Archive for the ‘Solutions to bullying’ Category

How to respond to student bullying in High School

February 17, 2012

No Bully talked with Melissa Ambrose, who is the counselor at Oceana High School in Pacifica with a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean. Melissa has been through the No Bully Solution Team training.

What is different about bullying in High School? Bullying here is more covert than in middle school – students become very adept at masking. A lot of student bullying happens on the Internet which we rarely get to hear about it. Their language is different too. They talk of a student “hating on me” or “causing drama”. Some of the bullying is really a student conflict – they will accuse another student by saying “my girlfriend is talking to you” or “don’t tell me to shut up”.

I guess you can use conflict resolution in some of these situations?
I do a conflict resolution when two students are coming from a place of power. However conflict resolution only works if the students match each other in power. If one is deflated or in a shame place, I move more to Solution Team.

Do you have advice for how to run a Solution Team in High School? You can’t be afraid of teenagers. You have to be really transparent and willing to get into hard conversations with them. I might open the Solution Team by asking, “What’s going on? You all know what it feels like to be dissed. I don’t care whether you like so and so. But he needs to feel safe and comfortable at school.” I reference the research on bullying – for instance that we know a student cannot learn if they feel unsafe because under stress – their attentional system shuts down.

How do you engage student empathy? It helps that our high school uses the Facing History and Ourselves curriculum. All our students have studied the Holocaust and how racism has played out in the US. This helps us talk about social justice for all our students. I ask the students on the Solution Team who their closest people are. I remind them that they have a universe of obligation that I am asking them to expand. I remind them that I need them to be upstanders.

What can schools do if they don’t have this curriculum? High School students respond well to tangible information. I often talk to students about the science of compassion. The Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley puts out a lot of great materials and conferences about this. I let my students know that when they extend compassion and kindness to others, it also helps them. They get a hit of oxytocin. By being kind, by being an upstander, they are doing something good for their brain and for their body.

Some teachers say that they cannot contain the bully in Solution Team meetings. If the bullying student is being provocative in the Solution Team, I am not afraid to challenge them “If you are being this way with me in this private meeting, I am really concerned how you are out there in the school.”

What do you like about Solution Team? It recognizes that the victim of bullying is often a provocative target and is as much part of the problem as the bullies. By High School students have often been bullied for years and have developed some hardcore defenses. One of our students who was bullied mercilessly in Middle School will say “shut the f*** up” as soon as someone talks to her. This causes intense conflict and she often starts it.

Do you have hope? We don’t have a football team and cheerleaders and a pronounced social hierarchy. That makes it easier for us to create a community where all students feel accepted. We are definitely not perfect but over years of investment in bullying prevention and social justice, this school has become increasingly kind, generous and tolerant.

Boston launches bullying hotline

October 2, 2011

No Bully spoke this week to Ed Donnelly, known to many as Boston’s anti-bullying czar.

How many public schools are there in Boston? 134.

How did you come to set up a bullying hotline? The Mayor of Boston was proactive in setting up an anti-bullying hotline. Initially we had a physical phone in a room that rang. But we had not trained anyone how to answer it. So we routed the calls to a cell phone that I now carry around with me.

What do you say to callers? “Boston Public Schools. Bullying hotline.” People are amazed to have a live person. They ask me who I am. I say that I am retired headmaster of 34 years and I have four kids of my own. I assure them that kids absolutely can expect to have a bully free education. As far as I know, Boston is unique in having a live person answer the calls.

Who calls?
We get about ten calls a day. Mostly it’s parents. Sometimes students. I tell them that bullying is a very serious thing and that we can get it resolved. I ask their names and they always tell me. I ask if the school been made aware of the bullying. If they have not told anyone, I help put them in touch with the right person at the school. I always tell them to call me back if they want more help.

What happens next? Often I’ll call the school and let them know about the situation. We aim to be very proactive and often work with the school to end the bullying. It helps that I know most of the principals here. Every school in Boston needs to have an anti-bullying plan. Solution Team needs to be part of the plan. We need to get bystander involvement if we are going to make things better.

