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nation’s schools to provide environments of civility and caring and to educate our children about tolerance and acceptance. As early as preschool, educators are teaching children to recognize unkind behaviors and to stand up for themselves and others when they see injustice and unkindness.
As teachers and administrators seek new ways to prevent bullying and harassment in our classrooms, we are turning more and more to the power that lies in the majority of our students, the bystanders. As our largest resource, they are nei- ther bully nor victim; however, they provide the audience for the interaction between these two “players.” If given the right training, these actors in the theater of bullying can join forces, strip the negative power from the bully, and working as a team of “allies” for the victim, change the culture of our schools.
We are teaching children strategies to stand up for them- selves and to intervene when they feel their classmates are being treated unfairly. We ask them to use “I” messages to let others know how they feel, and expect them to empathize with others when they are excluded or called names. We teach them the dangers of spreading rumors and damaging the rep- utations of their friends.
It is important that our teachers stress “upstanding behav- iors” to their students and that they model the same behaviors they are preaching. In addition, it is important that the parents of our students understand the strategies their children learn and model the same behaviors in their daily lives. It would be naïve to think that teaching these behaviors without providing adult role models to emulate will have any value.
Psychological theory tells us that “imprinting” behavior is the result of environmental conditioning in which children learn from adult behaviors and lessons taught to them. Children tend to adopt the values and ideals of their adult role models – first their parents, and next their teachers.1
In order for bullying to occur, there must be what is de- scribed as an imbalance of power and a desire to be in control of a situation. In addition, behaviors must occur repeatedly
and over time. In many cases, a person with bullying behaviors wants the approval of the bystander as an audience.2
It is important that school leaders train their teachers in the characteristics of bullying because the nature of a teacher’s position may inadvertently lead them to exhibit bullying be- haviors in their classrooms. Clearly (in most cases), it is not the intent of a teacher to intimidate students. However, with the pressure of high-stakes testing, new common core standards, and evaluations based on test scores, the perfect storm is created. Teachers are, by definition, in a position of power and have unlimited access to their students, making it easy to repeat their behaviors over time. Filling the classroom with children automatically provides an audience of “bystanders.” The ability to grade or rate their students adds to this power. In order to help in our schools’ attempts to eliminate bullying, it must be understood that leading our children by intimidation will not be successful.
By understanding the nature of bullying, and adhering to the concepts we are teaching about “upstanding” behaviors, it is imperative that our classroom teachers display exemplary behaviors, ones that support a climate of caring, understand- ing, and trust. Giving children an opportunity for choice in their assignments, creating bonds and positive relationships with them, encouraging caring friendships between them, and finding ways to highlight students’ individual strengths will support any bullying prevention initiative.
In addition to the support and understanding of teachers, parents must understand their role in the war against bully- ing. To reinforce the concepts that are taught in school, it is important that they speak the same language as their children when dealing with conflict. It is incumbent on our school sup- port staff to hold parent meetings teaching the importance of exhibiting the same “upstanding” behaviors that are being required of their children.
Research about bullying tells us that children with bullying behaviors come from a home where there are rejecting behav- iors and a lack of warmth; where the bully’s primary care- taker is often permissive and allows aggressive behavior toward peers, siblings, and adults; and where a bully is often subjected to physical punishment and exposed to violent outbursts by his or her caretaker. It is particularly important for schools to speak to the parents of children with bullying behaviors about these issues so that they can provide warm and supportive en- vironments for their children.
As in all parent-child relationships, lines of communica- tion must be kept open. Children need their parents’ support, trusting that they will help them find a solution to their
problem. Victims of bullying are often ashamed to share their experiences with their parents. They may feel embarrassed, thinking that they are causing the problem and feeling afraid that they are letting their parents down. They are fearful that if their parents call the school, the situation will become worse through retaliation by the bully. Parents need to reassure their children that without reporting what is happening, they will never find relief.
By educating our students, teachers, and parents about the dangers of bullying and through understanding that everyone must be part of the solution, we can begin to combat an age- old problem, one that was once mistakenly called “a rite of passage.”
1 Sluckin, Imprinting and Early Learning, 1965.
2 Olweus, Daniel: Bullying at School: What We Know and What
We Can Do, 1993.
Karen Siris will present at a full-day workshop entitled Meeting the Requirements of the Dignity Act: New York State’s Anti-Bullying and Harassment Law, on April 2, 2012, at the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs.
For more information, go to saanys.org/events.