With the release of the film Bully and daily news reports about the devastating impact on students who have been relentlessly bullied, teachers find themselves on the front line in addressing bullying. It is time to move into action. Not In Our School offers solutions-based strategies and tools for change to a network of schools that are working to create safe, inclusive and accepting climates. The core ideas and actions of Not In Our School include:
Identification of Problems of Intolerance and Bullying
The focus is on problems that result from students bullying, harassing or being exclusionary and hateful. Often, harassment is based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, appearance or disability. The first step is to start with a dialogue about the particular problem. (Lesson Idea: Students Map Bully Zones to Create a Safer School)
Solutions Defined by Students and Peer-to-Peer Actions
Students are supported in defining the problems and solutions needed to incorporate peer-to-peer actions, make their schools safe and help bystanders gather the courage to become "upstanders." (Activity: Bullying Role Play and Practicing Intervention)
The entire school community unites to say Not in Our School. This could take many forms -- buttons, banners, slogans, t-shirts, pledges, assemblies and school-wide activities -- but it needs to grow out of authentic discussion and efforts to create a safe and welcoming environment for students of all backgrounds and gender identities.
Many activities have been successfully implemented in schools and may be viewed in videos with lesson guides on the notinourschool.org website. An array of testimonials from administrators, teachers and students are available on the website as well.
What is the Urgency?
In three horrifying hate crimes, high school students murdered a transgender Latina youth in Newark, California in 2005, a Latino man in Patchogue, New York in 2008, and an African-American man in Mississippi in 2011. As many as 20 people were involved in or stood and watched the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl outside a Richmond, California high school homecoming dance in 2009. Every day, news outlets report cases of youth who are bullied because they are perceived to be gay. Bullying can lead to serious emotional problems, multiple school absences and higher risk factors for suicide. These incidents have raised national awareness with new anti-bullying laws in 48 states that require schools to take immediate action regarding bullying. New research from scholars at University of California - Davis found that approaches to bullying and harassment have a better chance of success if bystanders, who make up the vast majority, are the focus of efforts to shift social norms. Interestingly, students seeking to move up the social ladder engage in acts of social cruelty, erroneously believing that it will increase their status. In our newest PBS film Not In Our Town: Class Actions, middle school students take the lead in educating their peers and their teachers in a NIOS anti-bullying initiative that reached 50,000 students following two suicides of local youth in Lancaster, California.
Five Practical Ways to Stop Bullying and Intolerance
1) Recognize and Respond
Bullying and intolerance manifest as verbal, written or physical acts that harm another person.
- Educate students, parents and staff about taking bullying seriously and how to recognize it. Make an action plan to respond swiftly to incidents and daily teasing.
- Identify and monitor places where most bullying happens (e.g., on the way to and from school, in the cafeteria, and on the school yard.)
2) Create Dialogue
Create opportunities for open dialogue with youth about bullying and intolerance. Let students lead through peer-to-peer action.
- Provide opportunities for students to share their feelings, problems or ideas.
- Get students involved in organizing anti-bullying forums where they resolve problems.
3) Encourage Bystanders to Become "Upstanders"
Upstanders are people who stand up for themselves and others.
- Model ways for young people to intervene and speak up. Practice with role-playing.
- Help youth develop effective phrases to reject negative comments or social media posts.
4) Foster Safety and Inclusion
Foster safe and welcoming environments that promote inclusion and acceptance, places where students feel everyone is respected and their identity is valued.
- Connect with young people and create the trust that will help them come forward if they are being bullied.
- Listen to them, pay attention and offer support when students are upset or sad.
5) Educate Your Community
Partner with others to take joint action in educating students, teachers and parents about bullying in your school and community.
- Create a coalition of elected, school and civic community leaders to sign a school-wide pledge to say No Bullying: Not In Our School/Not In Our Town.
- Sponsor a "Not In Our Schools" Week with buttons, banners, slogans, t-shirts and school-wide activities.
Not in Our School as a movement and campaign is an effort that asks everyone to change the atmosphere that can lead to bullying and intolerance. Although the process can begin with these five steps, a safer climate for students does not happen overnight. It requires a sustained and collaborative effort of students, parents, educators and community members who work together to model and practice empathy, thoughtful responses and respect for different backgrounds and perspectives. It grows out of authentic discussion and efforts to create a safe and welcoming environment for students of all backgrounds and gender identities. (Lesson Idea: New Immigrants Share Their Stories)
School needs to be a place where students discover their identities, and where each student feels that a unique identity is an asset to him or her -- and to the world. They need to feel emotionally comfortable in a warm and "identity safe" environment where stereotypes and stereotype threat (the fear of being judged by a negative stereotype) are addressed. Efforts to build empathy and involve students in the process of change can shift the school culture to one where offending or hurting someone else, either in person or online, is not seen as cool. The whole culture can become a warm, caring environment where bullying is much less likely to occur.