Anti-Bullying Programs, Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow
A Four-Part Article, By Marnie Hancock, B.Ed, Author, Teacher, Consultant
The BC Education Ministry’s and A 25 Year Teacher’s Strategies to E.R.A.S.E. Bullying
In Part 3 of my article about Bullying, I outline The BC Education Ministry’s and my own teaching strategies to E.R.A.S.E. Bullying.
E.R.A.S.E. Bullying (Expect Respect and A Safe Education.)
Another amazing attribute of this great school was that new programs were both discussed and valued. In one of the last Staff Meetings I attended, low and behold, the School Counselor and the Vice Principal got up to speak about the new Ministry of Education’s Anti-bullying Program, titled E.R.A.S.E. Bullying (Expect Respect and A Safe Education.)
I was very excited, because I had already heard about this program’s pending arrival. I was silently and simply amazed. Here I was, at this wonderful school that was actually implementing Anti-Bullying Programs, and now I was about to learn all about the Ministry’s new additions to them also.
The School Counselor and Vice-Principal had just attended a district workshop introducing this new government program, and they shared what they had learned. They shared the new government website, as well as a government booklet, which provided much education about what bullying was. As their presentation came to an end, however, they also shared some fairly disappointing news. While the government clearly had a stated mandate to Eliminate Bullying, they simply made referrals to resources, rather than providing a specific program. In essence, the program did not provide any concrete, practical resources that you could pick up and teach with. Sigh! Back to disappointment again.
My Own Strategies to Eliminate Bullying: A Focus On Classroom Management
So, then I had to stop, and I had to ask myself, what strategies had I used in my own classroom, learned over 25 years, to prevent and eliminate bullying? While Anti-Bullying Programs were never implemented at some of my earlier schools, personally and professionally, I never gave up on eliminating bullying in my classroom.
Essentially, I continued to research and implement many different Classroom Management Strategies, and I found that these strategies actually transferred very well into an effective Anti-Bullying Program. Once these Classroom Management Strategies were implemented, bullying in my classroom was almost completely eliminated.
So now, when I opened that classroom door, even at this wonderful school, and still I heard, “Johnny called me stupid!” “Sally laughed at my coat!” and “Frank budged!” what over the years had I learned to do? To begin to share this with you, I would like to describe one particular bullying incident that took place, just before my placement at this wonderful school ended. And this answers the “No” part of the question, as to whether or not “Pink Shirt Day” completely eliminated bullying.
A Bullying Incident Described
After recess one day, a young student came over to my desk, and he pointed to a fellow classmate, saying “She’s bullying me!” In the cloakroom, while putting their belongings away, another student had been repeatedly blowing air in his face. I know, this sounds very innocent! But he had asked her to stop, over several days, and she wouldn’t. He was obviously very upset about it. (One-time incidents do not come under the definition of bullying; but repeated incidents do.)
My teaching partner and I had been talking with the children about trying first to solve the problem themselves, by being assertive and telling the other student to stop. This student had tried this, however, and still the other student hadn’t stopped their behavior. So at this point, he was taking the next correct “Anti-Bullying” step. He was telling an adult.
Bystander Intervention, and Telling an Adult
So, what did I do, as the adult and teacher, and as the potential advocate for this child? Did I brush off his complaint, because it seemed so innocent, and because I needed to get to Music or P.E? Or, did I take the time to help him to problem solve, to teach the other student that what she was doing was Bullying, and even to take this opportunity to model good problem solving behavior with the whole class?
Ultimately, the additional strategy for resolving this problem was up to me, the teacher and adult involved.
The answer for me was, “Yes, take an action.” For me, I believed that the consequences of not getting involved, and not teaching those social skills, were just too great. I.E., the bullying could continue; the problem could escalate; the other children would start copying it: and I would end up with one big “Bullying Mess.”
Problem Solving Skills & Class Meetings
So, on this day, I chose to not teach the lesson I was intending to teach, and I chose to Problem Solve openly with the students involved. First, I declared a Class Meeting time. –I could have chosen to problem solve with the two children in private, but that would have meant that the other children would have needed to be independently at work, and this was Kindergarten. So, I chose to problem solve with the help of the whole class.
