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What Works: Preventing Bullying in the Classroom

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on February 21, 2015

What do you say to “That’s so gay”? If you are a classroom teacher like me, you are probably all too familiar with this refrain. But how do we respond when we hear a phrase like this thrown about casually? How do we help children understand why such comments are hurtful?

After 13 years in education, I really appreciate quality professional development - every teacher needs frequent opportunities to fill up her bag of tricks. Over the past two years, the best professional development I have received came from Welcoming Schools, a project of the Human Rights Campaign.  Their mission is to embrace family diversity, avoid gender stereotyping, and end bullying and name calling.

One of the most useful resources for me was a document called “What Do You Say to ‘That’s So Gay’?” The document outlines exactly how to respond to a phrase we increasingly hear children use in a casual manner.  It gives specific responses that both stop the behavior and educate the child.  In my classroom, it sounded something like this:

Teacher: I heard you said something was really “gay”. Do you know what it means to be gay?

Student: Yes.

Teacher: What do you think it means?

Student: It means when a man loves another man or a woman loves another woman.

Teacher: Is that what you meant when you said it?

Student: No.

Teacher: Sometimes people use the word “gay” to say something is stupid, but in this classroom and in this school, we don’t use someone’s identity as an insult.

As with any strategy, a teacher must find what works best for his personal teaching style. For me, the most effective approach is to explain to students why such comments are hurtful. I teach third grade, and I know that 8 and 9 year-olds are loathe to hurt anyone’s feelings.  Helping them make the connection between their comments and others’ feelings is a great first step toward preventing the behavior.  What I love about this strategy is that it is applicable to many situations, including stereotyping and name calling based on any type of difference.  For example, when I heard my students mocking the way the Chinese language sounds, I explained to them that it hurt my feelings as an Asian person. The behavior immediately stopped.

As teachers, it is important that we not be paralyzed by fear when it comes to addressing hot button topics like race and sexual orientation.  Living in a relatively conservative community, I understand the fear of push-back from community members, parents, and even other staff members.  The best response I have heard, and one that is difficult to argue with, is that our schools are a place where all children and all families are welcome. As stated in the document, ignoring the situation sends the message to students that such remarks are acceptable.  In the Welcoming Schools film What Do You Know? Six to Twelve Year-Olds Talk About Gays and Lesbians, a young man states, “If I get bullied, [teachers] will help me but not in the sense that they’re teaching the other kid not to do it.” Even our students recognize that simply stopping the behavior is not enough; we must educate our children in order to prevent bullying behavior.

A great way to become more comfortable handling difficult situations is simply to practice.  Use staff meetings or training times to role-play.  We teachers can be a facetious bunch, and if you ask us to play our students, we will likely give you our worst. The benefit of practicing the worst case scenario is that it will make most classroom situations seem much easier to handle. Additionally, our colleagues are excellent resources and can come up with alternative responses that may work even better than what is suggested by the experts.

When addressing classroom-wide situations of stereotyping, name-calling, and bullying, I find that read-alouds are an especially effective strategy.  For example, I noticed that when doing partner work, several of my students were repeatedly left out.  I pulled my students to the reading corner and read aloud the book The Invisible Boy, by Trudy Ludwig. In this beautifully illustrated book, a young boy with a talent for drawing is ignored by his classmates and even his teacher. His feelings are made clear to the reader because he appears in the pictures as merely an outline. When a new student recognizes his special abilities and befriends him, the boy becomes full of life (and color!). After a class discussion about the power of our words and actions, my students now know that when asked to be someone’s partner, the answer is not only “Yes” but “Yes, I would be delighted to.” For a list of books to engage children, visit here. Remember that your school librarian is also an outstanding resource.

Teachers have an incredibly important job to do.  We are under increasing pressure to get all our students to meet rigorous standards. While this is a worthwhile goal, we also know that a student who feels harassed and unwelcome will not be able to achieve at high levels.  We can use educational interactions with individuals as well as classroom lessons about tolerance and respect to make our classrooms safe places. When we take advantage of the natural empathy students feel for one another, we go a long way toward our ultimate goal of eliminating bullying and raising caring individuals.

