never actually deal with the root of why someone is exhibiting bullying behavior. It’s a cop-out.

Bullying is primarily a problem of power, and as such, it tends to have one of two roots: an internalized feeling of superiority in regard to another group or individual or feelings of insecurity and hurt that lead one to lash out at others.

In either case, bullying has a measurable root that we can address. If we’re concerned that our child is being a “bully,” it’s best to start with the question, “Why?”

And in recognizing the roots of bullying behavior, we open the door to actually understanding the nature of bullying, which helps us to understand when our kids may be mistreating others and how to prevent bullying in general.

How to Identify If Your Child Is Demonstrating Bullying Behavior

In designing a comprehensive bullying prevention and intervention program for parents atCivilSchools, we compiled research that identifies seven patterns that could be indicative of bullying behavior in a young person.

(Please note that no single pattern listed below necessarily means your child is demonstrating bullying behavior. These are just a guide for considering whether you should intervene if you’re concerned.)

Sign 1: A Pattern of Abnormally Angry or Aggressive Behavior

Few children or adolescents are angry or aggressive as a status quo, so if you start to see a lot of aggression or anger, it’s coming from somewhere. Plus, if you’re seeing it, there’s a good chance it’s being directed at others in bullying behavior.

Sign 2: A Pattern of Depressed, Sullen, or Sad Behavior

Notably, this is also one of the signs that a student might be experiencing bullying, but when a student falls into a pattern of depression or sadness (as I did when being bullied in middle school), they might choose to pass that burden along to others through mean behavior or bullying.

Sign 3: Regularly Throws a Fit When They Don’t Get Their Way

Any parent knows that children go through a phase of lashing out when things don’t go their way, but if this is persistent, there’s a good chance that they are lashing out at other children to try to control outcomes. Some students fall into a pattern of intimidating other children into going along with their will.

Sign 4: A Vocalized Prejudice Toward Particular Identities or Groups of People

Bullying is a problem of power. When we understand this, we can be on the lookout for language that serves to assert this power by oppressing or hurting other identities.

For instance, if your child talks disparagingly or makes jokes about, say, “the fat kids” or “the nerds” or whatever it might be, there’s a chance they are taking out this expressed disdain through bullying. It seems obvious, but it’s important to intervene whenever we hear this type of language.

Sign 5: Demonstrates a Clear Lack of Empathy

Empathy is a skill that we learn and must develop and maintain. We should not assume that our ability to express empathy is simply innate.

When students regularly demonstrate an inability to put themselves in others’ shoes and consider the impact of their words or actions, that might be a sign that they’re demonstrating bullying behavior.

Sign 6: A Pattern of Discipline Problems

Let me start by saying that this particular sign is fraught because of how our schools dole out “discipline” in tremendously problematic ways. Certain students (such as Black or Latinx students and LGBTQIA+ youth of Color) are more likely to receive harsh discipline for the same infractions as other students (such as White or Cis- and Straight peers respectively). Thus, this consideration ought to be taken with a grain of salt.

However, if you do notice a history of discipline infractions for more than just, say, disrupting class, this is something to investigate further, as it might be a sign that they are demonstrating bullying behavior.

Sign 7: A Preoccupation with Popularity or Social Status

Bullying is rooted in power imbalance within our communities, and popularity is, at its root, a construction of power. Not all people who are “popular” bully others, but a preoccupation with being popular or with achieving higher social status can lend itself to bullying behavior.

All of this begs the question, though: If I suspect that my kid is bullying others, what should I do?

How to Intervene If Your Child Is Bullying Others

A lot of parents who know or suspect that their student is demonstrating bullying behavior feel helpless. They’ve been told that bullying is an endemic problem that will never be solved, and now their kid has been labeled with that terrifying label of “bully.”

Fortunately, there’s a lot that you can do to stop bullying behavior and help your school community create an environment free of bullying.

1. Explain why this particular behavior is unacceptable.

In this conversation, try to be as specific as possible. If your student is bullying others using sexist or ableist language, or targeting another student for their skin color or sexual identity,take the time to explain precisely why this behavior is not acceptable in your family.

Part of this, then, means that you must…

2. Discuss your values with your child.

Explain to them why your family values inclusiveness and diversity. Ask them to name their own values and how they feel like the behavior in question aligns with their values.

