Part 2. Anti-Bullying Programs Today
A Four-Part Article, By Marnie Hancock, B.Ed, Author, Teacher, Consultant
In my first article, I shared my 25 year history with Anti-Bullying Programs. I shared how initially Anti-Bullying Programs were not very popular, because of thier inherant difficulties. In Part 2 of this article, I discuss Anti-Bullying Programs today, from the context of recently teaching at a stellar Lower Mainland school. Much has changed, especially at this school. Here, modern Anti-Bullying Programs have both evolved and thrived.
Pink Shirt Day & My First Staff Meeting
Return now to present day, and the wonderful, brilliant school where I was teaching this Spring. From my first article, you will know that at my first Staff Meeting here I was secretly and absolutely thrilled, as I learned that Anti-Bullying was made a priority. When this stellar school’s Counselor got up to speak about Anti-Bullying Activities, I listened with surprise and sharp, keen interest.
The School Counselor’s Anti-Bullying Program this year was going to include all of the school’s students preferably wearing a Pink T-Shirt, on National Anti-Bullying Day. The Student’s Council was also going to do some fun and creative activities in the afternoon, running stations such as face painting for the younger students. At first, I didn’t really understand how this would relate to Anti-Bullying; but I was soon to find out.
At this staff meeting, the Counselor and fellow Resource Teacher also talked about some of the concerns inherent to the Anti-Bullying Program. (What? Déjà vu?) First of all, they were concerned that some of the children, especially the boys, would be teased (i.e. Emotionally Bullied) for wearing a Pink T-Shirt. –I was really impressed at this level of sensitivity, given to an Emotional Bullying scenario. As I mentioned before, previously I had seen the emotional needs of students simply brushed off by the adults around them.
Then the Counselor and his committee added that while they wanted to encourage the children to wear a Pink T-Shirt, they decided not to make this mandatory—wearing a pink bracelet or anything else pink would do. (What? Even more sensitivity?)
Increased Bullying on Anti-Bullying Day
Next, the Counselor mentioned his third concern. The Counselor mentioned that they were not going to have the usual “Walk for Bullying” activity, because they had found that when they held this event, incidences of bullying actually increased! (He added that no one really knew why, but this was the case.)
What?! Déjà vu again! I thought, well, here I am, 25 years later, listening to the same piece of information, and I believe I know exactly why this happens! I remember thinking, I need to talk with this Counselor privately, and to talk with him about why this is. Being such a sensitive person, and a counselor with psychology training, I thought maybe I had finally found someone within the system who would understand. –But of course, with teaching being such a busy profession, and with the counselor working in a completely different wing, I never got the chance. This article is in part my way of sharing this reason with this amazing Counselor and school.
Modeling and Peer Mentoring
Anti-Bullying Week fast approached, and the way it was orchestrated, I was really, really impressed. The Friday before Pink Shirt Day, several Student Council members arrived in our classroom, all ready to talk about the upcoming activities. They arrived as a great mix of boys and girls, and they were all wearing Pink T-Shirts. (Silently I was thinking to myself, what great modeling!) Modeling, by the way, is one of simplest and yet most effective teaching and Anti-Bullying strategies available to us today. Another term for modeling, at least in this context, is Peer Mentoring. I will explain and describe this term further below.
The Student’s Council members next shared the reasons why they were wearing their Pink T-Shirts. I had not heard this story before, but several years ago, a young man on the East Coast of Canada had been bullied at school for wearing a Pink T-Shirt, and he had eventually committed suicide over the incident.
When the Student’s Council delegates spoke, I could see the young students listening attentively to their peers. I was silently amazed, as I watched all of my students easily empathize with the story. There were no silly, disrespectful reactions; and the students all immediately agreed to wear a Pink T-Shirt on Anti-Bullying Day. The younger students had heard about it from their “cool” peers. They had seen caring and concern for the young boy modeled; and they were ready and “dialed in.” This effectively is how Modeling and Peer Mentoring works. Research shows that young children are much more likely to listen to their peers, about any subject, rather than listening to an adult. However, you can still note from above that much adult knowledge and direction is needed behind the scenes to effectively deliver these components of an Anti-Bullying Program.
