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. 

 

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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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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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6 Ways Parents Can Address Bullying

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comforting-467x267Photo Credit: PBS.

If you’re a parent of a school-aged child, it’s likely that you’ve been affected by bullying.

With approximately 30% of students reporting being bullied and far more being peripherally affected or even traumatized by bullying, it’s a weighing concern on parents’ minds.

I often will meet parents when I’m out at a party or on a long flight who, when they hear that I’m a bullying-prevention educator, immediately begin to impart their terrible story of childhood trauma and abuse or stories about their kids being bullied in school.

And while just about every parent cares passionately and deeply about ending bullying, most are unsure of what they can do to protect their child.

That’s one of the reasons that I partnered with Everyday Feminism a few months ago to facilitate a free webinar on how parents can intervene to end bullying.

Knowing that not every parent has an hour to sit down and watch the recording of our webinar, though, I wanted to offer a quick read for parents who are concerned about bullying.

Understanding Modern Bullying

Before parents can effectively intervene when bullying is taking place, it’s important that we understand a few things about the nature of modern bullying.

First, a comprehensive review of the research on bullying from the American Educational Research Association tells us that “bullying is often aimed at specific groups” and is often a direct result of power imbalances.

In short, bullying is primarily a problem of power, not simply random childhood cruelty.

Though not every instance of bullying is directly related to identity, research indicates that it can be important to talk about bullying through the lens of identity.

Second, the nature of bullying has changed tremendously in the last 15 years.

I often have adults say to me, “Man, I was bullied, and I survived! All this coddling isn’t going to help kids toughen up!”

My response is always, “While I’m really sorry that you were bullied, we also need to understand that bullying today isn’t the same thing as bullying when we were young.”

In my own case, I was bullied pretty terribly in my youth.

It got to the point that I felt pretty desperate and even suicidal at times. And this was in a time when I was able to take breaks from the bullying.

You see, when I got home from school, the bullying stopped. And every summer break, I got a two-month reprieve from the bullying behavior. And I barely survived!

Today, with the wide accessibility of cell phones and the Internet, bullying can be near constant.

One of the last things young people with cell phones do before bed and first things they do when waking up is check their phone. If they’re being bullied through Twitter or text, that’s how they will start their day.

The scary thing about cyber bullying is that it never takes a break.

Knowing these two things about bullying will help tremendously as you look for the ways to best support your child and intervene when they are being targeted for bullying.

1.  Look for Signs of Bullying

Though it may seem obvious, many of the signs of bullying go unnoticed or written off as moodiness or growing pains.

But there are concrete things that you can look for that will help you to identify when you child is being bullied.

No matter your child’s age, ask yourself these questions:

Has your child…

 …stopped doing things that they enjoy?

Students who are being bullied tend to express greater self-consciousness, and as a result, they may suddenly stop doing things they enjoy.

Maybe they’re being mistreated at baseball practice, so they no longer want to play baseball. Maybe they’re being bullied for their interest in Magic the Gathering, so they suddenly stop playing the game that they love.

…expressed a sudden or progressive sad or sullen attitude?

Maybe this is a sign of seasonal affectedness, or maybe this is because the teasing has finally broken through your child’s defenses. Once the poison of bullying gets inside, it often will show up through progressive or sudden sadness.

…expressed a sudden or progressive angry attitude?

Similarly, bullying can also lead to sudden outbursts of anger.

This is important to recognize because it can often end up leading to your child“passing on the hurt” by bullying other people.

For me, I was terrible to my parents and best friends when I was being bullied in middle school.

…expressed sudden or progressive self consciousness about their identity?

Because much bullying is identity-based, it can lead to students feeling more self-conscious about the aspect of their identity that is being targeted.

In the case of heterosexist/homophobic bullying, it can lead targeted kids to express self-consciousness and to project their understandings of heterosexuality in extreme ways.

…been reluctant or afraid to attend school or activities?

Maybe they’re just hitting that time of year when nothing can make them want to go to school, or maybe they’re being mistreated in some way. But sudden reluctance to attend school or activities is a good sign that bullying could be taking place.

 If your answer to any of these questions is yes, talk to your child.

The more open and honest you are with them about your concern, the more likely they will be to talk to you about what’s hurting them.

And even if they don’t end up sharing everything with you right then and there, bringing it up helps them understand that they can come to you for help.

2.  Engage Your Child’s Digital World

If your child is not yet online or using a cell phone, it’s only a matter of time. So it’s important to set a precedent early about how you will engage with their digital world.

Sadly, cyber bullying is on the rise and is becoming one of the key tools in bullying behavior.

You have to decide for yourself how involved you feel comfortable being, butbeing involved is without a question vital to intervening if your child is being bullied or demonstrating bullying behavior.

