Teachers have a sixth sense when it comes to student interactions. You know the children who are making friends easily and the ones who have difficulty socializing. You know who can’t sit next to little Billy and who needs a peer buddy. You know which students are professional tattlers and which ones will "forget" to tell you about an incident on the playground. We work so hard getting to know our students and making our classrooms positive environments to enhance their learning experiences, thus already taking preventative measures against bullying. However, with the media attention on tragic events at Rutgers University leading to statewide legislation as well as the federal government’s anti-bullying campaign, teachers now have to make sure that they have evidence that they are making an effort to prevent and report cases of bullying.
What is considered bullying?
My school district gave an introductory workshop to bullying, and it was defined for us as follows:
Behavior that makes the victim feel threatened or powerless, physically or emotionally.
More questions to consider when determining if harassment, intimidation, or bullying is taking place: Is the aggressor trying to intentionally embarrass the victim? Does the behavior violate the victim's self image?
Canadian researchers Debra Pepler and Wendy Craig define bullying as “the assertion of power through aggression.” Whichever definition we use as professionals, we also need to make sure that we define it for our students. This can be done as we develop classroom rules, guidelines, and consequences. It can also be created as we find teachable moments and situations in our classrooms to make sure we create caring and supportive communities.
Creating a caring community
If we take the time to teach and integrate social and emotional learning throughout our day, we will reap the benefits behaviorally and academically. Instructor magazine asks the question, “Can Kindness Be Taught?”, and I truly believe that it can and it needs to be. Of course these skills should also be encouraged and modeled first and foremost in the home; however, as the article states, we cannot assume that students come to school with these tools.
How can we be proactive in our classrooms? First, we need to take a look at ourselves: we are the models for our students and the nuances of our words, our tone, and our behaviors are under scrutiny. Students pick up on everything! We can show our classes self-control, acceptance of consequences, and learning from mistakes, as we problem-solve in front of our students.
Next we can look at the classroom rules: have we modeled them, practiced them, and role-played them? Ideally teachers want to spend the first few weeks of school defining these policies and procedures; however, even at this time of the year, teachers can take the time to encourage students to practice and re-define for themselves what these guidelines mean. One of my favorite activities in the beginning of the year is having students sketch out each of the rules, and hang them up so we can refer to them throughout the year. We revisit these guidelines when we have discussions about Thanksgiving, December holidays, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Moreover, as situations occur throughout the day, we use them as opportunities to practice our problem-solving strategies.
Another really great way to build and maintain a community of learners is by having a morning meeting. This is a significant component of the Responsive Classroom approach, in which students come to a meeting place in the classroom every morning for 20-30 minutes to greet each other, share and listen to each other’s news, practice social and academic skills, and set a positive tone for the day. This daily morning routine helps foster a sense of belonging and trust, and provides opportunity to practice social and emotional skills. We used role-play situations that could happen during recess in hopes that students would remember to use these skills independently. Many teachers' first response to the idea of morning meeting is "I don't have enough time as it is!" Remember that putting some time into helping students build community and manage their own behavior will save you valuable time in having to deal with behavior issues later. I remember one year having a very challenging group of students, and when asked about their favorite part of the day, they unanimously agreed that it was morning meeting. From then on I knew that no matter what kind of curricular demands were required of me, I had to make time for morning meeting.
My intention in this article is just to give a snapshot of ideas and resources for this very important topic. One of many hats that we wear as educators is researcher. Here is a list of resources that will shed more light on this issue as well as help you grow professionally. As Debbie Miller says, happy reading!
An amazing program to implement in K-6 classrooms to foster and build classroom communities and schools. They have wonderful professional development and literature. Sign up for their free newsletter.
Here is a link about teaching students when to report an incident an adult. Very crucial if bullying is occurring when we’re not looking because we’re still responsible.
Great article on teaching students how to not be a by stander.
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