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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation


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I've been thinking a lot about SEL in regards to my 10th grade females. There is a group of females picking on another female in one of my classes. They pick on her because of rumors that are going around the building about her and a number of different males. She's new to the school. She has done a lot of writing to me about the torment. I also see the females snickering or rolling their eyes when she walks into the room. I can control them in my classroom. I have a zero-tolerance policy for put-downs. But, I can't control what happens in the hallways, in the cafeteria, and in other classes. On Friday, I sat the picked-on student down and one of the other females--the ring leader, I think. During the conversation the bully stated that she doesn't like the other girl because of the way she looks. She said that it makes her furious that she comes in with her hair "a mess." It was heart-breaking. I thought I was doing the right thing by sitting them down together--away from the rest of the class. But, maybe there is nothing I can do. Maybe I should just try to control the behavior in my classroom. CLEARLY, I need to support these students--and all of my students--to become more socially and emotionally aware people. But I'm having a hard time right now even giving these females (the ones doing the bullying) a chance to be honest with their feelings because they are just so mean. I know, though, that their feelings of anger and hate come from a real place. I'm just not sure, right now, how to move forward.

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Bob Cameron's picture
Bob Cameron
School Social Worker

As a parent of 8th and 9th grade girls and a Counselor in a middle school this kind of behavior can be very difficult to watch... in my work with kids at any grade, I try (initially) to use a mediation approach if the power balance isn't too significant ( if they're in the same grade)with students with the idea that nobody is in trouble, but some things need to change, i.e. people treating each other more decently... often I work with the victim separately as well to help them "stand up for themselves" in their interactions with "bullys" and emotionally not let others "hurt your heart"...while also helping them identify and shift their energies towards those students who don't treat them that way and may be potential friends/allies... easier said than done!... so your approach of sitting the "ring leader" down with the victim was a good start, in my opinion... this "relational aggression" is hard to discipline in a school, as it's hard to discipline someone for being "mean" to someone else... there are some pretty clear and fairly useful definitions about what harassment is, however ( one-sided, uninvited, intention to harm, etc.)so sometimes discipline ( or threat therof) is necessary too... I know this is a long-winded response to a situation you were dealing with more than a month ago, but I hope that it's useful to you...

Susan Heller Fisher's picture

As a peer mediator advisor and special educator, I am in constant contact with children who are being victimized. We have started programs that help children understand the vocabulary of being an upstander. We have started a club called Acceptance, Awareness and Action which sponsored a Mix-it-Up at Lunch Day and a No-Name Calling Week. Do all of these initiatives work well? No but they are a start. My response to bullying is mediation and support for the victim. I do not believe that punishment of the bully works because it does not change the behavior of the bully. I believe that self-defense classes need to be offered in every middle school and high school as well as yoga and meditation classes to enable students to find their voices, calm their fears which leads to bullying (fear of not being smart enough or rich enough or popular enough or pretty enough.... I believe a determined effort on the part of the entire faculty and administration is necessary to change the culture of bullying in our schools. We can never give up or stop trying to educate children socially and emotionally. The victims need empowerment and the bullies need to learn how to communicate more effectively. We put every bully through peer mediation. Their parents are not permitted to call me or discuss their child with me. The program is cocooned and we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of mediations. Kids are beginning to request the mediations, not just teachers and counselors. One other suggestion I have is to form talk groups. We get groups of kids together on a weekly basis who are not friends and we talk about their social and emotional issues.We do not force their thinking. We offer other perspectives for them to ponder. It helps us keep our hands on the pulse of what kids are thinking and feeling. That's what we are doing. As a final note, we visited the Tolerance Center/Holocaust Museum on Long Island. Our seventh and eighth grade students are going into sixth grade classes to do lessons on Tolerance/Acceptance. They planned their own lessons and I can't wait to see them teach. I am trying to spread the word of acceptance in as many formats as I can.

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