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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Student Pledges: Preventing Harassment and Bullying at Your School

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service

Now that we're heading into summer, it's a perfect time to start planning a pledge for your students. I used to be skeptical about the value of pledges by students, particularly around things like harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB). But I have changed my mind. The new school year is a time to consider any such pledges, and now is the time to think through your position on the topic.

Here are my suggestions for how to have powerful pledges that are meaningful:

#1. Have the creation of the pledge be a shared activity with students. Involve them in the idea and the wording. It's fine to have several versions even in the same school to make them developmentally appropriate and meaningful.

#2. Make sure the pledge addresses HIB prevention and also affirms positive values that students pledge to uphold. This is what turns students from bystanders into upstanders. Values such as respect for all classmates, being responsible to self, others, and the environment, and acting with integrity all create antidotes to HIB. Be sure to discuss whatever positive values are affirmed and integrate them into class and school rules, academic subject work, school report cards, and conversations with parents.

#3. Every student should read aloud (individually or in small groups) the pledge in a public forum and sign their own individual copy, which they keep. Consider wallet-card versions of the pledge as well as how to share the pledge with parents and community groups.

#4. No less often than the end of each marking period, ask students to rate how they have been doing in terms of keeping to the pledge and generate ideas for what individuals, classes, and the school as a whole can do better.

#5. Ensure that the principles in the pledge are incorporated into disciplinary conversations, guidance sessions, special education IEP's and processes, after-school, extracurricular and athletic and other programs and events, including bus behaviors and Internet behavior.

I am sure you can think of ways to refine this list. It is based on social-emotional learning principles, such as deterring potential bullies through cognitive dissonance, creating widely shared, positive social norms, providing ways for all students to make valued contributions and identify with larger, pro-social purposes, and building skills of social participation.

Please share pledges, and procedures surrounding them, that you have found helpful, so we can all go into the new school year better prepared to provide our students with safe, civil, supportive, and challenging learning environments.

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service
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