Ask yourself whether you’d feel comfortable knowing your kids’ passwords and until what age? Have you talked to them about web safety? To what degree are your kids trusted with unsupervised use of cell phones or the Internet?

All of these questions are vitally important.

Do you know all of the different social media apps your kids might be using?

One thing that was surprising to me is that I consider myself pretty “in the know”when it comes to the digital world. Yet when I was doing research for the CivilSchools parent workbook and polled high school students about what apps or platforms they’re using, a number came up that I had never heard of!

Young people are fleeing Facebook for Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Ask.fm, Tumblr, Lulu, Whisper, and other platforms.

It’s important, then, to have an open and honest dialogue about what kinds of social media they engage with and how they engage, reminding them that if they or anyone they know is being mistreated, they can talk to you or other trusted adults.

3.  Self Reflect

One of the hardest things for parents to realize is that bullying behavior is learned. Therefore, if you’re concerned about eradicating bullying behavior from your community, you need to start in your own home.

In her fantastic reflection on learned bullying behavior, Rachel from Hands Free Mama astutely realized that the biggest bully in her daughter’s life was herself.

One of the best things we can do to prevent bullying is to think about the ways that we might be teaching bullying behavior to our kids.

Do we talk badly about other people or identities? Do we demonstrate that it’s okay to say terrible things to others (perhaps through our road rage or in how we treat service employees)?

4.  Build a Parenting Network

In the midst of our busy lives, parents are becoming increasingly disconnected from other parents in their children’s school community. Yet parent allies are some of the best people to step in and help when you fear your child is being bullied or demonstrating bullying behavior.

 Does your community have a parent advocacy organization? If not, what would it take to start one and get other parents to join?

Having a parent advocacy network doesn’t require a ton of extra time or meetings on the schedule. Parent listservs or Facebook groups make it easy in our busy schedules to reach out to other parents.

Sometimes a simple message like “I’ve been noticing my child’s been more and more angry lately, and I’m wondering if something’s going on at school” can alert other parents who may be having the same problem, and you can start to get to the bottom of it together.

Plus, if you suspect bullying is taking place, a parenting network might help you reach out to the parents of children you suspect are exhibiting bullying behavior.

There’s a chance those parents will be defensive and you’ll have to go through the school, but if there’s even a small chance that alerting an unaware parent might stop the problem, a parenting network can be the thing that saves the life of a bullied young person.

5. Build a Proactive Relationship with Your School

Sadly, if the first time that your kid’s school hears from you is when you come in furious that they’re doing nothing about the bullying your child is experiencing, they’re far more likely to write you off. I wish it weren’t true, but it is.

If you’re worried about bullying, one of the best things you can do is start building a proactive relationship with the school early.

Identify who your allies are in the building, and reach out to them early offering your help and support. That way, when you reach out for help and support with bullying, you’ve got some people in your corner.

Additionally, teaming up with other parents to both show that you support your school and teachers and to draw attention to bullying behavior is important.

Schools are likely to take you more seriously when they realize bullying is a problem that is affecting more than one family.

Finally, when working with your kids’ school, assume best intentions on the part of teachers and staff, but do not hesitate to get forceful to make your voice heard.Your child has a legal and ethical right to feel safe and included in their school environment.

6. Demand a Comprehensive Approach to Bullying

One of the reasons that I originally designed the CivilSchools program is that research tells us that bullying is preventable, but only when the entire community – parents, teachers, students, administrators, and the wider community – is engaged.

Whether it’s a program like CivilSchools or something else, there needs to be mechanisms to engage the entire community if you truly want to build the kind of community where bullying is no longer present and where all students feel safe.

A recent national study indicates that only half of school employees have received training in how to prevent bullying, and more than half of school staff say they need additional training.

Unfortunately, though, with the laser-like focus on reading strategies and math concepts (which are important – don’t get me wrong), schools don’t often prioritize the time and money it takes to actually involve everyone in bullying prevention until there is some sort of tragedy.

But schools tend to listen to parents.

If a bunch of parents from your parent advocacy network start e-mailing the principal, demanding a comprehensive approach to bullying, it will happen.

Bullying By Any Other Name…

Sadly, the term “bullying” has been used as a catchall recently, thus watering down the term and making it far less effective for describing the actual problem at hand.

But one thing we know is that when you describe specific bullying behaviors to students and ask them to identify the ones that are present in their schools, we know that bullying is a problem that ain’t going away simply because we’ve passed some “zero-tolerance” laws (PS: They don’t work!).

Building bullying-free school culture and climate where every student feels safe and inclusive is hard work that requires parent engagement. The more organized and tenacious you are about demanding a safe and inclusive environment in your school, the more schools will have to listen.

The more we demand social-emotional learning that teaches empathy and the more we equip our community members with tools to actually prevent bullying, the greater a change we will see.

