The first school my children went to did not have the right formula and even though, my two were not directly involved in any bullying activity, they felt the impact.
When each of my children enrolled in other elementary schools, I was more aware of looking at the ways a school creates boundaries for bullying activity. There is actually a particular formula to look for that involves 4 areas: education, environmental strategies, communication, and ongoing support.
The first & obvious area is education. Children must be told what bullying is, how to identify it and when to inform someone when it is occurring. I love the conversations my children have told me about that include gossip as part of the bullying formula as well as exclusion and avoidance. I also love that children who observe bullying, but do not help those being bullied or inform someone that is occurring, are as culpable as those who are actively doing the bullying. These are probably the most helpful aspects of the education.
There are many informational aspects of the education block and these involve teachers to children, teachers to parents, administrators to parents, parents to children, and children to each other.
As a snapshot, the education block on bullying looks like this:
Conducting education within the school is only the first step in the ‘containing bullying’ formula. It’s the first step and a very important one, but is not going to do anything about preventing bullying if it is not accompanied by creating a safe environment. This leads to the second area in a successful school formula; environmental strategies.
A safe environment must be created for children at school to limit the potential for bullying. If you take the time to think about, the times most fraught with bullying opportunities are the free times of early morning, lunch or during recess.
The successful strategies that I have observed involve:
- Conducting an activity in the early morning as children are coming into the classroom such as; morning meeting, morning conversation topics, and even morning work;
- Creating an inclusive cafeteria environment involving; rotating table groups, rotating days for particular tables, or pulling random numbers for table groups,
- Developing playground rules and routines such as; teaching the children games to play, teaching them rules of engagement, and habitual and active playground observers.
Schools should not eliminate the free time that children have to engage with each other. That would be completely counterproductive for the socialization of children. However, creating safe constructs for the children to navigate and engage is an essential part of the anti-bullying formula at schools.
Communication could be part of the education or support areas. However, I think it is important enough to get its own category.
Ongoing communication is essential as it means that the conversation about bullying continues. It continues, quite frankly, forever. There is no end to the conversation. It doesn’t mean that the conversation is constant or always intense. It means the school community is serious about everyone treating each other with respect, grace and courtesy. If and until any and all, gossiping, exclusive behavior, mean comments or snide remarks are eliminated from daily life, children need to be reminded that this is not appropriate behavior. If children are involved in or observe behavior like this, they are to inform someone in authority of it. That’s pretty easy. Keep the conversations going, as we are all human beings who can make mistakes. If it’s an occasional slip, apologize, make-up and move on. If not, then more involved and targeted conversation is necessary.
The escalation chart looks like this:
- Children -> Children
- Children -> Teacher
- Teacher -> Children
- Teacher -> Administration
- Administration -> Children
- Administration -> Parents
- Parents -> Children
Notice, there is no parent-to-parent communication in this escalation chart. Schools, who do this poorly, put the onus on children and parents to solve any issues with bullying. This is irresponsible and ineffective. Parents are not involved in the classrooms, on the playgrounds or immediately involved in any of the bullying activities that may be occurring at school. Parents are receiving this information from their children. And okay, how one-sided and emotionally driven are these communications apt to be?
When a parent gets involved, their choices are to go to the teacher, administrator, and other parent or give their child advice on going directly to the other child. If the school has removed itself from the situation, the only choices left to a parent are the other parent or child. How emotionally wrought is one parent and how defensive is the other? How highly charged are these individuals? How prepared are they to navigate a conversation or to reach a successful solution? Chances are good that these conversations are not particularly helpful or successful.
A third party to facilitate, remain calm and look to the end result is necessary at this point as there were many checkpoints higher on up the chain that could have eliminated it getting out of control to the parent to parent point.
Schools need to provide ongoing education, dialogue, strategies and support for their students and their families in order to limit bullying problems on their campuses.
Obviously, this discussion is not inclusive of higher education or social media. That is beyond the scope of my observations at this point. However, think about how helpful all of these strategies are in assisting our children on the bullying issue.
Remember the situation at school when you were younger. How many times did you walk away and not do anything about a bullying situation? Remember not feeling good, but not knowing what to do about it?
How many times did you overhear or participate in gossip and not think a thing about how it was impacting the person being gossiped about?
Remember a time you got an adult involved only to be told, ‘Don’t be a tattletale’, ‘Mind you own business,’ ‘Boys will be boys’, or ‘That’s just his or her way, just ignore him or her.’ Not helpful.
Now imagine how much better the quality of life that person who was being bullied would have had if an adult stepped in and stopped it? Or better yet, another child?
Imagine if you felt informed and empowered to help yourself, a friend or another student in your class? Imagine how much easier it would have been to navigate the social dynamics of school. Yes, imagine being supported by knowledge, teachers & staff and other children. Seriously take a moment to imagine a supportive and safe environment like that.
Schools, perhaps, should not have to tell us how to be respectful and courteous, but they can certainly help create an environment that gives us and our children the chance to be our best selves.