Research Roundup

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on December 16, 2014

Outlook on instruction: Class around the clock District Administration Magazine 

The idea that all students can learn the same material through the same old teaching methods is slowly changing.  Today, students are becoming more empowered to shape how they learn.  The availability of technology resources such as individual laptops for each student make this vision easier for educators who are now able to direct individual attention to students working on different assignments.  With these technology advances making the classroom environment accessible 24/7, collaboration and discussion between students and educators is thriving.

Big Drop In Students Being Held Back, But Why? NPR Blogs 

The decline in the number of students who are held back nationwide has declined with much mystery surrounding the reasons behind the decrease. Little attention to measuring grade retention has contributed to the lack of knowledge. Researchers have identified two reasons for the phenomenon: holding students back is costly and incentives for schools and districts to improve their graduation rates are too great to prevent advancement. On the upside, some educators indicate the progress is due to more students being identified earlier and having their needs met before the gaps in learning become too wide. 

The Race Gap in High School Honors Classes National Journal 

In fall 2013, students entering the University of California averaged over a 4.0 weighted high school GPA. A GPA above 4.0 is achieved by advanced placement classes. Unfortunately, not all students have access to these courses and minority students especially are more likely to attend high schools that do not offer these advanced classes compared to their white counterparts. Read on for highlights about the differences in advanced placement and college prep courses by ethnicity. 

5 Critical Questions for the Innovative Educator Connected Principals Blog 

New technologies are constantly being introduced to classrooms to enhance learning.  It is often difficult to keep up with the latest without disrupting the student classroom.  This article gives 5 tips on how educators can stay focused on what is most important in the classroom: the student.  

Social Media Threats Case Heard By Supreme Court - Implications for Schools

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on December 04, 2014

Social Media Threats Case Heard By Supreme Court - Implications for Schools

 

The Elonis v. United States case is bringing increased attention to the already complicated question of how to deal with school threats made on social media. The case, which is before the Supreme Court, involves a 27-year-old man who made threatening comments on Facebook about shooting up an elementary school. The specific question before the Court is whether, when someone is prosecuted for making threatening statements, the government should be required to prove that that person intended his words to be taken as a threat. The crux of the issue is whether one should have to prove a subjective element (that the speaker intended his words to be taken as a threat) or merely an objective element (that a reasonable listener would have understood the words as a threat -- a much lower burden). Proponents of free speech argue that "proof of subjective intent is required to ensure that protected speech is not chilled by the fear of criminal prosecution" (ACLU).

How the Supreme Court decides this case will have broad implications for how school administrators address threats made by students on social media outlets and impact how youth are treated when accused of such conduct.

Regardless of what standard of proof the Court deems appropriate, however, any standard that allows us to criminalize youth for their behavior on social media will likely do more harm than good. For this reason, although working to protect free speech is vitally important, when it comes to this kind of behavior by youth, arguing over whether the objective or subjective standard is appropriate misses the true issue at hand: how can we best prevent this type of behavior from occurring and work to remedy its harm as effectively as possible. 

Countless studies and data show that criminalizing cyber-bullying will not decrease bullying and will instead cause a less satisfactory school climate for all students, as well as significant harm to those students labeled "bullies," including perpetuating the school-to-prison-pipeline[1] (for a more detailed discussion of the issue of criminalizing cyber-bullying, see: New York's Cyber-Bullying Law Struck Down http://conta.cc/1vxFtzM). Similarly, the answer to dealing with school threats on social media should not be to put kids in jail. Instead, we should be focusing on prevention.

NSCC has been supporting prevention efforts specific to such social media concerns through our school climate measurement work and the creation of a new dimension that provides schools with data on the perceptions about social media behavior from key stakeholder groups - parents, students, staff - directly. In this way, we are able to support a more meaningful dialogue within the school community about how social media is being used - positively or negatively - and what can be done to promote online behavior that reinforces their core values and codes of conduct in all areas of school life. Ultimately, when schools are equipped with the right information, they can be more effective in prevention efforts related to mean, cruel or potentially harmful behaviors before they manifest as negative actions that require a more serious response from the administration or other officials. 