I reminded the children of my basic Problem Solving Rules, that only one person can speak at a time. (Insisting on hands up in a group setting works.) I reminded them of another communication rule, too, which was to speak in a calm, inside voice, and to use respectful words and body language. Then we began.
I asked each child for their version of the story, and each child was listened to well. Also, the other children were able to tell what they had seen. Yes, it wasn’t always that comfortable. Yes, there was sometimes denial. Yes, there were sometimes interruptions. Yes, there was even anger and indignation. But I remained calm, modeling good and respectful listening skills, and we worked through it.
Finally, the young girl could see what she had been doing was wrong. She heard, felt and saw how upset she had made her classmate. She empathized, took responsibility for it, and then she apologized. These are the final steps in the Problem Solving Process.
Apologies, though, shouldn’t be quick and easy, without meaning. Another Problem Solving Rule is that you need to stop and look the person you’re apologizing to in the eye, and you need to say you’re sorry as if you mean it, with compassion and in a respectful tone of voice.
This being done, the young boy felt heard. He felt valued and safe again, and he said, “Thank you.” Then, we were able to get on with the lesson at hand.
Where Did I Learn These Problem Solving Skills?
So, where did I learn these Problem Solving Skills? Well, it wasn’t just through The Second Step Program, mentioned in Part 1 of this Article, although this is a very practical and informative program. I also learned these Problem Solving Strategies through talking with teachers, listening to principals, reading books, and attending Classroom and Behavior Management workshops. I also learned them through attending the school of hard knocks! It took almost half of my on-contract teaching career to learn all these skills, and to put them together into these various steps that worked well for me.
Too, I found I had to modify these strategies, depending on the class and age group I was teaching. When I was teaching Grades 1 and 2, for example, I would have mini Class Meetings after recess and lunch, if necessary, and for a number of years I held Class Meetings on Friday afternoons. There is quite a large body of information about how to hold Class Meetings, and reading about how to conduct them is very interesting and worthwhile.
Researching similar strategies for parents, one year I found modified versions of Class Meetings for Families, to be used around the dinner table. I have often thought to myself, how I wish parents had the opportunities that we had as teachers, to learn about these Classroom Management and Behavior Management Strategies. I highly recommend that parents take all of these bolded beginning terms and strategies, and do some deeper research on them. This article really is just an introduction to Anti-Bullying Strategies.
Preventing Bullying By Having a Set of Rules
One of my very key Classroom Management and Anti-Bullying strategies is that of prevention. In all of my research and experience around having a safe and successful classroom, prevention is key. Essentially prevention is achieved by having a strong set of classroom rules, which are consistently and fairly maintained.
The best book I ever read about establishing effective rules in the classroom was the book titled Discipline With Dignity, by Richard Curwin and Allen Mendler. This very helpful book was referred to me by a fellow teacher in my earlier teaching years, and the book talks about how to set up and maintain your own set of classroom rules.
I found it very interesting that the process moves from a negative to a positive, when establishing these classroom rules; just like both the List and the successful Anti-Bullying Strategies mentioned in Part 2 of this Article.
Specifically in September, you begin by asking the children themselves what the rules are at school, and you write them down for them. They will tell you, “No throwing!” “No teasing!” “No running!” They love it! With the children having told you all these rules themselves, they actually take much more ownership and responsibility for them!
Next, you begin to “sort and classify” these rules, under their more positive categories, changing them to positive, more global statements. Ultimately you are aiming for the more positive classroom rules below.
A: Be Kind. (Use only positive, respectful words, tone of voice and body language, even when problem solving, etc..)
B: Be Safe. (No hitting, pushing, running, spreading germs, keep your hands to yourself, etc.)
C: Learn. (One person speaks at a time, listen, do your best, put your hand up, don’t interrupt, etc.)
Consequences Also Prevent Bullying
I have also learned that no set of rules will work without a clearly defined set of consequences. There is much material written about Logical Consequences. For myself, though, the most logical consequence in a classroom is a “Time Out” from the group. In other words, if you cannot follow the classroom rules, then you cannot be a part of that group; albeit for a short period of time.