But don’t forget: Bullying is preventable if we engage the entire community in building more inclusive school environments.

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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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Ending Bullying: Being an UPstander

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As I’ve watched the whole Dolphins Bullying fiasco unfold, I can’t help but sit in shocked amazement at how many of the Dolphins players and management are in defense of Richie Incognito’s racist and homophobic bullying of Jonathan Martin.

Jonathan Martin and Richie IncognitoI can’t help but wonder how many voices are silent.

How many team members or coaches were disgusted by Incognito’s behavior but didn’t speak out for fear of drawing the ire on themselves or for seeming to go against the grain?

How many people in the organization want to see a more positive culture in the locker room?

How many of them would have stood up if they simply had the tools before it got to the point of Martin walking away from a lucrative contract because of bullying?

It’s Time for Tools

Half of the battle in addressing bullying is getting people to understand the particular nature of modern bullying, particularly in its connection to power, oppression, and identity.

Bullying has changed profoundly in the Internet era. Yet it has simultaneously stayed the same in how it disproportionately targets the most vulnerable identities in our communities.

Prevention starts with this understanding.

But understanding the problem does not necessarily inspire action.

The problem itself can seem too overwhelming, so profoundly entrenched, that we can get stuck in analysis and never act.

What’s encouraging, though, is that when committed stakeholders from every corner of a community commit themselves to acting to build a more inclusive environment, it is, in fact, possible to prevent bullying behavior.

But we have to empower our communities with tools!

So What Constitutes Bullying?

First, in order to offer people tools, we have to be clear about what we mean when we say “bullying.”

Too often, any mean behavior is called “bullying.” Sure, we definitely need to address hurtful language that someone uses, but is it really bullying?

The definition we use for bullying at CivilSchools breaks it down this way: Bullying means targeting another person for regular, sustained violence, harassment, or neglect because of a particular aspect of that person’s identity.

Identity-Based Bullying

There are three key parts to this definition.

The first relates to the behavior being regular and sustained. If someone is made fun of once, that is a bad thing, but it isn’t bullying behavior. Bullying must target someone over time.

The second describes the behavior: violence, harassment, or neglect. Not all bullying is characterized by physical assault or verbal harassment. Sometimes bullying involves a coordinated isolation of another person to make them feel alone.

Lastly, bullying usually isn’t random. It targets another person for a particular aspect of their identity.

Sometimes people are targeted for more surface-level aspects of identity like interests (music or sports, for example). Other times, bullying targets more deeply-held aspects of our identities like our race, gender identity, body image, physical or cognitive ability, or sexual orientation.

Regardless, it’s important to describe bullying as identity-based because it helps us target our interventions at the root of the bullying behavior.

Being an UPstander

UPstander Definition

Once we’re clear what we mean when we say “bullying,” we can begin to imagine interventions that actually have measurable impacts on the problem.

I’m not sure where I first heard the term UPstander. It may have been Facing History and Ourselves, a fantastic resource for teachers that uses the term, or from the National School Climate Center, but the term is perfect.

It transforms the language of “bystander” into a call to action: Stand UP to bullying behavior!

And pairing this language shift with tools for all stakeholders in our communities can profoundly impact whether or not they join others in concerted action toward building inclusive community.

In my research for the UPstander Intervention Training for CivilSchools, one thing became increadibly obvious to me: We have to offer people lots of entry points at which they can start speaking up for positive culture and speaking out against bullying.

Our approach, then, is to break being an UPstander into three vital roles: Social Norming, Interrupting, and First Responding. Each offers a different type of action and level of commitment in being an UPstander.

To truly transform a community into one where bullying is no longer a vexing problem, there need to be people who are filling all three of the roles.

Social Norming

The idea of participating in Social Norming (or being a Social Normer) builds upon social norming sociological theory.

In short, social norms are flexible, changeable, and bullying exists often, or at least in part, because there is a certain level of social approval of bullying behavior.

When there are not enough empowered people standing up for the kind of positive community they want to see, even if a majority or a critical mass doesn’t support the negative stasis of bullying behavior, then bullying unfortunately gets tacit approval.

Thus, one of the most powerful things we can do as individuals is to get organized with others who want to see a different kind of community and work to change the backdrop against which bullying takes place.

Getting organized, though, requires that we have enough people on board – a critical mass – so that it’s not just you making a stink by yourself.

Social norming, then, calls for us to do the difficult work of changing the social norms that tell people that speaking out against bullying is unacceptable or uncool, that tell people that bullying is normal and will always be around, and that tell people there’s nothing they can do to build positive school culture.

Social norming must take place on two levels: passive and active. Passive norming refers to using clever messaging in things like posters or t-shirts to spread your message.

