bullying, isolated, student, shy

Yes, Bullying Is Still a Problem

I don’t know about you, but I feel as though I’ve seen and heard of more instances of bullying in American schools this year than I have in the last five or so years. It’s disheartening to say the least. How can we end the prevalence of bullying once and for all? How can we ensure the inclusion of each and every student within our school communities?

Without question, inclusion is certainly a positive thing in helping all our students find their place at school, whether that be through the creation of new clubs or counselor-led lunch groups with like-minded peers.

However, is working to include isolated students going to be enough to solve our country’s bullying problem?

I’d argue that such a plan is only half the battle.

The only way to truly help our most vulnerable students feel like valued members of the school community is by making sure we help the entire student body strengthen the traits of mutual respect and empathy.

Something’s Missing

Earlier this year, I worked with a colleague to help start a Gay-Straight Alliance at our school. We’d seen the need for such a club for some time, and we both felt that providing a safe place for our LGBTQ students would help them feel welcomed at school.

As I reflect on the first year of our newly created group, I believe that we did, in fact, help dozens of students who may have felt isolated at school.  Students are coming to my classroom after school twice a week, spending quality time with peers. They’re laughing. They’re forgetting, at least temporarily, the stressors of middle school.

In this regard, the GSA has been a complete success.

However, there’s something missing.

With the GSA, I can control the environment for these tremendous kids. I can ensure that they feel valued. I can ensure they feel welcomed.

Outside my classroom? That’s another story.

You see, giving students a safe space through the creation of a club or “lunch bunch” can only yield temporary results.

Why?

Because we are failing to help change the mindset of our entire school community.

We may be providing Jane a safe place to hang out with friends every Friday after school, but we aren’t doing much to prevent John from calling her a “dyke” as she walks home from the meeting.

Therein lies the problem…

Finding ways to include all students within the community is great, but it won’t make much of a difference until we can help instill respect and empathy in all kids.

How Can We Foster Respect and Empathy?

  • Be sure to embed Social-Emotional Learning Standards within your units of study.
    • You’ll be sure to discuss respect, empathy, self-confidence, and more within all units.
    • SEL MUST be a part of every school day!
  • Periodically mix things up in the cafeteria. 
    • Anyone who’s an introvert like me knows how difficult lunch time can be.
    • Where will I sit? Will they want me to sit there? What if I chew loudly? Should I just eat in a bathroom stall?
    • Change the cafeteria social game!
      • Every other week, pick one day to randomly assign kids to a table. Perhaps give them a color-coded card on their way in and have them sit at that table. Get kids out of their comfort zone. Have guidance counselors lead a quick ice-breaker at the table! Regardless of whether or not kids leave lunch with a few new friends, they’ll all learn they can co-exist without the name-calling and assumptions.
  • Randomly select groups for class presentations.
    • When kids hear the words “group project,” their faces light up as they run straight to their B.F.F. to join forces. You’ll also notice your shy students becoming increasingly uncomfortable as the only thought running through their head is that no one will want to partner with them.
    • By randomly selecting groups for your students, you’re helping to ease the anxiety of your most emotionally vulnerable students. You’re also helping all your students understand the importance of working together to complete a common goal. I always tell me kids that I’m not asking them to invite each other to their birthday parties. I’m asking them to work collaboratively for 45 minutes a day for the next few days. I’m requesting they trust each other. They need to believe in one another.
  • Be Bold with Book Choices!
    • If you’ve been following along with the podcast, you know that my biggest pet peeve is our unwillingness to bring in newer literature due to language and innuendo. Now, I’m not saying let’s have kids read Fifty Shades of Grey. What I am saying is that it’s ridiculous to ban a relevant novel that’ll help foster empathy in our kids because of a few curse words.
    • Recent books such as The Hate U Give, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, Children of Blood and Bone, Eleanor and Park, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe are all amazing novels that should be considered for your 7th-12th grade classrooms.

Unfortunately, eradicating our buildings of bullying will not be easy.

However, I encourage all of you to think about what you can do to not only provide a safe place for socially isolated students, but how you can also strengthen respect and empathy within all students.

Only then will our isolated kids begin to feel like valued members of the school community.

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