It’s important to stress that one of the most important parts of being human is cultivating a set of values and then striving to live up to those values. It can help to talk to them about some of the ways that you fall short of living into your values, as it can provide a model for them to work to be better.

3. Get to the root of the behavior.

As noted above, most bullying behavior stems from a feeling of superiority toward other students and/or a feeling of hurt and insecurity. By trying to understand why your student is acting this way, you can help them work through the feelings or hurts that are leading to them treating others poorly.

In this conversation, you may realize that they’re being bullied or mistreated in another area of their life or that they’ve really internalized some problematic messages about other groups of people that you will want to work on with them.

4. Avoid relying solely on punitive measures.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t offer some sort of punishment or consequence for their behavior, but if we rely solely on punishing away bullying behavior, we won’t ever solve the problem.

Simply put, because of the development of their pre-frontal cortex, young people tend not to make clear connections between a behavior and the punishment or consequence they will receive. Instead, we need to activate consideration of the values you’ve instilled in them over their lives because it will appeal to the more developed parts of the brain that rely on pattern.

Steps You Must Take

Beyond identifying when our child is bullying others and talking to them, there are some simple, concrete steps that we as parents or guardians must take if we want to play our part in ending bullying behavior in our community.

After all, teachers, administrators, and students can only do so much. They need us as parents to take an active role in building more inclusive school environments.

1. Rely on your community.

As you seek to solve this problem, remember that you are not alone. Lots of parents are struggling with this issue, and there are likely a number of people who want to support you and your child in ensuring more inclusive behavior!

Identify people who you can rely on that your student trusts. Is there a teacher that your child really trusts with whom you have a relationship? Is there an aunt or uncle who connects well with your kid? Are there other, mature kids that your child hangs out with who you can engage?

Identify your allies and engage them in helping your child live up to their values. Have that aunt or uncle or teacher reach out to your students and talk to them as well. Activate those youth allies who can help your young person make good decisions. That old saying “It takes a village to raise a child” definitely applies in preventing bullying behavior.

Additionally, most schools want and need parent allies in ending bullying behavior. Reach out to a teacher or administrator or other staff person that you can trust and let them know that you’re aware of some of your child’s behavior. Let them know that you want to work with them to create an inclusive school environment.

2. Have the courage to self-reflect.

One of the toughest issues to overcoming bullying is when parents aren’t willing to do the tough work of self-reflecting about where the behavior might have been learned.

Let’s face it: We don’t always demonstrate well the kind of behavior we want to see in our kids, and bullying behavior is learned. Thus, one of the hardest but most important things we can do is to ask ourselves what we could do to better demonstrate the struggle to live into our values.

Consider whether your language about other people — or even yourself — demonstrates your values. Have we made some off-handed comments about “those people?” How might talking badly about our own bodies impact how our students talk to kids with different body shapes and sizes than themselves?

If we’re going to call upon our children to reflect on their own behavior, we must also be willing to do the same.

Maybe we will come to the conclusion that we are always demonstrating how we want them to treat their peers. More likely, though, we will find ways that we could do a better job of demonstrating the kind of behavior we want to see in our kids.

And that realization can be a powerful one for our own growth and for that of the children we love so dearly.

***

Something that’s easy to forget is that bullying is entirely preventable. Don’t listen to those who tell you, “Bullying has always been around. There’s nothing we can do! Kids will be kids!”

Bullying ends when we work together in community to address the root causes of bullying behavior, and some of the most central stakeholders in that work are the parents of our communities.

By taking ownership for this problem and by being proactive, we can help to ensure that every single student feels fully supported in who they are and that no student has to endure the pain and self-hate that can come from bullying.

We simply must realize the power we have to make this needed change.

Originally published at Everyday Feminism.

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How to help “At Risk” Kids Succeed in Life.

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Al Pacino delivers a powerful and inspiration speech in this scene from "Any Given Sunday". Image courtesy of Pauseforclarity.com

Al Pacino delivers a powerful and inspiration speech in this scene from “Any Given Sunday”. Image courtesy of Pauseforclarity.com

Recently, I was asked to speak at a leadership event for student athletes. A prominent political figure in our area was scheduled to speak prior to me on the importance of the pursuit of academic excellence.

