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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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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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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Educators: Investing in Student Achievement Means Investing in School Climate

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While I was setting up for a recent bullying prevention presentation at a high school, a counselor expressed disappointment and frustration at some teachers’ reactions to having me come speak to their students.

“They don’t understand why we were spending time on an assembly and training like yours when we need to be focusing on achievement.”  It’s sadly a common refrain that I hear from teachers around the country.

And I get it!  Teachers are under tremendous pressure to improve test scores that measure very specific aspects of the student educational experience.  More and more, teachers livelihoods are one the line as districts tie teacher pay and teacher advancement to student achievement, a practice that is dubious in its research support to say the least.

But this is the environment in which teachers must practice their craft.  People are constantly looking over their shoulders, and teachers are under an incredible amount of pressure to ensure growth in their students’ “achievement,” as measured by districts, state tests, and federal measures.

Thus, I completely understand the laser-like focus on achievement data.

The good news is, though, that some of the lowest-hanging fruit in helping students learn and perform better in school is often the stuff that gets treated as “fluff” or “extraneous.”

Maslow’s On Our Side

In the most simple of psychology, we know that our basic needs must be met before we can care about more complex problems.  As it relates to education, how can a kid focus on the intricacies of balancing equations or diagraming sentences if they are worried for their safety or consumed by their feelings of loneliness within a community that’s supposed to accept and include them?

Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Before students can focus on self actualization and esteem, two of the needs of Maslow’s hierarchy that are met through a rigorous and rewarding education, students have to feel safe and like they belong.

Simply put, one of the best ways to improve student achievement is to start by making sure all students feel safe and fully supported in their school environment.

Now, when it comes to their classroom environment, most teachers do a pretty good job of meeting this basic need.  They make sure that no taunting or teasing takes place during class, and they work hard to support all of their students.  However, school culture and climate extends far beyond the reach of one single classroom.

The Costs of Feeling Unsafe

That’s precisely why we need school-wide efforts to prevent bullying and to build inclusive school culture.

Approximately 30% of students are targeted for bullying behaviors, leading to them feeling unsafe and marginalized within the very community where they ought to feel safest.  Further, research from Penn State indicates that those young people who witness bullying are also unlikely to feel safe in their school environment, and the impacts can even last throughout the rest of their lives.

Thus, at minimum, 30% of our students aren’t having their basic needs of safety met because they’re being targeted for bullying, and when we consider the students who are adversely impacted by simply witnessing bullying, we know that a strong majority of our young people are carrying the weight of fear into school.

In their comprehensive review of the research on bullying behavior and school climate, the American Educational Research Association, one of the leading bodies of educational researchers in the United States, clearly lays out the academic impact of negative, unsafe school culture and climate:

“There is substantial evidence that a positive school climate engages students in learning and promotes academic achievement and success.  A study of 276 high schools found that a school climate characterized by lower rates of bullying and teasing was predictive of higher graduation rates four years later . . . Schools with high levels of bullying and teasing had dropout rates 29% above the state average, compared with schools with a low level of bullying and teasing, which had a dropout rate 28% below average.

The association between school climate and graduation rates was just as strong as the association between student poverty and graduation rates.

Did you catch that last part?  Most any teacher could tell you at least the basic impacts of student poverty on academic achievement and success.  Many of those teachers, though, would scoff at taking “instructional time” away to focus on school culture and climate.  However, the impact on graduation rates of negative school climate is similar to the impact of student poverty!

It’s not complicated: when students don’t feel safe or included, they don’t engage in their learning, and they achieve at lower levels.

The Easiest Way to Improve Student Achievement

As any math teacher worth his or her salt will tell you, improving student achievement through math instruction takes serious work, effort, and time.  It’s really hard work!  The same goes for English, Science, or any other academic area of study.

Should that hard work be done?  Absolutely.  However, we shouldn’t allow negative school culture and climate to erase the effort dedicated educators put into curriculum, instruction, and relationships.

Essentially, the lowest hanging fruit of student achievement is culture and climate.  Compared to moving the metric of math achievement or reading ability, making students feel safe is easy work.  And when students feel safe, it lays a foundation for their achievement in other areas.

Students who feel safe and included are not only able to better demonstrate what they know (because they’re not preoccupied about feeling alone), but they are able to focus more intently on the learning at hand.

And while making students feel safe and included takes real, hard work, it also is completely doable!