Active norming, on the other hand, describes the behavior you and others can exhibit to shift the tide of what is and is not acceptable, “normal,” within your community, which leads us to the second way to be an UPstander.

Interrupting

Unfortunately, the passive work of social norming is not enough by itself to make our communities more inclusive of all people.

We need a skillset of tools for interrupting bullying behavior when we see it, whether it’s happening in our schools, our locker rooms, our workplaces, or on the Internet.

While it may seem obvious, what makes interrupting difficult is finding a way to stop bullying behavior without making things worse for the person being bullied.

Additionally, it can be important to interrupt the bullying in a way that doesn’t necessarily make the person doing the bullying defensive so that there’s room to address it with them later.

Sometimes that means calling out the behavior while calling the person demonstrating bullying behavior in to live their values, i.e., “Come on, man.  I know you’re better than that! Leave them alone.

Other times interrupting means simply distracting the person who is doing the bullying so that the target gets a respite. “Hey, did you see the Broncos this week? RIDICULOUS!”

Still other times interrupting means directly addressing the person’s hurtful or problematic language and behavior so that those standing by, wishing they could interrupt, are empowered to know that someone can actually stand up.

Unfortunately, there is no simple handbook for interrupting bullying behavior, and each person has to decide what will work best for them and for the particular relationship we have with the person doing the bullying.

But the empathy it takes to see ourselves in a person being targeted for bullying and to act to intervene is central to any bullying prevention initiative, and when we reach a critical mass of people acting to help one another, we will see powerful transformation in our communities.

But interrupting by itself is also not quite enough to prevent future bullying from occurring.

First Responding

AmbulanceThere are few people that I admire more than our first responders: the people who show up first after an accident, that attend to the trauma people have experienced or witnessed, that put their own lives on the line to help those who have been hurt.

We could all learn something from them, but I don’t just mean in a hypothetical sense. Their work can be directly applied to bullying prevention and response.

When I was in middle school, I was bullied quite badly. It got to the point where I was considering suicide (though I didn’t tell anyone). The few friends I had had to bear the brunt of my depression and frustration, as I turned around and bullied them in turn.

I remember this one day in seventh grade when some kids cornered me on the playground and made fun of my smile (I have an enormous smile – all teeth and gums) before jumping into a deluge of homophobic and sexist slurs.

It left me feeling defeated.

Despite a few friends trying to cheer me up, I felt alone (“They’re my friends! Theyhave to say that,” I thought).

Later that day while standing in line for lunch, I realized that I had accidentally been caught staring at the coolest eighth grade girl in school.  Her name was Audrey, and man was she cool: haircut, fashion, friends – she was perfect (in the mind of a seventh grader)!

Well, after catching me staring, Audrey came over to me and told me she had seen me being made fun of that morning.

“Great,” I thought. “She missed her chance earlier, and she wants to get in on it now.”

“You shouldn’t listen to them,” she said. “You have the most beautiful smile in the world. Forget about them.”

Then she walked away.

That was the one and only conversation I had with her, but it sure did it have an impact.

A complete stranger, one who I knew didn’t have to risk her social status by doing so, reaffirmed me, reminded me that I am okay, that I shouldn’t let the poison of the bullying inside. In doing so, she planted a seed.

It’s not like things turned around over night, but her words along with the words of my friends and family helped me to get through. Over time, with my attention and the careful attention of those who loved me, the seed Audrey planted grew into some modicum of self-confidence.

Audrey was a first responder. She showed up after a scene of trauma and helped someone who was hurt.

Now imagine if we had communities full of Audreys.

The call to be first responders is to follow up with those who are involved in a situation of bullying to help them heal, to remind them that they are loved and okay.

Sometimes first responding is best done by a loved one, and other times it’s best done by a stranger.  But we need more first responders.

And we don’t just need them for those who’ve been targeted by bullying.  We need them for those who have been exhibiting the bullying behavior. Researchers like Barbara Coloroso help us understand that bullying is not as simple as “she’s a bully and a terrible person.”

Much bullying behavior stems from some trauma, insecurity, or hurt that someone experiences elsewhere in their life. Is it any wonder, then, that I was a pretty big bully to my friends?

In addition to reminding those who are being bullied that they are loved and valued, we need to reach out to those doing the bullying to find out what’s going on in their lives that’s making them act so terribly to other people.

After all, we can’t stop the cycle if we don’t address the root causes of why bullying is taking place.

Banding Together, Transforming Community

Whether we’re participating in a social norming effort, actively interrupting bullying behavior, or reaching out to those affected by bullying, we need to recognize that we can’t do this alone.

One thing is clear to me: The vast majority of us don’t want to see bullying tear apart our communities or hurt our young people any more.

But to build the kind of communities where bullying is not a problem requires us all to play a role.

We all have to stand UP to 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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