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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dealing with Bullying in the Middle School

During our teacher prep days at the beginning of school, our guidance counselors hosted a three hour introduction to our school’s new anti-bullying program. After much research, the program they chose to adopt is called “Steps to Respect”. For years, the schools I have been involved with have talked about anti-bullying campaigns. However, this is the first time I took part in any education around bullying and how it plagues our schools.
This introduction to “Steps to Respect” highlighted many truths and common myths around bullying. I am going to try and highlight the ones that stood out for me.

1. Studies are beginning to show that bullying is not normal behavior. The acceptance of boys will be boys, she is just going through a rough time or it is hormonal is just wrong.

2. Adults would not put up with bullying from a co-worker or anywhere in the workplace so why should we accept the bullying of children at school.

3. Bullying usually takes place outside of the site or earshot of adults. That is why it is important to make children feel safe to report bullying.

4. Some bullying is obviously blatant but often it can be more subtle. We use differential diagnosis a lot when identifying speech and language issues. It seems you also need to use a differential diagnosis to identify some bullying behaviors. Some of the behaviors to look for/ rule out included: was there an intent to harm, was there a power imbalance and was it a repeated activity. Some other things to consider would include was it attention seeking, facial expressions during the incident and what was the relationship of the children involved before the incident(s).

5. Cyber bullying is on the rise. It relatively new and could be whole other discussion in itself. I have seen cyber bullying spill over into school and create gigantic problems. We hear about it happening on the news but only when dire consequences result. The big question posed is who is responsible since most of the cyber bullying happens at home on home computers. Parents it might be time to look at your kid’s computer. I know that I am very lax myself about this.

6. Bullying is being taken more seriously these days. Someone in our meeting mentioned that there is current legislation being created. I assumed that was at the state level but it might be at the federal level

7. Bullying can be physical or verbal

8. Every school has some type of bullying problem and more bullying goes on that we as parents and teachers realize.

We also talked about profiles of victims and those that bully. We think of bully victims as being weaker but when we brainstormed, we realized that just about anyone could potentially be a victim.

This is taken from the “Steps to Respect” training Manual p.63
Children who are bullied tend to:
Experience further rejection from peers
Have lower self-esteem than other children
Feel more lonely, anxious and insecure.
Avoid and dislike school

We think of bullies as being stronger, tougher and maybe even smarter than the kids they bully. Bullies tend to be somewhat popular in Middle School but that is about where it ends. Many end up with real problems later on.

This is also taken from the “Steps to Respect” training Manual p.63
As children who bully grow up, they tend to:
Commit more crimes
Commit more driving offenses
Receive more court convictions
Report higher incidents of alcoholism
Experience more antisocial personality disorders
Use more mental health systems
Commit more spousal abuse

I thought these facts were interesting and wondered if bullying behaviors were addressed earlier in life would it make a big difference at least for some kids. Personally, I think that most kids who bully have other factors, outside of school, affecting their behavior. Some not all. Still with guidance they might have a better sense of appropriate behavior in public and more compassion.

The “Steps to Respect” program has a strong focus on helping the kids identify bullying behaviors, empowering bully victims and their friends to report bullying behaviors and to let them feel secure that adults will intervene and effectively deal with bullying situations. Basically, making children feel safe to report bullying behaviors. Part of the problem with reporting bullying is that a child might be labeled a tattle tale. This program tries to emphasize to the children and the entire school, they are reporting rather than tattling.

How adults respond and intervene will go a long way in making the child feel safe. We learned the basic Four-A response outlined in the program

Affirm the child’s feelings
Ask questions
Assess the child’s safety
Act-basically do what you have to do to report this situation to the administration, parents, other teachers. Make sure something is done about the situation. Explain what you can to the child reporting about what will happen next.

This actually sounds like a thorough and effective program and I look forward to attending further training. However, as a staff we posed many questions that I hope will be answered sooner rather than later.

Will bus drivers and lunch room aids receive some training on this program?
What happens to the kids once they leave the building?
How will bullying behaviors be tracked?
What will be the consequences for bullying behavior? (Almost every school system I have ever worked in had little or no protocol to deal with bullying behaviors effectively)
Will parent notification be standard procedure when their child is demonstrating bullying at school no matter how great or small?
Will parent notification be standard procedure when their child is the victim of bullying at school?
How will the “Steps to Respect” program be implemented through out the school?
Will consequences be consistent?
How much time will be allotted to this program?
How supportive is the administration of this program?

We still have a lot of questions and concerns to work out. Since we only had an introduction/overview, the whole program may answer many of our concerns. So we will see how it goes during the first few months of the school year. Teachers seemed to be very much on board with this program. Many seemed committed to posting information from the “Steps to Respect” program both in their classroom and in the hall bulletin boards. Our 6th graders were introduced to this program last year and will receive further instruction this year. I believe all students received some information around no tolerance for bullying during our opening day assembly. Hopefully, this will all make a difference.

An overview of the “Steps to Respect” program and be found at the link: