Editor's note: This blog describes a hostile act and contains language that some might find disturbing and offensive. We generally avoid such representations on Edutopia. However, it would be difficult for the blogger to make his point without this level of impact, and we believe it is a point worth making.
Years ago, I taught high school in a small suburban community in Florida. After my then-boyfriend substituted in my classes one day, my classroom was vandalized with threatening, offensive messages on the whiteboard, my desk, and the overhead projector and its screen. The contents of my desk were strewn across the room, and some personal property I had brought to my workspace was defaced. Overall, very little physical damage was done, but the event seriously shook my nerves.
The best way to reduce bullying is not with a one-time assembly or a poster campaign, but with homegrown, data-driven, sustained efforts by a caring, committed staff -- a model I call the six R's, a blueprint for effective bullying prevention. I've shared this model with hundreds of educators worldwide, and on U.S. Army bases. Each "R" is crucial in creating what our students deserve -- a safe, caring learning environment that breeds acceptance and respect.
Jake's hands were clenched and he had a weak smile on his face when he told me the joke his friends were laughing about. "I laughed, too," he said, "but inside I was filled with fear, fear that they might find out." Jake, a tall, slender high school junior, was referring to a gay joke that while not malicious, was a degrading word play. Jake is not alone.
The recent decision by Glendale Unified School District in Southern California to hire a private firm, Geo Listening, that will troll through the digital lives of teenagers has sparked widespread concern and reaction. Schools and parents, increasingly at a loss for how to ensure teens' online safety with the proliferation of social media and bullying, are beginning to outsource the work of monitoring.
During more than 20 years as a school administrator, I received numerous reports of bullying incidents from children, parents and teachers. Now that I'm the director of Not In Our School and bullying has become a topic of national discussion, I still regularly get calls from students and parents who share stories of tragic and worrisome incidents.
Sadly, it seems that terrible tragedy needs to keep striking in order for bullying to retain its status as worthy of serious efforts to eliminate it. The latest incident involves 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick's leap to her death in response to persistent cyber-bullying, and the subsequent arrest of two juvenile female honor students. While all this attention spotlights the serious consequences of this stubborn issue, schools and parents must be equally persistent in providing constant reminders of the dangerous and damaging impact caused by hurtful words, threats and actions when horrors like this aren't center stage.
I recently sat through a bullying prevention session for parents, and the conversation inevitably migrated to a discussion of cyberbullying, smartphones and other forms of digital media. Considering how ubiquitous smartphones have become, especially in high school, and now in middle school, questions about managing smartphones and educating students about digital citizenship are on a lot of parents' minds.
Restorative justice empowers students to resolve conflicts on their own, and it's growing in practice at schools around the country. Essentially, the idea is to bring students together in peer-mediated small groups to talk, ask questions and air their grievances. (This overview from Fix School Discipline is a wonderful primer.)
A parent shared a wonderful story recently about his 24-year-old son letting him know that he was going to change his passwords and asking if it was OK with him. The father chuckled as he shared this story, but he was also in a state of bewilderment that his son was still honoring their agreement from ten years ago -- the one where his dad would have access to the 14-year-old's passwords. Sure, the son had stumbled and misstepped, sometimes without the father's knowledge, but the trust factor was sealed with a safe agreement between parent and child, and that bond had lasted in to early adulthood. Impressive.
In theory, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs in schools are a great idea; students can use their own tablets, laptops and smartphones in the classroom, and can take advantage of a wider range of apps and programs than they might be able to normally access in school. There is a case to be made that doing so can make schools more cutting edge and capable of engaging students through methods that they're comfortable with. However, there's also a risk that BYOD could lead to bullying and inequality within schools. How, then, can BYOD be successful without causing these kinds of problems?