Do you recommend other school districts set up a bullying hotline? Answering the calls takes a lot of time. But it’s God’s work. Our hotline really makes a difference.

Ed Donnelly works for EDC in Boston where he advises Boston Public Schools on bullying. He is being certified by No Bully as a Solution Team & Coach trainer.

Students involved in bullying. What’s missing?

September 5, 2011

Traditional models of bullying tend to be black and white, placing all the blame on the bully and viewing the target as innocent victim. Sometimes this model holds true e.g. the target is the only African-American is a predominantly Caucasian school, or he is the only boy to come out as gay on a traditional school campus. In these situations it would be outrageous to blame the target.

However, the feedback we get from the students on our Solution Teams is complex. Some targets of bullying court negative attention and even engage in bullying others. In many cases, both targets and bullies have social skill deficits that drive their peers to distraction.

If you take the time to respond to bullying in your school, you will inevitably surface gaps in the social and emotional development of some (not all) of the students involved. In our No Bully Solution Team and Coach workshops we train educators how to track for six key skill sets.

Self-Awareness and Self-Management Skills. Students who frequently bully others tend to have trouble managing anger and to strike out aggressively. Hyperactivity and emotional outbursts are the two factors most likely to annoy and provoke peers to bully.
Social Awareness. Students often lack empathy for the victims of bullying, especially those that they view being different from the social ideal or norm.
Relationship Skills. Targets of bullying often have fewer friends, or only friends who are also victimized, and tend to have more enemies than non-victimized children. Many are socially withdrawn and lack confidence and skills in effectively interacting with peers. High-quality friendships, or at least one best friend, can help prevent children from being a victim.
Resilience to resist social pressure to participate in bullying. Bystanders don’t intervene to help targets for many reasons e.g. fear of the social or physical power of those doing the bullying, reluctance to challenge group norms, lack of skill in effective intervention. When bystanders do assert their disapproval of a bullying act, the episode usually ends quickly-in about half the cases in fewer than 10 seconds.
Knowing when to get help from peers or other adults. Targets and bystanders typically do not seek help from peers or adults when they are unable to solve the problem on their own. Self-identified victims are particularly likely to blame themselves for their victimization and to suffer in silence. This ties into the next skillset.
Responsible Decision Making. Students who frequently bully tend to misinterpret social interactions as being more hostile, adversarial, or provocative than their peers. Bullying students tend to hold more supportive beliefs about using violence and are less confident about using nonviolent strategies to resolve conflict. Targets also lack effective social problem-solving skills. Problem-solving strategies are 13 times more effective at de-escalating conflicts than are the aggressive, retaliatory, or emotionally reactive responses most frequently used by targeted children. Even among targets who use a problem solving strategy, the vast majority employ a passive strategy, such as avoiding, acquiescing to, or ignoring the bully, instead of a more effective assertive strategy, such as talking with others to find a solution or asking others for help

Research findings for this article were derived from CASEL, a national non-profit that works tirelessly to promote social and emotional learning in our schools.

How can we teach students to care? The miracle of empathy

February 8, 2011

The General Theory of Love tells of a monkey that underwent a limbic lobotomy, and so lost access to the part of his brain that governs social interactions. He “stepped on his outraged peers as if treading on a log or rock, and took their food with the nonchalance of one oblivious to their existence”.

Awareness of others, and the ability to care for others are primary distinctions between mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Although empathy levels fluctuates vary across individuals and over the lifetime (there is a significant dip for humans in early adolescence), it is a rare mammal that exhibits the sociopathic indifference of the monkey described above.

The big question, then, is how we can promote empathy, especially in young adolescents who are exploring their individuality at the expense of others. Nel Noddings, Professor of Child Education at Stanford University, is a leading authority. Noddings says that children develop the facility to care through a progression of experiences: “learning first what it means to be cared for, then to care for intimate others, and finally to care about those we cannot care for directly”.

