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Anti-Bullying Programs In Schools: A 25 Year Teacher’s Perspective, Part 2

Part 2.  Anti-Bullying Programs Today

A Four-Part Article, By Marnie Hancock, B.Ed, Author, Teacher, Consultant

Introduction:

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 adultAdvocacy 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.

Anti-Bullying Programs In Schools: A 25 Year Teacher’s Perspective, Part 1.

A Four-Part Article About Solutions To Bullying,

By Marnie Hancock, B.Ed, Author, Teacher, Consultant

A Personal Note From The Author:

As many of you know, I recently returned to teaching part-time in the Public Education System.  What you may not know, however, is that within this system I have had a long history with Anti-Bullying Programs.  In a way, my interest in The List, aka Reality Dynamics, is due in part to this interest.  Essentially, the List is all about personal empowerment and safety, which is the direct opposite of what people experience in Bullying scenarios.  My recent return to teaching was so inspiring, largely because of the great progress in Anti-Bullying Programs that I experienced at the stellar school where I was teaching.  So often successes in the Public Education System go uncelebrated, and so my goal is to do just that.  Too, my goal is also to assist with the problems of cyber bullying and the resultant teen suicides.  Only very briefly do I touch on The List Program, although I believe that The List process would be a valuable addition to any Anti-Bullying Program.  Read on, and I hope you enjoy this unique and experienced window into the evolution of Anti-Bullying Programs in the Public Education System today.

Because of the extensive content and depth of this subject, I have divided this article into four parts.  I hope you enjoy reading this article, as I share further aspects of this topic with you over the next several months.

Part 1.  Anti-Bullying Programs Today & Yesterday: Emotional & Cyber Bullying & Teen Suicide

Finding new solutions to cyber bullying and resulting increased teen suicides was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s appeal on Global News in May of 2013.  He asked that all Canadians need work together to find solutions to this new and challenging situation.  As a 25 year Public Education Teacher, I would like to respond to Stephen Harper’s call, and I would like to share the many successful Anti-Bullying Strategies that I have learned over my 25 year teaching career.  Essentially, I have closely researched and utilized Anti-Bullying Programs since their inception, almost 25 years ago.

At the risk of sounding like a “know it all,” receiving teachers were often impressed at how well my students learned, often being able to read, write and complete Math activities well beyond their grade level.  My students were happy, too, having fun at school.  Essentially, I found that the benefits of addressing Bullying in my classroom were immense.  When children felt safe, their potential for learning was infinite.

From my experience, however, not everyone in the Public Education System has made Anti-Bullying a priority.  While there have been some good reasons for this, with the added and exponential influence of technology, and the resulting teen suicides, I believe we cannot wait any longer.  All of us need to learn about and address Bullying now, for the benefit of our children and society.

To this end, and from first-hand experience, I will share with you every aspect of Anti-Bullying Programs that I have learned, from 25 years ago up until today.

In particular, this spring, I had the honor and privilege of teaching with a very fine group of professionals, at a well-established B.C. Lower Mainland school.  This brilliant group of professionals did make Anti-Bullying a priority; and I wanted to share this valuable experience with you.

After a 15 year hiatus from teaching on contract, this spring I ventured into teaching three days a week as a French Immersion Kindergarten Teacher.  When I arrived at this wonderful school, much to my surprise, these professionals were just starting to implement their yearly Anti-Bullying Program.

At my first of two  monthly staff meetings, the School Counselor got up to tell us about the school’s upcoming Pink T-Shirt Day, a National Anti-Bullying Week activity that he and his Anti-Bullying Committee were organizing for the whole school.

Secretly I thought to myself, “What, did I actually end up at a school where Anti-Bullying is made a priority?”  From my previous 25 years in the teaching profession, with 15 years as a teacher on contract and 10 years as a teacher on call, I must admit, this had often not been the case.  Here and now, at this school, I was about to see a new Anti-Bullying Program implemented first hand, and expertly.

To set the stage, though, I want to share with you my earlier teaching experiences with Anti-Bullying Programs.

