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Character Education

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Digital Learning

Bullies Not Welcome

October first was World Bullying Prevention Day. In our classrooms, we try to address bullying throughout October, and then pick it up again in March when we observe the National Day of Action against Violence and Bullying on the third Friday. These are critical times, of course, and without some official days, we might never zero in on bullying during the school year in a proactive way. Sure, when issues arise, we need to react. But, (as I've said before), WHAT IF?

What if we were vigilant against bullying every minute of every day during our time with our students?
And what if it would take zero time away from your curriculum? Take a look around your classroom. I can promise you that the kids who don't bully others are secure and confident, comfortable with who they are and what they can do. I can also promise you, based on many years of kid watching that the bullies and potential bullies feel that something is lacking in their own lives.

  1. We need to be aware of what goes on outside our classroom doors. Your not knowing about an incident doesn't mean that it hasn't happened and that it won't affect the other students in your class.
  2. We need to be aware of what goes on right under our noses. Kids (and often adults) can hurt each other in a thousand low-key ways that fly under our radar every day.
  3. We need to watch for signals of stress and distress. Make yourself a kid watcher every day.Watch every child, not just the ones who are screaming loudly for attention, but those who may be hurting others or hurting inside themselves every day.
  4. An early cry for help can be very hard to hear. Very soft. Signals are often not easy to see or hear at first. Getting to know your students really well right from the beginning is your best way of improving your ability to pick up on cries for help.
  5. A quiet student isn't always just a pleasure to have in class. Some bullies masquerade very successfully as that quiet and obedient successful student.
  6. Kids don't look at each other the way you look at them. Many issues, often inside of the beholder, make kids view other kids much differently from the way we see them.
  7. Souls are more important than data. This is just another plea to really study the whole child, not just their grades and test scores.
  8. Looking away won't make anything stop. If you decide to ignore the issues and prefer to use rose-colored glasses as you view your classroom and your learning community, issues will still fester and possibly explode. Choosing to travel on the river of denial changes nothing.
  9. Things that are revered in our learning institutions can be setting kids up to fail. Best athlete, most successful test taker, best writer, student council leaders, etc. Although the reverence for athletes disturbs me the most, any labels and pedestals can be debilitating to students with other, less-recognized gifts as they travel on their educational journey.
  10. Our society creates rankings and situations that can be impossible to escape. Children who grow up  experiencing hatred and lack of acceptance often grow up to give it right back to everyone. This is next to impossible to change once the child has grown. As teachers, we have an amazing opportunity to change lives.
  11. You can't just order a kid to "talk" to you when in a crisis situation. Channels of communication that a kid can trust must be in place long before the crisis raises its ugly head. Watching 13 Reasons (remember that one?), my jaw dropped over and over at parents and school staff who suddenly wanted to talk and expected answers right then and there.
  12. As teachers, we have the power to teach REAL life skills. (That life skills teacher in 13 Reasons.     Please.) Make your life skills lessons meaningful. Base them on what your students are experiencing. Don't just plod ahead with the lesson you planned so carefully. Look at your own students and their needs. Adapt and adjust.
  13. Kids can start to feel valued, respected, and supported from their earliest school experiences on. They need to be able to take small and then increasingly bigger risks with their learning and with reaching out to friends as they progress through the stages of school.  "Hey, I'm here for you."means nothing if it hasn't been demonstrated all along.

Throughout my time in the classroom, the above 13 points were what guided my actions and attitudes. I taught nothing from the required curriculum standards until I was sure that the community had been established. I tried to learn who my kids were inside and out, talking to them and asking their families for even more information. Not one parent or administrator ever complained as Rainbow City was being established with a new crop of citizens each year. It took most of the first couple of weeks, but paid off for everyone again and again throughout the year. 

I hope I'm not sounding too preachy here, but I can't stress strongly enough how much easier it is to learn in an environment where one feels safe and accepted. If your classroom is truly a "Bullies Not Welcome Here" place, you will find that teaching and learning proceeds much more smoothly. You can't, of course, control what happens outside of your circle of influence, but you can certainly try to know about it and let it inform your teaching moves. I'm a huge fan of making kids resilient and flexible, building strength from the inside out. 
You may find these resources helpful as you work on building stronger kids this October and all through the year! Hope your October is smooth and bully-free! 

For more October Teacher Talk, please visit the posts of our blogging group!