Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Driving Bullying Out

Yesterday the Boston Globe reported that 99% of Massachusetts districts and schools met the December 30th deadline for filing anti-bullying plans. Of course, the key will be taking those plans out of the garage and out where the rubber hits the road. The only results that matter will be a downshift in actual bullying incidents.

I happened to be with a team of administrators in an urban school district yesterday as they were discussing their successful filing and next steps. While full implementation will not be until the start of the 11-12 school year, they already had plans in this school year for roll out, education, and training for all stake-holders: teachers, parents, students, everyone. Among other elements, their plan includes counseling intervention for the bully as well as the target, rather than just punishment for the bully and "there-there" for the target.

My bias about anti-bullying efforts has always been that it focuses on a symptom. Underneath the hood of bullying is the fact that only 30% of students in grades 6-12 have reported that students respect one another. That breakdown of respect undoubtedly drives all kinds of disrespectful behavior, the worst forms being the ones all but six schools in Massachusetts have committed to addressing because of a new law. Perhaps because the six schools have been publicly named, one administrator yesterday quipped, "the state has plans to stuff those six schools into a locker until they comply."

The Globe article states "Among the most effective anti-bullying programs, research has shown, are those that change school culture — often by involving entire school communities, including teachers, bullies, cafeteria workers, librarians, school bus drivers, and children who witness bullying, and imbuing them with a sense that bullying is not acceptable behavior." I agree with the "change the culture" approach, but if it ends in only "thou shalt not"s and never shifts towards a positive, caring, respectful culture, I'm not sure how far we will get.

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