Sunday, April 27, 2014

There Will Always Be People Who Bully

For the past three years, I have been serving on our school division's "Promote Respect" taskforce. Formerly named the "anti-bullying" taskforce, our job is to help our schools develop a safe and supportive learning environment for our students. We have actually just finished developing four modules based on the Safe Supportive Learning website for parents, teachers, students, and trainers to help guide them through this process.

I am appreciative of the fact that we as a school system have recognized the need to shift from talking about eradicating bullies to promoting respect. I am also of a firm belief that getting rid of bullying altogether is a rather unrealistic goal. I for one would much rather focus on educating about kindness rather than cruelty anyways.

Bullying, disrespectful, and unkind behavior is not going to go away completely. I think about my own existence and the extremely wide variety of people I have come in contact with. There were bullies in my childhood, especially during my middle school years. There were a good two years when I felt really uncomfortable riding the bus home in the afternoon thanks to a particularly nasty group of "mean girls" in my neighborhood who loved to torment me. The best thing I did for myself, was to ignore them, to not let them get the satisfaction of knowing that they were getting to me. The worst thing I did, however, was to keep quiet or downplay what was going on. It's ironic. I've worked with a surprisingly large number of parents who knew their own child was suffering the wrath of unkind people, but didn't say anything, for fear it would get worse. In most cases, there comes a point when everyone has had enough, and the child or the parent storms into my office demanding the "bully's" head on a silver platter.

Of course, it's never that easy. I ask the parent to put themselves in the other parent's shoes. I say, "If your child was being unkind to another individual, wouldn't you want to know about it right away so you could take care of it before it gets out of hand?" In most cases, the parents agree and allow us as teachers, school counselors, and administrators to resolve the issue in a way that is of benefit to the person being unkind, and the person who was the recipient of the unkindness.

If you are in a similar situation as I am, and you are working to develop a plan to educate your stakeholders about promoting a safe and supportive learning environment, make sure you continue to teach strategies which help stakeholders respond to bullying or unkind behavior.  Think about your adult life. I am willing to bet you continue to come in contact with adults who bully, or who are unkind. They may be your co-workers, your neighbors, or even someone in your family. Sometimes these people end up being really successful in life. They say 'It Gets Better', and often it does; if not for any other reason but for the fact that you have more of a choice with whom you choose to associate. But don't ever think that this issue is going to go away completely.

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