Anti-Bullying Programs of Yesteryear

25 years ago, Anti-Bullying Programs were just starting out in Lower Mainland Schools.  At that time, I felt a strong need to have effective strategies to prevent Bullying in my classroom.

I was teaching Grades K-3, and  I had heard rumors that one of our district’s principals was implementing the first Anti-Bullying Program at his school.  So, after school one day I made an appointment with him, and he offered me his Anti-Bullying file.

I remember being a bit shocked when I first saw it: a large file, brimming over with loose papers, with some printed and many hand-written notes.  I remember asking him where the program came from, and I believe he replied that the program came from an introductory workshop made at a Principal’s Meeting.  Now, this principal tells me he remembers this first program was called, “Bully Beware.”

Despite my hesitation over the informality of this file, though, I rifled through it, and I copied everything that seemed relevant.  I then took it back to our school.  At our next Staff Meeting, I proposed that we implement the program.

After the usual discussion at our Staff Meeting, however, the principal that I was working with at the time recommended that we do not implement the program.  Needless to say, I was disappointed.  To his credit, though, he had a number of good reasons.  First, he felt it was more important to implement the new Social Skills Program that our district had just purchased for all of our schools, called The Second Step Program.  Especially, he wanted us to teach the Problem Solving Unit within that program.

He knew more about the first Anti-Bullying Program than I’d thought, informing us that learning Problem Solving Skills was an important part of the new Anti-Bullying Program.  When teaching this Unit, I learned that this principal was right.  Basically, the unit taught conflict resolutions skills, and especially how to be assertive in any situation.  This is a key and effective strategy in Anti-Bullying Programs today.

Next, our principal shared that there were really very few resources included in this new Anti-Bullying Program.  That, I could to attest to, having seen the original file.

Third, he added that even those people implementing the program had found that incidences of Bullying even increased when implementing this program.  As a principal, and often being the final recipient of challenging behavior at school, he was moving forward cautiously.   I respected this, and so I let it go.

Secretly to myself though, I thought, I think I know why this program actually increases bullying.  When I was looking through this program, even in its beginning stages, I was quite concerned with its emphasis on so many negative wordings and images.  I knew from my own lay psychological studies that negative words, especially when repeated, often created the reality that the words described.  As I looked through the program, I saw the word “Bullying” over and over again, with accompanying bullying images being viewed and drawn.  So, while the intent of the program was positive, I, too, was concerned about some of the program’s negative influences.

The lay psychological information that I had, however, was quite new information, and so I wasn’t really confident that my input would be accepted.

I had been very lucky to meet and study with one of the pioneering teachers in new thought psychologies, and her name was Jann Timmreck.  The title of her work was The List AKA Reality Dynamics.  The findings of her work, however, were not yet main stream.   So I waited for a more appropriate time to share them; and I continued to research and develop the education system’s and my own Anti-Bullying Strategies.

Emotional Bullying Identified

One of the very positive and important points that I remember from this first Anti-Bullying program, however, was that Emotional Bullying was for the first time clearly identified.  Emotional Bullying included activities such as teasing, taunting, name calling, exclusion, and not respecting another person’s space.  Physical Bullying, such as hitting in all of its various forms, was really more obvious.  For the most part, it had long been identified and dealt with.  But the emphasis on Emotional Bullying was new; and I felt, long overdue.

Emotional Bullying, at least at my grade level, was a really big issue.  As a classroom teacher, I felt I was dealing with this type of Bullying at least several times a day, and every day.  Complaints such as, “Johnny called me stupid!”  “Sally laughed at my coat!” and “Frank budged!” were all very common in my Primary Classroom.  (Please note that throughout this article the identities have been changed to protect the very innocent!)  Usually the incident would have happened outside, on the playground or before school, and it was brought into the classroom when I opened that door.

While these problems may on the surface seem innocent and trite, to young students they are very important.  To a teacher, trying to deal with the emotions involved is both complex and time-consuming; but the fallout from not dealing with these problems can be even more challenging.  From my experience, unresolved emotional bullying leads to even more serious conflicts, and even more disruptions and thus lost learning time in the classroom.

