This blog on "bullying" has been percolating in my brain for several years. It is a complex issue. Each time I hear of another life lost to bullying I ask myself why we as a community have not been able to address this problem effectively.
Bullying. Bully-Prevention. Anti-Bullying. Stand Up 2 Bullying. Stop a Bully. Pink Shirt Day. There's no shortage of attention to bullying these days, nor should there be. As a former child, an educator and part of a large family I have experienced first-hand the effects of bullying. I certainly read the paper and follow the news and there is no lack of stories which document the terrible impact bullying has, not only in our schools but in our workplaces, in our own families, neighborhoods, churches, teams, clubs and any other place where people come together. Each time a bullying story hits the news we hear a renewed sense of outrage and are inundated with anti-bullying campaigns. It seems to me, considering how often we hear of bullying and how many of us have experienced it in our own lives that these campaigns have not been effective over the years. So, I have a suggestion; Stop focusing on bullying and start focusing on kindness.
Over the last few years we have experienced a renewed focus on anti-bullying. At the same time we have lost funding for programs such as Roots of Empathy. " Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based classroom program that has shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among schoolchildren by raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy." Roots of Empathy focuses on building positive skills, positive interactions and has positive results.
And for me, here lies the crux of the problem. I'm tired of hearing the word "bullying". It has no positive conotations for me. It's a negative spin on a negative problem. It's time we stopped focusing on reducing bullying and started focusing on promoting kindness. For every anti-bullying program that's out there there is a program that promotes peace/kindness/empathy. These are all skills our children (and adults) need to learn. Roots of Empathy is just one. Tribes TLC (http://tribes.com/) is another, Random Acts of Kindness (http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/lesson-plans-pilot-program) is a program that has been used at Kent Elementary and found to be wonderful in promoting positive interactions without the need for the usual reward that comes with some of these programs. It has long been a goal of mine to switch peoples' thinking (starting with my own) from reducing the negative to increasing the positive. It started with our school goals at Kent Elementary a few years ago but it is also a focus in my own personal life.
Kent Elementary is a progressive school. They believe strongly in creating the conditions for children to be successful. (http://connectedprincipals.com/archives/6554) This is the type of approach that will reduce bullying. In the same way we create a positive culture for reading or healthy living or self-discipline we can create a culture that recognizes, promotes and teaches (coaches) kindness. Students who come to school unable to read are provided with the supports to help them. This should be the same approach to bullying. I strongly believe that all people (not just kids) do the best with what they have at the time. Students who bully lack the basic skills and understandings of kindness. Perhaps they have not experienced kindness in their own lives. Do we punish them? Many believe this is the way. I do not. I believe we take them aside, model kindness, provide opportunities for kindness, recognize (not reward, but recognize) kindness and promote kindness. We create the conditions for them to be successful.
As with other successful approaches this will take time. It takes time to identify those people who truly are bullies (and they aren't always children). It takes time to work with that individual, to have them see how people perceive them. In my experience most bullies are shocked when you tell them that this is how others see them. It takes time to identify the behaviors that need to be addressed and to decide on the best way to support this particular individual. You see, no "program" works for everyone. As in reading or math or behavior a multi-faceted approach is likely required. This takes time. I believe it also requires a shift from a focus that reduces the negative to a focus that increases the positive. Aren't our children and our communities worth it?