No Bully adopted this progression in its creation of the Solution Team response to bullying. The Solution Team leader’s initial task is to create a climate where all students feel respected and attended to. She then lays out how the target of bullying is feeling and opens up the possibility of the team caring for this student. The team is next given the chance to practice by action. As Noddings writes: “If we want to produce people who will care for another, then it makes sense to give students practice in caring and reflection on that practice … Caring-about is empty if it does not culminate in caring relations.”

The end stage, according to Noddings, is confirmation : “the act of affirming and encouraging the best in others”. Under Solution Team, the team leader invites the target of bullying to the final meeting to report back how things have improved and to thank the team. As educators, once we have a relationship of trust with our students, we are in a position to call forth their capacity to engage in acts of caring.

Cyberbullying? Call in the sheriff!

May 3, 2010

When bullying makes news, lawmakers draft bills.

In 2008 the Missouri State Legislature passed what is know as Megan’s law, after Megan Meier, a 13-year-old Missouri girl who hanged herself in October 2006 in response to being tormented by her (fake) MySpace friend Josh. One week ago (April 29, 2010), the Massachusetts State Legislature passed an anti-bullying law in response to the suicide of Phoebe Prince, requiring all teachers and school employees to report bullying to the principal of the school and requiring the principal to investigate all claims. Forty-one states now have laws against bullying, and last fall Congress debated a federal anti-cyberbullying bill that would make it a federal crime to send a communication intended to “coerce, intimidate, harass or cause substantial emotional distress to another person.”

The United States has engaged in a longstanding love-affair with the courts and the criminal justice system, believing that the bigger the problem, the bigger the legal stick required. The result has been an ever-widening net of student behaviors in school that attract legal consequences.

But is student bullying something that we really want to criminalize? In any given semester millions of students engage in bullying, using behaviors that range from exclusion, taunting through to physical violence. Clearly the majority of these behaviors are not severe enough to warrant criminalization. Then where is the dividing line? When congress debated its version of the Megan Meier cyber bullying law, the proposed bill was limited to cyberbullying that caused “substantial emotional distress to another person”. But what constitutes “substantial”? Severe enough to interfere with schoolwork? Or only if the bullying results in suicide? In either case the question of whether it is criminal depends on the subjective response of the target of bullying – hardly satisfying the principle of jurisprudence that the law be clear and predictable.

Beyond this is the question whether criminal prosecution actually helps the moral development of the students involved. In Phoebe Prince’s case, two boys and four girls, ages 16 to 18, face a different mix of felony charges that include statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury, harassment, stalking and disturbing a school assembly. Likely, many of the accused are passing anxious days wondering when and how the criminal system will spit them out. If convicted, the experience will probably haunt these adolescents for the rest of their lives. Will this lead to their becoming more caring or engaged citizens? Really?

Are students inherently selfish? How to cultivate compassion

January 23, 2010

The students currently passing through our schools have been referred to as the Me Generation or the iGeneration for their startling preoccupation with … themselves. However, a stream of recent research studies suggest that humans are not born selfish and that we are wired to co-operate. Allison Gopnik, UC Berkeley child psychologist and author of The Philosophical Baby reports that “Babies not only learn more, but imagine more, care more, and experience more than we would ever have thought possible”. Even from a very young age children have the ability to gauge right from wrong, show empathy, and follow ethical rules. Dacher Keltner, co-director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center – a West Coast center for research on altruism, compassion and awe – writes that “human beings have survived as a species because we have evolved the capacities to care for those in need and to cooperate. As Darwin long ago surmised, sympathy is our strongest instinct.”

So how does self-interest get the upper hand? Positive traits such as compassion are highly plastic and susceptible to environmental forces. Place an empathetic child in a classroom of students where they feel either unsafe or unaccepted and survival instincts trump compassion. But if we inject positive environmental forces into that same classroom, can we actually cultivate empathy in our students?

Researchers say yes. They have identified several key that promote empathy in a child within the familial environment and by extension the school environment.