Consequences, however, are never the first line of defense. Teaching the rules, and then reminders, warnings and then consequences are the best sequence of events. Using the short form strategy of, “That’s once for not.., that’s twice, that’s three times, you’re out!” is also very valuable.
Consequences, too, should escalate, depending on the severity and frequency of the behavior. In the Discipline with Dignity Program, the authors discuss how every teacher should choose one rule that was very important to them, and to make it very clear to their students that they have absolute authority over that rule, to immediately administer consequences if necessary.
The rule that I chose to do this with was the safety rule. I warned my students that any unsafe behavior would be subject to immediate “time out” consequences, possibly including the more severe consequences of a call home, temporary removal from the classroom, (a visit to the Principal’s Office or Behavior Resource Room, if there was one), or temporary removal from recess, lunch, or even the school itself. In very severe discipline cases, I even talked about how when you are grown up, hurting others can lead to intervention by the police and the court system. This, of course, was rarely used, but it carried a lot of weight.
Regarding consequences for Bullying, I have actually heard of schools in the US where parents are fined if their children bully. Cyber Bullying incidences in Florida, like those leading up to Canadian suicides of Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons, can result in teens being charged for distributing pornography. In a very recent incidence of a teen suicide in Florida, caused by two teenagers who had bullied the female student who eventually killed herself, the teens were arrested on charges of felony stalking and harassment. While these consequences may seem harsh, by the time children reach their teens, children need to know right from wrong, and they need to know that any type of Bullying is inappropriate.
Personally I have found that consequences in our both BC school system and Federally are not yet really clearly defined. I believe there needs to be much more consistent attention given to this area in our school system and in our society today. Fortunately, Federally in Canada, distributing private photos without permission is now being considered a crime. To their credit, also, the BC Ministry of Education has recently implemented a Code of Conduct in schools, informing parents that if their children’s behavior is not acceptable, there will be consequences. Again, while these consequences are not yet clearly defined, parents are at least forewarned, and teachers and administrators are more “backed up” if they need to apply any of the consequences described above.
“The Truth” and Consequences
–Just a quick side note about “The Truth.” Often I would reduce the severity of consequences, and even remove them, if a child would tell the truth rather than lie. Children need to learn that it is safe to tell the truth, even if they have made a mistake. Hiding and lying about Bullying is very common, and so lying also needs to be eliminated if you want to build a safe, Anti-Bulling atmosphere.
Preventing Bullying By Rewarding Good Behavior
Believe it or not, however, with enough preventative strategies in place, I found that I rarely needed to administer any more consequences than a short time out. Eventually, even this was rare.
On a more positive note, too, another preventative strategy that I have found to be very effective is to reward the good behaviors that I desired. I would often give out Good Behavior Awards, at least two or three a day, and I would frequently praise the positive behaviors that I observed in my classroom. Practically speaking, at the end of my teaching day, I would sit at my desk, take out the good behavior certificates that I’d placed at the top of my daybook, and then I would reflect back on the day, remembering who had done a particularly kind or exemplary act. I would then fill out the two or three certificates. I even kept a class list attached to these certificates, to make sure that I eventually included everyone in the class. This strategy is an example of Positive Reinforcement, and this is a very powerful teaching strategy.
In this way, I not only reinforced the behaviors I wanted, but at the same time I was building modeling, mentorship and even leadership amongst my students. Suddenly, children would be going out of their way to behave positively towards each other, creating exactly the opposite climate from a bullying one. Essentially, I would begin to experience a more calm, inclusive and nurturing classroom, and one in which much more learning could take place.
Part 4: Future Anti-Bullying Strategies: Peer Mediation
Effectively, modeling, mentorship and building leadership are all very important strategies to any Anti-Bullying Program. Fortunately, these strategies are also very important to Peer Mediation, the Anti-Bullying Strategy recently recommended by our Federal Government. Fortunately, too, as a Teacher On Call, I had the delightful experience of observing how Peer Mediation works, and first hand. I will be sharing this wonderful experience with you in the last installment of my Anti-Bullying Article, Anti-Bullying Strategies of the Future. Stay tuned! The concluding Part 4 of this article will arrive in two weeks’ time.