In those earlier years, when asking for assistance as how to deal with Emotional Bullying, I often found that it was just “glossed over,” by teachers, administrators and parents alike.  Comments such as, “Tell the Supervisor,” “That’s an outside problem, not an inside one,” and “Tough it out,” easily dismissed the need for adult intervention.

What the first Anti-Bullying program did, however, was to start to shine the light on what exactly Emotional Bullying was, and eventually how important it was to deal with it.  The principal I was working with at the time asked us all to be more aware of this type of bullying, and in the future to treat it just as seriously as Physical Bullying.

Emotional Bullying at the Root of Teen Suicides

Overall, I now believe that this type of Bullying, Emotional Bullying, added to the exponential influence of our cyber world, is very much at the root of teen suicides.  Now especially, we need to learn strategies to deal with Emotional Bullying, just as much as Physical Bullying.

Granted, one of the simple reasons why Emotional Bullying is often glossed over in schools is that Emotional Bullying usually takes place in areas where adults are not.  As I touched on earlier, Bullying often takes place in “hidden places:” on the school playgrounds, during recess and lunch, in cloakrooms, or before and after school.  Essentially, Emotional Bullying takes place where students are not as closely supervised by an adult, and where they are left to interact with their own young and “burgeoning” social skills.

With a mandate for teachers to teach Reading, Writing and Math, and any number of new programs, in the past addressing Bullying has taken more of a side note.  Too, Problem Solving due to any type of Bullying can often take a lot of time to work out, and effective Problem Solving takes special knowledge and skills.  Hurt feelings are often caused unintentionally with younger children; but if you choose to problem solve about them, you need to take the time to talk with the students involved, and to carefully move the situation to final resolution.  All the while, too, you are supposed to be teaching 20 to 30 other students!  For myself, it took me almost half of my career to learn effective strategies to facilitate Problem Solving, especially in Emotional Bullying scenarios.  I will share the basics of these strategies further in other parts of this article.

Teen Suicides in BC

Continuing with my history with past Anti-Bullying Programs, fast forward to about three years ago, when many aboriginal teenagers had committed suicide in the Lake Cowichan area on Vancouver Island.  Then, the local RCMP and the Aboriginal Community were reaching out for help, just as Stephen Harper is doing now.  At the time, I had stopped teaching on contract, and I had long moved into substitute teaching.  I did this because I needed time to teach the lay psychological program I mentioned earlier, which explained why the anti-bullying program had inherent difficulties.  By this time, I was the co-author of the book, The List AKA Reality Dynamics, and I had moved into speaking about and teaching the program to churches, colleges and local societies.

I felt that The List Program had much to offer to the Cowichan teen suicide crisis, and I wanted to share the additional Anti-Bullying strategies that I had learned in my teaching career.  Essentially, The List Program helps to create much more safety for children, and much more prosperity and happiness for their families.  Being very effective, The List can also help parents to have more control over what happens in their children’s lives, in terms of who their children’s friends are, their children’s success at school, and the direction of their children’s future.  But after many calls, there seemed to be no way in.  Most everyone I could get through to did not even return my calls.

Finally, I even contacted the original principal who had implemented that very first Anti-Bullying Program in my district, 25 years ago.  When I reached him, this principal had been promoted to Director of Instruction in a different Lower Mainland School District.  (Someone was listening!)  He informed me, however, that he was no longer directly involved in Anti-Bullying Programs.  He did mention, though, that the BC Ministry of Education was now involved, under the Department of Safer Schools.  He added that this Department would be coming out soon with a new Anti-Bullying Program, titled E.R.A.S.E. Bullying (Expect Respect and A Safe Education.) 

So, even though he was no longer as directly involved, he was still “on the pulse.”  I was disappointed that I couldn’t find a way in to assist in Lake Cowichan.  I was also disappointed that this principal (I thought) was no longer involved in working with the program.  But I was relieved that the Ministry was going to make Anti-Bullying a priority.  I looked forward to seeing their new program, and I continued with substitute teaching and teaching my own prosperity and even Anti-Bullying Program, the List, AKA Reality Dynamics.

In further parts of this article, learn more about E.R.A.S.E. Bullying (Expect Respect and A Safe Education), Behavior Management Strategies, Peer Mediation, and much, much more.