Here are three steps that No Bully recommends that schools take to promote compassion and altruism in their students.
1. Reset your beliefs about human nature. If you are carrying outdated beliefs that students are essentially motivated by self-interest and competitiveness, your school will reflect and reinforce those patterns, even as it tries to overcome them.
2. Create a classroom and school environment that promotes multiple layers of connection. The more secure relationships that a student establishes, the more they will tend to altruism. Aim to greet students by name. Seize opportunities for learning in small groups. Ultimately aim for every student to feel attached to the school and to have positive emotions about being part of your community.
3. Avoid reliance on power assertion e.g. bald declarations of right and wrong backed by punishment. Instead use induction to engage students in moral reasoning when they have done harm. Encourage students to think about the consequences of their actions and how these actions have harmed others. The research shows that when used as a parenting style this promotes compassion for the suffering they have caused and a desire to remedy that suffering.

What can you do about the problem class?

January 3, 2010

Most schools experience a problem class at some point in time.  For obvious reasons this is not something that they broadcast to outsiders.  Often it’s a fifth or sixth grade class that has seemingly forgotten what kindness is, though problematic dynamics show up as early as second grade.  Once a class becomes “the problem class”, they often get stuck in that role.  Educators vacillate between confronting the ringleaders and forcing change (highly unsuccessful) and giving up.

There IS an alternative solution that begins with a change of mindset.  Yours!  If a pattern of bullying and disrespect has developed between students – whether across your whole campus or within a particular classroom – change the lens through which you view the problem.  Stop fixating on the individual students.  You are now dealing with a systemic phenomenon i.e. a problem that has a life of its own greater than the individual students that are participating in the phenomenon.

How do you look at a problem class systemically?  At No Bully we use our bulls-eye chart as a diagnostic tool to analyze how each of the systems contributes to the problem class dynamic and from there create systemic solutions.  Here is a five stage change process that you can adapt for your school:

1.  Call a meeting of all the adults that work with the class. Draw your own version of the No Bully bulls-eye chart (below) to methodically analyze how each system is contributing to the problem.

Ask your team of educators to record what is going on within each particular circle. Do the teachers use sarcasm or other power plays?  Are parents badmouthing and scapegoating individual students or are they forming their own cliques?  Have the administration solidified into labeling this class as “the problem class”?   (Always a bad idea – labels lead to stuck thinking.)

2.  Systemic problems call for systemic solutions.  Explore with your team of teachers how to address the influences within each circle and bring students, parents and teachers together in a different way.  Systemic solutions at the student level range from rearranging the classroom (removing all existing paper on walls, repainting the classroom, changing the seating plan) to creating a class challenge (a class play or construction project) to adopting a whole new approach to teaching (e.g. team teaching or project based learning with carefully structured teams of students).   BUT you will also need to make systemic change at the teacher level (e.g. stop thinking of them as the problem class, forswear sarcasm) and at the parent level (e.g. a mandatory parent meeting in which fathers and sons work together in one room, mothers and daughters in another room, in which parents listen and then share their experiences of getting along in school. Then bring both genders together to share their insights.)

3. Hold a non-accusatory discussion with the problem class in which you frame the problem as an external force that has taken them over.  Ask questions such as: Have any of you noticed that you are getting along differently now than in [third] grade?  What took you over?  What is its name?  How did it get so powerful?  Is it always here or do you still sometimes get along in the old way?
Wrap up the meeting by giving students the opportunity to write anonymously how they would like for things to be different and put their pieces of paper in an envelope that only you will read.

4. Hold a follow-up class meeting in which you reveal the suggestions that students made (preserving anonymity) and facilitate a conversation on what agreements they would like to make about how they treat each other.  Let them know that you will be following up on this meeting.  If particular students are still the target of bullying, run a solution team on their behalf.

5. Never forget that you are dealing with a systemic problem.  And because systems have a strong pull to stay the same (the principle of homeostasis) you will need to employ strategic interventions that SHOCK and destablize the system so that it can coalesce in a different form!  That’s why schools secretly repaint and rearrange the classroom over the weekend and then hold an unannounced classroom meeting on Monday morning.  Or they hold a mandatory parent meeting which the students attend but reward students with a “no homework” pass for the evening.  Be novel in the interventions that you choose.  And sustain the momentum of change – it takes time but you can get there.


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