Now, looking a little deeper, I realize that the Student’s Council were not just modeling how to wear a Pink T-Shirt. They were also modeling the values of tolerance, respect, inclusion, compassion and empathy. All of these values are necessary to instill in children, when developing an Anti-Bullying Program.
Back, though, to Anti-Bullying Week. Even having seen how well the Pink Shirt Day message was delivered, I still really wasn’t ready for what happened on Monday morning. When I opened my classroom door, to my complete shock and surprise, I was greeted by a sea of pink. Pink jackets, pink backpacks, even pink shoes flooded my consciousness; and of course, there were many, many Pink T-Shirts. On that Monday morning, almost every child in that classroom walked in the door wearing a Pink T-Shirt: and the very few that didn’t, arrived wearing something else that was pink, like a pink bracelet or pink socks. The message about Anti-Bullying had been received: and I was completely flabbergasted.
Why, after 25 years of teaching, was I so surprised at this full class participation? Well, in years past, on special days, I don’t think I’d ever seen 100 % participation. –It could have even been Pink Lollypop Day! “And even on a Monday?” I asked myself! Anyone who has ever taught Primary students knows that young students’ memories can often be fairly short. Parents memories, too, can be a bit short, due to the distractions of a weekend. I have to admit, my own memory could be a bit short, too, especially when I was busy teaching. On that Monday, having forgotten to wear a Pink T-Shirt myself, last minute before I opened that door, and after seeing so many staff members wearing Pink T-Shirts, I quickly cut out a quick pink heart, and I attached it to my necklace and keychain.
With this 100% participation being so rare, I also began to reflect that many more key factors must be at work at this school, in order to make this event so successful. I will share them with you in context, as I continue on.
Reduced Bullying During Anti-Bullying Week
Later that day, all the younger students had a wonderful time having their faces painted by the Students Council. This time, on Anti-Bullying Day, no increase in Bullying took place. To the school Counselor’s credit, he had effectively eliminated one of the principal difficulties with the Anti-Bullying Program: increased bullying, during Anti-Bullying Week. I’m not really sure if anyone at that school, and even myself until I wrote this article, realized how truly amazing this was.
As you will remember, this increase in bullying was the main block the first Anti-Bullying Program being implemented at my earlier school, 25 years ago: and in one easy step, this Counselor and his Committee had simply eliminated it. What I think happened, was that they took the emphasis on the negative aspects of bullying, just touched on them briefly, and then they changed the whole event into a much more positive, Peer Mentoring experience. Bravo! (This, by the way, is also the basics of how the List Program works. You take a problem in your life, you write it down in a specific way, and then you rewrite the negative experience into a positive one. This easy step effectively rewrites any limiting beliefs in your subconscious mind, changing negative realities into positive ones. And, it works!)
More Amazement: An Assembly Extraordinaire!
Later that week, I continued to be astounded by the Anti-Bullying Program that this Counselor and his Student’s Council were able to present. At the end of the week, the whole school attended a special Anti-Bullying Day Assembly. There, the Student’s Council modeled and taught everything anyone ever needed to know about Anti-Bullying. (More Peer Mentoring.) They modeled all the different Bullying scenarios, and then they modeled several effective strategies for their elimination. I was silently amazed, as different members of the Student’s Council acted out specific Physical and Emotional Bullying examples. After each example, they modeled the ways the students could help themselves or their peers to stop this Bullying. The key defenses, repeated over and over, were to be assertive, to get away, and then to tell an adult. Advocacy for children who are being bullied was also modeled. This was further termed, bystander intervention.
So, Did Anti-Bullying Week Stop Bullying At Our School?
Ultimately, the success of any program can be measured by whether or not the concepts have been transferred into every-day experience. So, did Anti-Bullying Week stop Bullying at this school? Well, to answer this question, I would have to say, “Yes,” and “No.”
