October is bullying prevention month. As a teacher, I had a vision of ensuring that the students I taught would not only learn English, but that they would become empathetic people and treat others with respect. A teacher, I thought, should create an environment that encourages this effort beyond just words or posters on the wall. When I was younger and kids picked on each other, we looked at it as kids being kids, but once it became repeated and aggressive it became bullying. Bullying can have lasting effects on both the victim and the person doing the bullying. I could control this as an educator, but I found myself in a situation this school year as a mother where my child became a victim of this bullying. I reflected on the measures I put into place to ensure that my classroom was bully free, and I encourage you to consider these measures as bullying prevention month comes around:
- Establish the behavior you will tolerate early: I told the students on the first day of school that this was a safe place where students were free to make mistakes. Put downs would not be tolerated, because, as I told them, we were a family. When I heard anyone saying something that was hurtful towards someone else, I used the opportunity as a teachable moment to remind them that in our classroom we don’t do that. We respect each other, and we help each other out. This went beyond telling them not to do it, but also why they should not do this.
- Model the behavior you want to see: As educators, if we do not want students to treat others poorly, we have to show them how that looks like and feels like. If students spoke ill about another colleague’s classroom, I shut the conversation down immediately and supported the other teachers in the building through my words. My interactions in front of the students conveyed the support that I had for my fellow educators. We also have to try to find positive aspects throughout the day. Speaking positively to our students and encouraging them allows them to focus on the positive aspects of their day as well. I believed that if they felt good about themselves, they were less apt to put others down.
- Build a community that does not tolerate bullying: Teach students about what bullying is and what it is not. Students should understand the difference between repetitive issues and isolated incidents that only occur once. There are three main forms of bullying that can impact them, which are physical, verbal, and social, and all three are damaging. The school should have a policy against bullying that is well communicated to students, staff, and families that includes prevention and consequences against bullying. The community should seek to assist the victim, but also should have a program that repairs the bully. Getting to the root of what causes the person who is bullying to do harm to others is just as important as getting the victim the proper help they need.
Although I did all of these things in my classroom, I felt unprepared to deal with it as a parent. When my daughter came home on the 2nd day of school and shared what was happening to her, I tried to empower her to handle it on her own, but after the 4th day of the bullying, I knew something had to be done. I was told by several people to let it resolve itself on its own, but my husband and I decided that we had to get involved. I am glad to say that after getting involved, it has gotten better for her. If your child or student is experiencing bullying, please do not wait for it to resolve itself or hope that it will get better with time. Work with the school personnel to resolve the issues. Students deserve to go to school and learn without being made to feel bad about who they are. Educators and parents are their advocates until they can advocate for themselves. By establishing the behavior we expect early, modelling the behavior we want to see, and building a community that does not tolerate bullying, we can ensure that students learn in a safe environment, become good people, and treat others with respect.
About the Author: Kelisa Wing is a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader and the 2017 Department of Defense Education Activity Teacher of the Year. She is an Army veteran and a proud graduate of the University of Maryland University College and the University of Phoenix where she earned her Educational Specialist degree.