BULLYING- WHAT’S THE ANSWER?

If you go into the lobby of the Department of Education in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, you will see large placards displayed which inform one about how bullying is being handled throughout the Commonwealth.  It is mostly a description of programs that highlight bullying and its negative consequences and educational tools that might help in its eradication.

It’s not that I don’t believe in education, it’s just that in the case of bullying, it does not work. If what they mean is that we should read about bullying and teach from a prescribed curriculum for kindergarten to twelfth grade, I don’t believe that it will work. If bullying is such a great problem in our schools, and evidently in our society (I read Jonathan Martin and the Miami Dophins), how come no one has come up with a solution yet.

Once again, I will make use of my experience as a principal, assistant principal and human relations coordinator. I still feel that unless you have had some experience in a school, whether elementary or secondary, or even at the post-secondary level, you will have difficulty in seeing what must really be done.

I was blessed with having one of the best elementary principals working in a district, in which I was the superintendent.  Bob was a tall and lanky product of local public schools who got his teaching and principal tickets at local colleges. He was familiar with the community and its values. Bob was intimately involved in his 600 student school from morning till night. He knew most of the children (including my own, they still call him Uncle Bob) by first name. He wandered the halls; spoke with teachers, parents and other community residents. His understanding of the kids in the school was his badge of honor.

What does this have to do about bullying? As you can imagine, bullying is never really hidden. If you are a teacher, an aide, a principal or a custodian, you can see when a child is being set upon. If you were a teacher in Bob’s school, and had a problem with bullying in your classroom, most times you took care of it. If you were a consistent person with discipline, the bullying was never allowed to continue for very long. Teachers made a practice of handling bullying in a specific way, to their tastes, all through the year.

If the bullying went further, and landed in Bob’s lap, then the bullyer and the bullyer’s family were in for a very long series of meetings with Bob ( which involved him offering them candy and fruit, mostly apples and bananas). Bob would constantly check on the progress of the bullyer and the child who was bullied. Bob was so good at this because he was bullied as a kid in 6th grade and he never forgot it. He met the bullyer many years later and it turned out that Bob was much bigger than him. Bob was going to remind this fellow of what he had done. He saw that the man was changed and that he was no longer the rotten child that he had been in elementary school. He shook hands with him and walked away.

Not only was Bob confident in his ability  to deal with these situations, but he and his staff made it perfectly clear to parents that this was not tolerated at the Kutztown Elementary School. Bob and his staff created a culture in the building that was plain to all, “No Bullying Allowed Here.” It was understood by not only the kids in the school, but one or two generations previous. Bob was there a long while.

Sure this is a single case. However, I saw a dramatic change in another school building. In one year, the new principal at the high school, who had replaced someone who was not attuned to the school and the kids, changed the tone and tenor in the building. He was astounded by the level of bullying and made short work of it. He backed up his teachers when they brought these kind of problems to him. That made them an anti-bullying team.

There are many of these stories of men and women who have created a climate within the school that does not tolerate bullying or other anti-social behaviors. Are there failures? Sure there are. However, in my experience, even in racially charged situations, a climate can be created whereby problems can be worked out. In my own case, an intergroup council was created to discuss and settle a number of the racial problems. Did it always work out? It did not. However, the students began to learn that there were other ways of handling things, other than conflict.

How about schools that are transient. There are those in big cities that have their enrollments change by 85 percent in one year. What do you do then? No matter who the children are before you, they must understand the values of the school. It must be made plain to them and their parents (yes some kids have only one parent, or in some cases none) that this is the set of values that we will operate under while your children are here. Whether you speak our language or another language and come from another place, or country, these are our values, so that your child can get the best education possible.

Cyber bullying is an extension of the school climate. Although those who do it believe that they cannot be caught, they can be. In this modern world of technology and Facebook, twitter, noodle  tumblr, Instagram, an email, a cyber-bully or group of bullies, can’t stay hidden for long. The technology for finding out who the culprit is (or are) is available if you want to use it.

It saddens me to hear about children who are so affected by technological bullying that they take their lives, or take other’s lives. School staffs must be aware of what is going on in their schools. A good way to find out what’s going on is to establish one or two groups of students. I am not suggesting a student council made up of the elite in the school. How about the principal in conjunction with the staff choosing one student from each school group (kind of like a sociogram), jocks, cheerleaders, goths, plain people, behavior problems, shy guys, etc. Meet with the group (or groups) one time a week, depending on the schedule. After a while, as the group develops, your knowledge of the school’s students will be clear to you. How do I know this will work? I have personally seen it work in a school in which I was the principal.

Yes, it can be done at any level- elementary, secondary and also post-secondary.  You may think that you cannot schedule such meetings, but you can. You will be curious to know if these students will become known as snitches.  They will at first, but confidentiality will be stressed. Soon, other students will want to be part of the group and you may have to start group 2.0. I know of other schools who have tried this with success.

Your best defense against bullying, whether physical, psychological (mean girls) or cyber, is to be aware, through whatever means, of what is happening in the school. If you create a culture that considers bullying an outlier, you will succeed. It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a complete school staff and a community to counter bullying.


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