I was excited to hear this individual drop some knowledge on these kids and inspire them to greatness. I was hoping he would go all Al Pacino from Any Given Sunday and spit out some powerful metaphors and personal stories that would move the needle in all of our lives.

**Mini-lesson** 
High School Students love this clip, have them interpret the meaning in a writing exercise.

Unfortunately, he went all Ben Stein and started dropping statistics about how difficult it was to earn an athletic scholarship for college. He then essentially proceeded to explain to them how to forget about becoming a professional athlete because the odds were stacked against them.

All I could think after hearing him speak was…

“You had ONE job to do!”

Self Doubt Kills Ability

The quickest way to stifle a student’s development is to set limitations on what they believe to be possible. Or as the French artist Edgar Degas articulated, Self doubt kills ability.”

Now before you start referring to me as Captain Optimism (I would probably find that flattering, I could go by Captain O, for short…never mind, that sounds like a SNL skit), I do believe a healthy dose of reality is good for children when placed in the proper context. However, when talking to young people about their hopes and dreams, we must understand the weight our words carry.

I am probably more sensitive to this type of stuff because I was labeled by educational leaders as an “at risk youth” and was told more times than I can remember that I need a “back up plan” if and when I failed to achieve my dreams. I still remember standing in front of my 4th grade class being told by the teacher that “professional athlete” was not a realistic vocation to choose for the upcoming career report because only a gifted few make it that far.

Here I was, a latchkey kid who was struggling in school, my parents were going through an ugly divorce, my older brother had just ran away from home, and I was surrounded by adults who wanted to teach me about “realism.” Being that I walked by drug dealers and sex workers on my way to an empty apartment, only to boil some Top Ramen for myself for dinner, I think I had “realism” figured out.

I served myself a healthy dose of “reality” every night. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The ONLY thing I had in my life was baseball; I did not understand why the adults in my life were not leveraging my enthusiasm for this game which gave me purpose. Instead, they treated it as a negotiation tool. I know they all had my best interests in mind, and I am sure this elected official had noble intentions as well. However, if we are going to have a shot of preparing our young people for the complex global issues that await them, we need to think critically about the language we use.

3 Practical Approaches to Positively Influencing Youth in High Risk Situations. 

See what I did there?

You are not dealing with “high risk” children. It pisses them off when they hear that…good luck earning your way into their circle of trust with that mindset! 

You are serving children dealing with “high risk situations,” often times due to circumstances outside of their control. [Read more...]

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Major Bullying Prevention Myth Debunked & Quick Lesson That Will Build Empathy In Students

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Comic Courtesy of Bob & Tom Thaves

Comic Courtesy of Bob & Tom Thaves

Here is the deal…if your school’s approach to bullying prevention is through the enforcement of a zero tolerance policy, it sucks.

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The concept sounds good, but it is no doubt the path of least resistance. It does nothing to foster a healthy learning environment and build a safe and civil school climate. Punitive approaches to bullying prevention fail the entire community.

Research conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) task force has concluded that schools with zero tolerance policies in place have:

  • Higher Incidents of Bullying
  • Lower Ratings on School Climate Surveys
  • More Suspensions and Expulsions
  • Lower Overall Academic Achievement
  • Higher Drop Out Rates and Failure to Graduate on Time.

This research was published over 5 years ago and there are still school leaders who deploy a “set it and forget it” zero tolerance bullying prevention policy.

So in the infamous words of Biggie Smalls, “And if you don’t know, now you know”.

Image created by Airmagination

Image created by Airmagination

Effective school leaders focus on inspiring pro-social behavior rather than managing misbehavior. Preventing incidents of bullying behavior takes strategic thinking by a leader ready to serve their way to influence rather than to power or coerce their way to it. School’s that experience a large number of bullying incidents have a leadership problem, not a bullying problem.

From Survival Zone to Performance Zone

Now, building a culture of civility is much more complicated, and it requires that all-stake holders regularly engage in behaviors that benefit the entire community.  That is a tall order because you are asking parents, teachers, and students to develop some new habits.

The good news is that they will do it if shown how! After all, keeping children safe is a HUGE motivator. This is your magic point of ALIGNMENT…everybody in the school community, parents, teachers, and students all want to feel safe.

Awareness efforts are not enough. As legendary basketball coach John Wooden articulated, “Don’t mistake activity for achievement”.  

