My students are in the process of writing essays for a contest in conjunction with our school's annual Peace Day celebration, which will be held on Tuesday. The topic of the essay is "Bully-Free Schools." I thought it fitting that I, too, share my thoughts on the subject.
Bullying is a hot topic. Recently we've seen suicides and school shootings that resulted from students being bullied, an increase in cyber-bullying as students spend more time on-line, and new laws passed that give more responsibility to schools in stopping bullying. No longer can a school claim that what happens outside of school is the responsibility of parents to deal with. Any bullying that affects a student in school, regardless of where the bullying took place, must be investigated by the school.
Unfortunately, schools will never truly be "bully-free" because it is in the very nature of children to establish hierarchies and test boundaries. It's naive to think that we can totally stop this from happening, and dangerous to get complacent. We can certainly reduce bullying in our schools, though. That's one reason that we need to focus energy on teaching students to respect each other.
We can start by modeling respectful behavior for them. Unfortunately, many of our students are not fortunate enough to have this modeled at home. If they cannot count on school being a place where adults treat each other with the utmost respect and professionalism, they may never see that modeled. We should never underestimate our position as role-models for our students.
It's also important that our students receive explicit instruction in how to handle conflict with others. For the students without these skills being modeled at home, it is unreasonable to expect this skill to be present unless we teach it. Emotional maturity is one of the most important skills that people of any age need to be successful.
With the increase of cyber-bullying, this explicit instruction must include on-line safety, proper digital citizenship, and lessons on how to resolve problems confronted in the realm of digital communications. Parents must be made aware of the risks to their children, both from others and the danger that their child could harm him/herself. Many students and parents are unaware of how easy it is to commit a variety of serious crimes by texting with a cell phone or communicating in a chat room. Many are also unaware of how permanant those electronic communications are, and how they can have massively negative effects down the road.
Finally, every adult in a school must make a commitment to protecting every student in that school. All schools have anti-bullying policies. The difference between the schools that have bullying problems and those where bullying is effectively handled is the enforcement of those policies. Students learn quickly who will allow them to get away with bending the rules. If there are weak links in the chain of enforcement, those students who have tendencies to bully will quickly find the places and times in school where they can belittle others.
While our schools will never be free of bullying, our students should know that we will make every effort to protect them, and that every incident of bullying in our schools will be addressed. The more we create a school culture where respect is the norm, the less likely we are to have students acting in ways that are disrespectful. The more everybody in a school teats others with respect, the less bullying will occur.