Responding to bullies

I don’t like being blindsided any more than anyone else. So this week when our school social worker relayed to me that one of my student’s parents said her child was being bullied, I was taken aback. As a Responsive Classroom, we continually work on appropriate social interactions. As part of the Making Meaning program, a large piece of instructional time goes in to socially acceptable ways to agree or disagree, to dialogue with peers.

Nevertheless, the parent’s concern was laid out and, as is required by law in Massachusetts, we address such concerns seriously. We are revisiting bullying this week.

I usually begin discussions of bullying by trying to figure out if students can define what bullying is and what it is not. It was amazing to me that sometimes kids think when a peer tells them to “shut up” that they feel they have been bullied. In the past, I’ve handled such events in the classroom with discussion between the involved students which ends with a plan the students themselves concoct for more polite interaction. But now, once the student or parent of the victim has raised the topic of bullying, there are formal procedures and documentation that need completion. What was at one time simple, has become complex. Which is what happens when we try to legislate every aspect of human behavior, isn’t it?

So this coming week, I will once again assist my students in defining what bullying is (for my third graders: repeated times that someone (or a group) makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable). We will read age-appropriate literature like The Recess Queen as a jumping off point. We will role model. We will talk. And we will write, because sometimes my kids feel safer when they don’t have to say the words out loud.

I was thinking of all of this as I watched the shootings in Tuscon, Arizona unfold yesterday afternoon. Are we, the adults in our society modeling socially acceptable ways to agree or disagree when we get so incensed about another point of view that we can no longer listen to what is being said? What kind of a model for civilized discourse is in our own adult interaction – political or otherwise – when we can’t even  agree to disagree without threatening? Frankly, the Sheriff in Pima County, Clarence Dupnik, has it right.

It is something to ponder.

2 thoughts on “Responding to bullies

    1. I absolutely agree! And the flip side of the bullying discussion, in my room at least, needs to be empowering students to speak up when something is wrong.

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