If the Supreme Court finds that an objective standard is proper in Elonis, it would make it easier to focus on punishment rather than prevention. This is the wrong approach. Our efforts should be spent working to prevent and remedy the underlying behavior instead of making it easier to criminalize the behavior and providing more opportunity to further crowd the school-to-prison-pipeline.

[1] R. Skiba, A. Cohn, & A. Canter, Zero Tolerance and Alternative Strategies, in  HELPING  CHILDREN AT  HOME AND SCHOOL  II: HANDOUTS FOR  FAMILIES AND  EDUCATORS, S4:103-S4:106 (A. Canter, L. Paige, et al., eds. 2004); National Association of School Psychologists, Zero Tolerance and Alternative Strategies: A Fact Sheet for Educators and Policymakers , NASP ONLINE, http://www.nasponline.org/resources/factsheets/zt_fs.aspx (last accessed April 24, 2014); American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force, Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools? An Evidentiary Review and Recommendations , AMERICAN  PSYCHOLOGIST, Vol. 63, No. 9, 852–862 (Dec. 2008) (hereinafter “Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools?” ).

 

Research Roundup, October 29

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on October 29, 2014

Prevention is Key to Stopping Bullying, Several Experts Say NewsOK

To change the prevalence of bullying in schools, prevention, not intervention, is more effective, research says. “The key to reducing bullying is instilling emotional intelligence in children early, as a preventative measure against becoming a bully or being victimized by one,” emphasizing that anti-bullying versus bullying prevention methods “tends to backfire.” This article highlights emotional intelligence as the “missing link” to prevent bullying.

The Character Factor: Measures and Impact of Drive and Prudence brookings.edu

The importance of non-cognitive skills to succeed in both school and in life is increasingly becoming a topic of interest in many intersecting realms. In this paper from the Center on Children and Families at Brookings, researchers emphasize the importance of character-skills in life outcomes and policy making. By distributing character strengths by socioeconomic backgrounds, measuring character strengths, and viewing the strengths from a “quality of opportunity perspective,” “The Character Factor: Measures and Impact of Drive and Prudence” breaks down the term “non-cognitive.”

The Economic Impact of School Suspensions The Atlantic

All girls are successful in schools. This is a misconception that vice president of education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center, Fatima Goss Graves, would like to clarify. “Much of this is fueled by not having data broken down by race and gender,” indicating that girls of color are then left out of the picture. The reasons behind the 34 percent of African American girls who did not graduate high school on time in 2010 as opposed to 18 percent of white female students “have less to do with student behavior…than with disproportionate and overly punitive disciplinary practices,” argues the authors of the recent report on “Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls.”

[Read more…]

Research Roundup, October 22

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on October 22, 2014

Getting the Word Out, Part II: How Empowerment and Environment Transform School Climate ASCD

Everyone plays a part in school climate. In the first part of “Getting the Word Out,” equity and engagement were the key topics. In this piece, Sean Slade writes about empowerment and environment. What can educators do to empower students in the classroom? How can principals empower their staff and community? And what can school personnel do to help create a positive environment, both physically and the social-emotional? Read to find out different approaches to empowerment and environment, and the impact school climate contributes to the success of the school.

Things are Improving for LGBT Students, But They’re Still Really Bad Huffington Post

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) released a survey on Wednesday that illustrated improvement for LGBT students in 2012-2013 compared to the 2010-2011 school year. The survey found that “of the nearly 8,000 students ages 13 to 21 who were surveyed, more than 55 percent reported feeling unsafe at school due to their sexual orientation, down from 64 percent in 2011.” A few of the contributions to this discrimination in schools? Certain school policies, hearing staff make homophobic remarks, and not enough staff intervention.

Small Schools Work in New York NY Times

Smaller, specialized high schools with roughly 100 students per grade and typically in black or Hispanic neighborhoods tend to have a more rigorous curriculum, personalized education, organized around a theme, and “valuable support from community partners.” While research shows that not all schools can or should be small schools, the research group MDRC has conducted a study that found “disadvantaged students who make up a vast majority of the small-school…are also more likely than those in the control group to enroll in college.”

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