Involve the Entire Community

To actually improve school culture and climate and, by extension, student performance and achievement, we have to leave behind the misguided emphasis on punitive measures and zero-tolerance policies (which research tells us don’t work to build more inclusive environments).

Instead, we have to get down into those grass roots!  We have to involve the entire school community!  Again, the AERA notes that multiple studies tell us that “schools where staff, parents, and students create common norms and ways of dealing with bullying can achieve sustainable reductions in victimization.”

The research brief continues to explain that because “bullying is a social phenomenon that goes beyond the bullying-victim interaction,” we have to bring all stakeholders to the table.  We have to offer parents resources so that they know how best to help.  We have to offer teachers training in how to intervene and establish inclusive climates.  We have to focus on the “critical role of bystanders” by giving students tools and curriculum that empower them to be the agents of change.

The point, though, is that building inclusive school communities takes work, but it’s not rocket science.  We just have to be willing to commit as much energy into it as we do into preparing for the onslaught of standardized tests that we face each year.

More than Just Assemblies

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the teachers who are wary of assembly programming are dead right.  As someone who makes part of my living offering assembly programming, you need to know that assemblies are a waste of time and money . . . unless there’s coordinated follow up.

Without effective follow up and programming, school assemblies are nothing more than a “feel good” flash in the pan.  But with a commitment to curriculum and training, assemblies can be incredibly effective at lighting the fire toward building a more inclusive campus.

But we shouldn’t pretend that an assembly is enough.  The work of building an inclusive campus is not going to happen over night.  Heck, it may not even happen over the course of one year.  It may take a full cycle of students through the system before you see the fruits of your labor.

But the research is there.  Investment into preventing bullying and building inclusive school culture and climate is investment in student achievement.

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Is Bullying Preventable?

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Is Bullying Preventable?

Is Bullying Preventable?

 

I get this question asked of me often, usually with a high level of skepticism. Many adults believe that bullying is just a “normal” aspect of adolescence.

But I am not willing to accept living in a world where school shootings and teen suicide are considered “normal.”  At the time of this writing, one of the top news stories is about a child who just lit himself on fire at school as an apparent suicide attempt. My mind not only thinks about the child who inflicted so much pain on himself, but what about the people within his community?

What about…

His family who are left to figure out what went wrong?

His friends who did not realize he was hurting?

The classmates who witnessed this horrific act?

His peers who failed to say something kind and let him know he mattered?

The kids who targeted him and failed to appreciate their influence?

His teachers who were unable to connect with him and recognize the warning signs?

Recently, after leading a group of parents through one of our CivilSchools implementation trainings, I had a parent approach me and say, “I have gone through a number of trainings on bullying, and for the first time, I am leaving with the belief that I can help prevent my child from being bullied like I was”.

I have been reflecting on that conversation for the past couple of weeks because the pain deep within this particular parent resonated with me. It hit me hard when I realized that most parents draw on their own experience to help their children navigate the social dynamics that come along with growing up.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Let’s face it, things are much more complicated than when I was a kid, and our communities are underprepared. The principles that lead a person towards a life full of purpose and connection may be the same, but our children get bombarded with messages that threaten their development and growth at a rate never before seen.

I have four children; I consider myself to be a pretty awesome father, and my wife… well, she is ridiculously talented at this parenting thing. When we invest time each year writing goals for what we want to develop in our children, strong interpersonal skills and self-confidence usually top our list. As deliberate as we are about fostering that in our children, at times, we feel overmatched.

The fact is that what worked for us, may not work for our children. I often hear, “the best way to deal with a bully is to punch them in the face”.

Do we really want to send the message to our children that all problems can be solved with force?  No!  It is much more convoluted than that.

In a groundbreaking study, researchers at Penn State University discovered that bullying affects both bystanders and targets.  Their research concluded that, “bullying can also cause people who witness it to demonstrate physical stress symptoms of increased heart rate and perspiration as well as high levels of self-reported trauma even years after bullying events”.

Being an UPstander

30 Seconds that can change everything

 I was not bullied as a child.  I was teased and picked on from time to time, but I was never targeted consistently or neglected by my peers. However, I have been deeply affected by bullying.

I was in middle school when a classmate of mine was diagnosed with Leukemia, and for two years, he would be in and out of school due to the disease. One time after a long absence, he returned to school and was showing signs of weakening. I remember seeing joy in his eyes because he was surrounded by a few friends and in a familiar environment rather than in a hospital bed.

Later in the afternoon, during one of our breaks, his hat blew off, revealing his bald head. As he scrambled to pick it up, a different classmate picked it up and started playing keep away and referring to him as Luke, short for Leukemia.