Image Courtesy of Championship Basketball School

Mini-Lesson for Educators

At CivilSchools our curriculum is packed with activities that will foster empathy and perspective taking in all stakeholders. We know when able-minded students, parents, and teachers take time to develop mentalization abilities, (thinking about thinking) that incidents of bullying are significantly reduced.

The Internet loves videos of people standing up to or speaking out to a bully.  We all love a good underdog story. A lot of good can come from these stories.

However, these “speak up” type videos can be problematic because they put the onus on the target, and the reality is that many of the students targeted do not possess the skills or mental capacity required to articulate how they feel or ask for help.  We all know plenty of adults who struggle with asking others for help; why should we expect children to be proficient at it?

Schools that successfully build a safe and bullying-free learning environment do it through the power of community.

Watching this video and celebrating this young man’s courage is a great activity, but it will fall short of leading measurable change that increases student achievement and retention. As professionals and parents committed to preparing our young people for the complexities they face, we must dig deeper and leverage the power of resources like this video to build a healthier community.

Videos like this create great opportunities (vicarious experiences) to get kids and adults to reflect and foster empathy.

Growth does not come through an experience of itself, it comes through the reflection of an experience.

Questions for educators after they watch this video.

  • What are the signs of a child who feels alienated?
  • What type of environment was created during this P.E. class that inspired inconsiderate behavior?
  • How could the teacher have handled the hecklers?
  • Why are this child’s peers failing to engage in UPstander behavior?
  • What skills (that will work for him) can we try and teach this child that will help him better navigate the social complexities he is facing?
  • What could the teacher have said/done at the end that would have strengthened the sense of community?
  • How could the teacher have influenced Jake’s peers to publicly/privately celebrate Jake’s courage?

Written or verbal questions for students after they watch this video.

  • What could have happened to make Jake feel this way?
  • What was good about how Jake handled this?
  • Have you ever felt like people have struggled to see you for you?
  • How do you think Jake felt when he was speaking up?
  • How do you think Jake felt after he spoke up?
  • Why do you think those kids were laughing when Jake was speaking up?
  • Why do you think the other kids ignored Jake?
  • Do you know of any classmates who may feel like Jake? (written response)
  • What would you tell Jake if you met him today?
  • What could the teacher do to help Jake feel more comfortable at school?
  • What could have the other students have done after Jake was finished speaking up to show that he matters?
  • What could you privately tell the boys who were laughing at Jake to let them know that their behavior is not healthy for the community?
  • How could you help Jake make friends?
  • Why do you think Jake has a difficult time making friends?
  • Could this happen in our school?

Make sure to wrap the lesson by connecting the development of these interpersonal skills to their future. Remember, children, like adults, want to know what’s in it for them.

Students will put forth the effort if they believe that it will result in an outcome that is greater than the sacrifice.

During a Parent Teacher Association meeting or a Parent Orientation Meeting this video can be leveraged to discover the expectations of your parents as it relates to bullying prevention. From there, you can start sharing the vision you have for your school community and gaining alignment with the parents your serve.

Building a safe and inclusive community is hardly ever convenient, but effective leaders know how to inconvenience people at a level they can tolerate.

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Tackling Identity-Based Bullying: Minnesota’s Safe and Supportive Schools Act

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The Minnesota legislature made history this week by passing a comprehensive bullying prevention and response bill that goes beyond the simple “zero tolerance” measures advanced in most bullying legislation and gets to the roots of identity-based bullying in our school communities.

MN Gov. Mark Dayton signs the Safe and Supportive Schools Act on the Capitol steps in St. Paul (Source)

MN Gov. Mark Dayton signs the Safe and Supportive Schools Act on the Capitol steps in St. Paul (Source)

The Minnesota Safe and Supportive Schools Act is likely the most in-depth and research-based piece of bullying legislation in the country, focusing not only on the identity-based nature of bullying rooted in power but on diversity and inclusion efforts that can transform school climate to ensure bullying doesn’t take another life in Minnesota.

Identity-Based Bullying

One of the most transformative aspects of the new law is its focus on the particular identities that are most likely to be targeted for bullying in American schools.  In doing so, the law prohibits “intimidating, threatening, abusive, or harassing conduct” that might be directed at a student on the basis of (though not limited to):

a person’s actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, creed, religion, national origin, immigration status, sex, age, marital status, familial status, socioeconomic status, physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, academic status, disability, or status with regard to public assistance, age, or any additional characteristic defined in chapter 363A, the Minnesota Human Rights Act” (Bill Text).