Here is the “Yes” answer to this question. At this school, there was always a sense of calm and maturity amongst the older, intermediate children, towards their younger student counterparts.
Were these results simply because of Anti-Bullying Week, however? The answer to this question, I think, would have to be, “No.”
It Takes More Than One Special Week to Eliminate Bullying
I recently had the delight of speaking with the very first Principal to implement Anti-Bullying at my very first School District. Just by chance, I was over at his School District’s Office, picking up a T-4 copy from my Teacher On Call work there. I asked to speak with him, and he came down to talk to me immediately. I reintroduced myself, reminding him of our past interactions. I told him about the wonderful school I’d just been teaching at, and their many different Anti-Bullying activities. Immediately he stated, it takes more than just Pink Shirt Day to eliminate bullying at a school. I was initially a bit shocked by his statement, but I had to agree. I will share with you more about our conversation, but first here are some examples of what I believe he meant.
Many Factors Implemented Over Time Contribute to Eliminating Bullying
As I mentioned earlier, there were many other positive mechanisms at work at this school, introduced behind the scenes and over time, which I think contributed to eliminating Bullying.
I experienced another special day over Easter, also implemented administered by the School Counselor and The Student’s Council. A school-wide Easter Egg hunt was carried out, and the Student’s Council led the whole event, being especially attentive to their younger student’s. Here I saw even more Peer Mentoring and Modeling, especially of the values of compassion, caring and responsibility.
In my classroom, too, every Friday was Buddy Day. This was a day when a classroom of older students arrived in our room, and they helped us with theme-based lessons that both teachers designed just for Buddy Day.
I was surprised that in the four months that I taught at this school, I never saw an intermediate student at the office. This in itself was a complete miracle.
The Office & Administration Contribute Greatly
Speaking about the office, here also was a key factor to the very smooth and positive functioning of this school. The Principal and Vice-Principal were always right on top of everything that was happening at this school, but in a very friendly and positive way. I have to say, too, that the secretaries at this school were simply amazing. On my second day at this school, one of the secretaries caringly asked me how my day had been, and I was very grateful and surprised. Her caring and compassion towards an unknown Teacher On Call was very unique. Too, newsletters were a joint effort between the administration, staff and the secretaries, and newsletters to parents were always perfectly timed, friendly, and informative. Also, there were many community events that families and staff could attend. While Staff Meetings were many, I actually found that this was very beneficial for the effective running of this school. The Principal and her Vice Principal always had an agenda; but input from the teachers and support staff was requested, valued and respected. Special contributions and personal events in were often celebrated. This positive and inclusive environment led to strong leadership amongst the teachers and other staff members. Everyone had a different specialty; but teachers and support staff were all motivated and inspired, and they all worked very hard and well together as a team.
Effectively, I encountered these qualities and values everywhere I went at this school. Arriving on my very first day, I was greeted by the Principal at the door. She took the time to take me down to the classroom where I would be working the next day. She warmly introduced me to the teacher I would soon be team teaching with.
Essentially, there was always a very positive, strong, nurturing, and caring community atmosphere at this school. Subtly, too, this created great modeling for the children.
Over time, I realized I had arrived at a very special place. Many schools spout policies of inclusion and mutual respect, but this can be difficult to achieve. I would have to say that this school actually lived these policies, and I am so grateful that I was able to finally experience this, after 25 years of teaching.
Bullying can be prevented, when everyone involved is focused on everything that is bullying’s exact opposite; inclusion, nurturing and respect.
Article 3, In Two Weeks
In my next article, I discuss the Ministry of Education’s new program, E.R.A.S.E. Bullying (Expect Respect and A Safe Education.) I also discuss the “No” answer to the question, “Did Anti-Bullying Week stop Bullying at this school?” Despite the many Anti-Bullying successes at this marvelous school, I found that some bullying still occurred. In Article #3, I will share many personal classroom management strategies that I believe contribute significantly to eliminating bullying.