It was like time stopped and things were happening in slow motion, my stomach started to ball up as the discomfort shot through my body. I knew I had to do something. I am sure the other classmates around felt the exact same thing.

You want to know what I did? Nothing.  Along with the other students, I just stood there, disgusted with myself. I have been carrying around that guilt for close to 20 years now, and it is painful.

Photo courtesy of Biography.com

Photo courtesy of Biography.com

When I share that story with students during assemblies, they all get it. They immediately reflect on that time or two when they failed to cross over that line from being a bystander to become an UPstander. When they inquire as the fact why I do not make amends with my classmate now to relieve my guilt, I share with them that I never had the chance because that was his last day at school…he died a few weeks later.

I know his spirit was broken that day, as do the other classmates and so does the person who was teasing him. Those 30 seconds in middle school have probably influenced my life more than any other experience. I wish I was more prepared to help create the conditions for civility.

That is why it is critical to take a holistic approach that works for every person within a community. If we fail to equip children with the tools and language that allow them to manage and work through their emotions, they will develop an emotional default setting that will impede their development.

We talk a lot about the problem of oversimplifying “bullying” behavior here at CivilSchools.  Bullying is connected to the exchange of power; when a child feels powerless within their social environment it can destroy them physically, emotionally, and mentally.

That is why the American Educational Research Council concluded that bullying presents one of the greatest health risks to youth in U.S. society.

 The question we need to ask is how do we prevent bullying from occurring?

 Leveraging Social Capital 

Unfortunately, many bullying prevention programs are punitive and fail to actually engage and empower students. Whether you are trying to eradicate the spread of an infectious disease or build a safe and inclusive learning environment, it comes down to influencing behavior.

Educating teachers and parents about how to recognize and respond to bullying is important, but the highest point of leverage in a school community lies with creating the conditions for civility.

The last thing a child wants to hear is “no, don’t do that.” I have heard that a child hears 30 “no’s” for every “yes”, in my house we have that ratio beat. Children obviously need to understand that they will be held accountable for their actions, but when students who are identified as key influencers by their peers engage in pro-social/UPstander behavior and are given time to practice these skills on campus, overall achievement and retention increases.

 Systems Influence Social Norms

 Author Michael Gerber explains, “Systems allow ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results predictably. However, without systems, even extraordinary people find it difficult to predictably achieve even ordinary results.”

Failure to create systems that encourage pro-social/UPstander behavior in our school communities puts each child in a position where they have to face every challenge and task from scratch.

The Highest Form of Social Capital

At the end of the day, we were all put here for each other. Our children will have to master the art of collaboration if they are going to have any shot at solving the complex global challenges that await them.

We must teach our students how to invest in the most powerful form of social capital: solidarity. Their ability to give of themselves to the cause for the good of others will be a major point of leverage in their lives. It is an innate human need to want to feel a sense of belonging, it is a huge motivator, and if the proper systems are in place, solidarity can be achieved.

So, do we here at CivilSchools really believe bullying is preventable?

Bullying is absolutely preventable but only when a deliberate system is implemented and adopted by all stakeholders in the community.

Such a system must be built around influencing a vital behavior that is easily recognizable and replicable. Once key influencers develop the skill to consistently execute the desired behavior, change will occur.

Students need a structured system in place that allows them to build a culture that maximizes peer support and enriches social capital through solidarity.  Solidarity is easily recognizable on campus through acts of compassion.

Random acts of compassion

Be deliberate and intentional…it is good for the environment.

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CivilSchools Parent Dialogue-How Engaging in “Taboo” Conversations Can Eradicate a Bullying Culture

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In this discussion, our Director of Education, Jamie Utt, leads a Q & A session with our Director of Leadership Development, Eric Thompson. Eric is also a father of four and has some very specific questions for Jamie.

In this CivilSchools Parent Dialogue, Jamie and Eric will cover:

1. How to engage in “Taboo” conversations with our children
2. How to engage in “Taboo” conversations with educators
3. What to do if you believe you child is being bullied by their teacher
4. How empathy for the teacher can build a strong alliance to ensure academic success for your child

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CivilSchools Parent Dialogue – How to Build Empathy in Your Child to Prevent Bullying

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In this discussion, our Director of Education, Jamie Utt, leads a Q & A session with philanthropist, retired professional athlete, and current University of Arizona Assistant basketball coach, Joseph Blair. Joseph is also a father of three, one of whom has struggled with bullying.

