Bullying is a widespread and serious problem across our nation. It's what happens when someone repeatedly hurts or threatens another person on purpose. Bullying comes in many forms: name calling, leaving people out, spreading rumors or physically hurting someone. And, it can happen in person, in writing, online, on cell phones, in school, on the bus, at home, or anywhere. It is not a normal rite of passage, it has serious consequences and it is NOT acceptable anywhere - especially at school.
At the beginning of last school year, I noticed within my own classroom hurtful comments between a few of my students which also continued into the hallways. After discussing the issue with the teacher of our Leadership class, we decided to survey a sample of our students. Out of approximately 300 responses received, over 60% of the students felt unsafe at school and expressed that they have either personally experienced bullying or were a witness to bullying.
Alarmed by the large percentage of students who felt unsafe, we began a school-wide Anti-Bullying Campaign:
- With the help of approximately 25 Leadership students and the principal, we held a school wide viewing of the movie, BULLY. Nearly 1,300 students viewed and discussed the film.
- The following week, we sent invitations to all family members about our Parent/Guardian Informational Anti-Bullying Pizza and Dessert Night. Nearly 100 family members showed up and a lively and emotional discussion followed suit. There was not a dry eye in the audience after the discussion panel of parents, students, teachers, and administrators committed to support one another.
- In February, all students were invited to participate in an anti-bullying poster contest and the school received over 300 entries. The Leadership students used these entries to create an anti-bullying gallery walk and organized an anti-bullying event which included activities such as watching a spoken-word video on bullying, creating poems in response to bullying, voting for the best anti-bullying poster, and signing anti-bullying pledges. A number of prizes were awarded to the top poems, posters, and reflections.
How did we make this a solid, engaging learning experience and not just a one-day event?
Dan Alba, Senior Program Associate for Facing History in Los Angeles, suggested that it would be best to begin the conversation first with teachers, administrators and school personnel. We took the following steps to create the safe environment for students to address this issue:
- All school faculty members were shown the movie first, then a discussion panel immediately followed allowing for questions, comments, and concerns about bringing this painful topic to the forefront.
- We provided pre-viewing lessons and activities taken directly from the BULLY toolkit and distributed it to all English teachers to use with their classes prior to viewing the movie. This we realized later was an extremely important step in preparing students for the painful and heavy topic that most of them could relate to.
- We organized separate screenings and facilitated discussions of the film BULLY for all 1,300 students within the same week, again providing the critical component of a discussion panel afterwards consisting of student volunteers, teachers, administrators, and parents.
- All English teachers received post-viewing lessons and activities to use in their classrooms in order to help students process the content and strong emotions they experienced.
- All English teachers received copies of the book, The Bully, by author Paul Langan to read with their classes.
How do we know it was successful?
After each screening and discussion, the intensity and courage level of students increased, which provided for a richer and more authentic discussion. It was surprising yet touching to see how students stood up for one another after each experience was publicly shared. There was none of the usual heckling or crass comments normally heard during a large student assembly. Rather, the head nods and claps showed a collective support and empathy for their fellow classmates.
Midway through the week of film screenings, the primary security official on campus told me about the intense and powerful conversations he overheard in the student courtyard. Students were confessing to one another about feeling safer and more comfortable in sharing their personal experiences. I knew at this point that our mission was being accomplished. Although we were not able to completely eradicate bullying type behavior, we were successful in establishing a safer environment where students felt freer to express their pain and suffering with an empathetic ear.
Families walked away with the necessary skills, tools, and resources to help their child deal with bullying.
Due to the increased awareness of bullying at our school, many students have volunteered to attend peer conflict mediation training because they too, want to be part of the solution.
What a powerful and impacting experience for all students to discuss this painful topic simultaneously!
I am a 9th grade English teacher with a passion for teaching students the wonderful and powerful world of reading which was the key to my survival as a seven-year-old Vietnamese refugee. I enjoy reading, traveling, hiking, biking, researching and studying history.