It’s exciting for us in the CivilSchools team to see legislation that so closely echoes our own definition of bullying while also echoing the “research on bullying dynamics [which] shows that bullying is often aimed at specific groups” such as “children with disabilities, African American youth, LGBTQ youth” and others (American Education Research Association, 2013).

At CivilSchools, we call this “Identity-Based Bullying,” and our comprehensive program offers schools teachers, students, administrators, and parents tools for designing school-specific interventions to prevent and respond to bullying behavior, no matter the identity being targeted.

A Focus on Culture and Climate

Aside from their inclusive and research-based definition of bullying, we at CivilSchools commend the legislature for taking the strong, preventative stance to include “developmentally appropriate programmatic instruction to help students identify, prevent, and reduce prohibited conduct; value diversity; foster students’ knowledge and skills for solving problems, managing conflict, engaging in civil discourse, and recognizing, responding to, and reporting prohibited conduct; and make effective prevention and intervention programs available to students” (Bill Text).

By advancing diversity and inclusion and conflict management education in schools, the Safe and Supportive Schools Act ensures that the bill does more than focus on “reporting, investigating, and intervening when bullying has occurred” but moves into “prevention efforts [that are] a key focus for school-based anti-bullying and harassment efforts” proven effective by research (AERA, 2013).

Finally, the act seeks to empower all community members to stand up to bullying by requiring districts to “train student bystanders to intervene in and report prohibited conduct incidents to the primary contact person” (Bill Text) while also training teachers and engaging parents.

CivilSchools: A Perfect Fit for Minnesota

In short, we at CivilSchools can’t wait to partner with more schools throughout Minnesota to offer the kind of training for teachers, UPstander Intervention Training for students, and engagement for parents necessary to effectively prevent bullying before it starts.

We are thankful to all of those legislators, community members, and advocacy groups who fought hard to ensure that this bill passed, as it establishes a model for states around the country to push for effective, research-based legislation to protect our young people from bullying.

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#BeNice: A Reminder to Listen to Young People

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We at CivilSchools get to work with some pretty amazing young people on a regular basis.  It’s honestly inspiring to realize how many young people are out there in the world, working daily to improve their communities and our society.

Thus, when I got to work with a school in Washington recently, I was expecting to find some pretty phenomenal young people, but I wasn’t prepared for the force for good named Jake.

During our UPstander Intervention Training, I talked to the students at Jake’s school about the idea of being social normers, of being the change you wish to see in your school so that you can inspire others to do the same.  We talked about how social norming helps to change the air students breath in school to make it more inclusive, which makes the other work of being an UPstander far easier.

While talking to these students, though, I didn’t realize that one of the students to whom I was speaking could easily have been up there offering his wisdom.  After all, not long before I came to his school, Jake had made this video:

One of the most common forms of ageism toward young people in our society today is thinking that as adults, young people have nothing to teach us.  Often adults pretend that we have the whole world figured out and that young folks will one day know as much as we do if they make it to the magical world we call adulthood.

In reality, though, young people are often the ones with the most to teach.  After all, they have not been fully clouded by the cynicism or negativity that sometimes comes with age.  Even more, young people are engaging with the world in ways that those of us even ten years older than them could not have imagined at their age.  Youth are inspiring revolutions in the Arab Spring and transforming their communities through activism and servant leadership in every community around the world.  Plus, with the power of the internet that they know so well, they have the ability to learn from other young people as well as from elders in ways I never would have imagined at sixteen.

What Jake reminded me, not only when I met him or when I first saw this video but in our continuing relationship through social media, is that I have a lot to learn.

And Jake reminded me that sometimes the best teachers are those who are many years younger than me.

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Columbine High School: A Community Defined by Unity

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After spending time leading trainings and an assembly at Columbine High School, our Director of Education Jamie Utt put together this creative video blog about his experience.

In the video blog, Jamie discusses his preconceived notions about what he would find at Columbine.  But what he actually found was NOTHING like what he was expecting…

Bring the powerful CivilSchools program to your community today to take the first step in  a comprehensive approach to building an inclusive community that’s free from bullying.

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