Joseph offers up his own wise advice for parents about the necessity of open communication with your children, and Jamie brings in some of the tried and true teachings from our UPstander Intervention Training to support the discussion.

In this CivilSchools Parent Dialogue, Jamie and Joseph will cover:

1.  Reasons that open, honest communication with your child is vital to bullying prevention
2.  How to build empathy in your child through critical conversation and modeling of empathetic behavior
3.  How to teach your child to be an UPstander to prevent bullying

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CivilSchools Parent Dialogues – Proven Strategies to Prevent Children with Special Needs from Being Bullied

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In this discussion, our Director of Education, Jamie Utt, leads a Q & A session with elementary school educator and mother of two Amy Lewis. Being that one of her children is touched by autism, she offers up some very real concerns to which all parents can relate. The exchange between her and Jamie produces some incredibly valuable insights.

At the end of the video, Amy graciously offers up some tips to all parents on how to align with educators to ensure their children reach their full potential, socially and academically.

In this video, you will learn:
1. What steps parents of children with special needs can take to prevent their child from being bullied.

2. How to keep the lines of communication open with your child and make sure the shame of being bullied does not block the flow of information.

3. How pervasive body image issues are in young women and it’s connection to bullying.

4. Ways to transform your child from being a bystander to acting as an UPstander.

5. Strategies for engaging young children about diversity that are accessible to them.

6. From an educators perspective, what steps parents can take to ensure they children are safe at school.

 

Jamie Utt and Amy Lewis discuss bullying

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Bullying Prevention From the Ground Up

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My brother-in-law’s tomatoes drove me crazy! His garden not only produced more tomatoes than mine but they were bigger and tastier.

Our plants came from the same greenhouse — I purchased them for the both of us. Both of our gardens were watered, fertilized and got about the same amount of sun. Why did his garden produce so much better? Here is what I finally figured out: I have had a garden for many years; he has had one for two years, therefore, my soil was depleted and his was enriched.

All the other gardening things I did were necessary, but ultimately what mattered most was the soil! The lesson was clear: To get the best tomatoes, you have to start from the ground up.

TomatoesSource: Seattle Tilth

This lesson can be applied to bullying prevention in our schools: Even the best policies, programs, rules and protocols will fail to reduce or prevent bullying, unless they can take root in a positive, caring school culture and climate.

Perhaps this is why that even with anti-bullying laws in almost every state, greater public awareness of the problem and many available bullying-prevention resources, recent government statistics from 2005-2011 show little change in the rate of bullying reported by students.

Bully prevention, like any change initiative, must always confront the predominant influence of school culture and climate on all that happens in school, or as Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Changing Hearts and Minds

Policies, programs, protocols, etc., can be useful tools for people to use, but they don’t change people — only people can change people. Bullying prevention must also start from the ground up — the ground of changing people’s hearts and minds towards greater respect and caring.

Bullying prevention should not just be about stopping a negative behavior; it should be about how the members of the school community treat each other. Although it is tempting to mandate change by implementing a program to feel like something is being done about the problem of bullying, schools that do so are like the surgeon who said the operation was a success but whose patient died. Compliance is a poor, ineffective substitute for a community’s commitment to creating the type culture and climate needed for learning — one that is incompatible will all types of bullying.

Realizing that the issue is school culture and climate and then wanting to change it are important first steps, but actually doing so is another matter altogether. Changing a school’s culture and climate is a daunting endeavor.

Here are a few key reasons:

The people who are in a culture/climate don’t see it. It is not culture/climate; it is just the way school is.

If I didn’t have my brother-in-laws tomatoes as comparison, I probably wouldn’t know anything was wrong with my soil/tomatoes. A teacher once told me that he didn’t realize that “bullying” was the norm at his previous school until he came to a different school where he experienced greater respect and caring for members of the school community. If people can’t see their culture, they will not be able to change it. Unfortunately, people can become easily habituated to ways of interacting that are often not respectful. These behaviors, too often directed towards students, can be too easily justified and rationalized by adults in positions of authority.

People can easily interpret any suggestion of changing their school as criticism of their current efforts. 

Directly telling educators that their school culture/climate needs to change is probably the best way of insuring that it won’t. Regardless of how they might appear, all educators think they are doing a good job and suggesting the opposite will only make them more defensive and less open to any recommendation for changing.

There’s often an “elephant that is in the principal’s office.” 

