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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Brenda Martin's picture
Brenda Martin
Resource Teacher: Learning & Behaviour in New Zealand

have a look at the no blame approach to bullying - do a search and it should come up. it is a uk based programme, very easy to implement and i have used it with great success in New Zealand schools. have a read and see what you think.

Kelly Parker's picture
Kelly Parker
EFL teacher from Nevada, teaching teachers in China

One of the drawbacks of a goal "to become more socially and emotionally aware people" is that awareness may not always entail resolution of conflict. IMHO teens are often quite socially aware, despite being emotionally unstable, so any approach must not involve talking down to them. Seeing as teens are often under the illusion that they are of the age of knowing everything, forcing a sitdown mediation could be taken as a form of talking down.

Ironically, real adults will request mediation to resolve a conflict. As teens merely think they are adults, your attempts to "move forward" may not be acceptable, simply because they want to be treated like adults. Never mind the fact that we know they are still immature; I'm talking about pretending to try to reach them.

Perhaps the real answer is that you can't move forward, at least in a controllable manner. Hopefully this pair will sort out their rubbish in a non-violent manner. Or perhaps they will have their inevitable catfight and become best friends after the dust settles. Just try not to get caught in the crossfire. Good luck!

Ray Mathis's picture
Ray Mathis
Retired Health Ed Teacher certified in Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy


Most approaches to bullying prevention are what I call outside-in approaches. People try to get those doing the bullying to stop, often with little success. That's something we have to do. We have a professional, moral and ethical obligation to do everything we can to provide a safe environment for each student in which to grow. However, I like to take what I call an inside -out approach by teaching young people "tools" as part of what I call a "Mental and Emotional Tool Kit for Life". I actually teach a grad class for teachers called "Mental and Emotional Self-Defense against bullying" on how to teach young people these "tools" to help them protect themselves (for those times when we can't protect them) from bullying and other forms of abuse. The beauty of this approach though is that in teaching the "tools", you target the underlying causes of all those things that go wrong in and outside of classrooms, now and later in the lives of young people, that being what they think and feel, and then say and do because of that, in response to their life events.

I invite you to go to to learn about the "tools"

Carrie Payne's picture
Carrie Payne
a licensed mental health profesional in the seattle area

In some sense their "anger and hate" toward the girl they bully is NOT in a "real place." It is more about them than it is about the victim. It is misplaced anger. I did an anti-bullying class at a Boys and Girls club. It was not billed as such, because kids had to voluntarily join or were refered to the class and "encouraged' to join. It was called a "leadership" class. Kids learned how to develop their own leadership qualities (and test them out using musical instruments; poetry; using the politics of getting other people to believe you and respect them etc).. The behavior of the participants inproved and there was a noticable reduction in their provocative behavior of bullying others. Giving them a forum for self exploration in a judgementally neutral and yet compassionate way takes their focus and interest away from others and brings it closer to their own grasp. Group is best because of the feedback loop of that undifferentiated teens ingage in (in both bad and good ways.).

Ray Mathis's picture
Ray Mathis
Retired Health Ed Teacher certified in Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy

Carrie is absolutely right. We should be helping those on the "doing" end as much as those on the "receiving" end. Kids often have what Rudolph Dreikurs called "mistaken" goals when they misbehave in any way. i.e. Attention, Power, Revenge, and Avoidance of Failure. But the driving force behind behavior intended to satisfy such "mistaken" goals are loneliness or a perception of estrangement for Attention, anger for Power and Revenge, and shame, guilt and anxiety for avoidance of failure. And it's the thoughts they have about themselves, others and their life that give rise to both the emotion and "mistaken goals". The first three could and often do play a role in "bullying". Too often in education we try to stop a behavior we don't like by simply using advice, or consequences without identifying and addressing the real underlying cause of it. Behavior is just the tip of the iceberg. It's also a symptom of attitudes and feelings that need to be addressed. Anger often plays a role in some level with bullying. Anger gives kids (or anyone) a false sense of power, righteousness, permission and protection. It's very attractive to those who feel powerless (in school, at home), those are always being told they do something wrong. Most of all, it's often a way kids use to protect themselves from feeling other things like shame, guilt, depression, anxiety, loneliness. As long as they're angry, they don't feel those other feelings. So once again, anger is a symptom of things that need to be addressed, but too often we just react to the anger, and sometimes even take it personal if it's directed at us. Part of Carrie's point is that it's not personal. At least not for the victim so much as for the one doing it.

It even helps to talk to those being bullied about what they think the mistaken goal is of those doing that to them. If you and they arrive at the answer "Power", which it usually is, you can then ask, "Would you like to learn how to take that power away from them? Would you like me to teach you how to do that? That's where the "tools" I teach come in, in particular teaching them to have an internal locus of control. It's kind of like the adult version of "I'm rubber, you're glue...", "I know you are but what am I?" or "sticks and stones..."

Sometimes you can solve the problem as Carrie did by simply having kids do things that address the real underlying issue, i.e. loneliness, powerlessness, low self-esteem. That's called "putting their behavior where you want their attitude to be". But you can, and often have to start peeling back the layers of the onion until you get to the core. That's where the "tools" I teach kids can be helpful. It works even better if done as prevention, instead of as a way to react to a crisis. The "tool kit" approach "vaccinates" kids against all manner of mental health, health and social problems. It's a "shot in the arm" for those struggling. It's a form of "mental and emotional karate" for those being bullied or struggling with other rough spots. And it gives kids the mental and emotional fitness to function at levels they are capable of, in and outside the classroom, now and later in life.

Tahlia Newland's picture
Tahlia Newland
Teacher at Kiama High School In NSW Australia

I'm totally with you on that. You would love my YA magical realism novel with a 'solutions for bullying theme'. Meditation and martial arts is the main thrust. There's also some great analogies I've used to help kids handle bullying.

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