A school principal who is authoritarian and routinely uses his/her power as a way of getting things done, will have zero creditability with staff and students for any bullying-prevention initiative. Chances are that many teachers and students imitate the leader’s way of getting things done. A school can become full of bystanders too frightened to say anything or raise any questions with such a principal. Fear freezes people into place and prevents meaningful change.

Change to what? 

Most bullying-prevention efforts emphasize what shouldn’t happen:“Don’t bully others.” The implicit message is that the schools themselves don’t have to change; they just have to make sure that bullying doesn’t happen. Adults often don’t see bullying prevention as applying to them. Students can interpret this message as implying that they are the problem and not the solution. In fact, most students, who don’t bully and don’t approve of it, are turned off by this negative message (telling to not to something they don’t already do). It deters them from working with adults as partners in making their school a better place.

Change how? 

Schools tend to follow the legal/criminal justice model for addressing unwanted behaviors. Educators often think that traditional school discipline can be applied to bullying. Bullying however can be subtle and many students who bully learn to do it under the radar of adult supervision. Traditional rewards and consequences have little if any impact on bullying behavior in schools. When it comes to bullying, deterrence is a myth. If students believe they won’t be caught (the great majority of the time they won’t), they don’t worry about consequences. If students impulsively bully students in retaliation for being bullied, they aren’t thinking beyond the moment anyway.

Although starting from the ground up is a challenge, it is worth the investment. Bullying prevention holds the opportunity doing something beyond just solving a problem; it can be the portal for igniting the community’s moral purpose for improving the learning environment for all students and staff.

Here are some ways to approach bullying prevention from the ground up:

Tell a different story. 

Bullying prevention needs to be re-framed. Too often it is seen as another problem on a long “to do” list. Having a positive and supporting school culture and climate is at the core of every school’s educational mission. Every member of the school community has a positive role to play in that mission. Rather than simply telling people what NOT to do, bullying prevention “reframed” can invite and inspire all members of the school community to work together to create the type of school that they want and need.

Stand on principles.

Schools should invest the time to determine, articulate and communicate guiding principles for how all members of the school community should speak and act. Guiding principles don’t necessarily have to preclude having rules; they can explain the reasons for having the rules. Examples of some guiding principles could be:

  • There is never an excuse for treating anyone with disrespect.
  • Make all students look valuable in the eyes of their peers.
  • Establish trusting relationships with all members of the school community.

When all members of the school community are included in the process of determining these guiding principles, the school community is strengthened and prepared to plan the next steps in the process.

Translate principles into specific words and actions. 

Very often people want to change but are unsure of what to say or do differently. This lack of clarity can make it easier for people to keep doing what they are used to doing. When a guiding principle is “translated” in specific words and actions that people can try, it makes the first steps toward changing behavior little easier. For example, staff can build trusting relationships with students by greeting each student by name as they walk into classrooms. People are more likely to change behavior when they see its connection to a higher purpose.

Get adult behavior aligned with principles. 

The best way for staff to influence student behavior is to model the change they want to see. As students get older they are more likely to resist or resent adult attempts to control them. This doesn’t mean they don’t want adult guidance, support and understanding. When school staff consistently act consistent with guiding principles, students will be more likely to communicate a problem or a concern.

All students can lead. 

The more students are involved in the process of shaping the school culture and climate, the more they will feel a sense of ownership for their school. This sense of ownership and community provided the best motivation for bystanders to act in a caring and responsible way if they see another student being hurt in anyway. Empowered bystanders are the key factor in decreasing the amount and frequency of bullying in any school.

Learn about changing. 

Sometimes the greatest obstacle to change is not believing change is possible. When people learn about the change process together, they discover ways to change without perceiving the change as a criticism of their current state. Members of the school community can read together and discuss articles and/or research on how people change. When the people who need to change have some choice in how they can change, they are more likely to change.

Becoming a more caring and respectful school community is the means and the ends towards preventing and reducing bullying in schools. All schools can start from where they are and build on their strengths. Once the school community knows what their real goal is and takes those first steps toward it, change is not just possible, it is inevitable, because they will have solid ground to walk on.

——

Jim DillonJim Dillon (@dillon_jim) has been an educator for over 35 years including twenty as a school administrator. He is currently the director of the Center for Leadership and Bullying Prevention. He has written two books, Peaceful School Bus (Hazelden) and No Place for Bullying (Corwin). He writes a blog at www.jim-dillon.com.

This post was originally published at SmartBlogs and has been republished with the author’s permission.

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