Once you have talked to your child about bullying, what do you do if the problem gets worse and you need to report it to a teacher or school administrator? Over the years I’ve worked with many people in these positions. Yes, some school staff can be incompetent or, worse yet, be bullies themselves. But there are many who do a great job; we just never hear about them because they solve the problem and move on to the other thousand things our teachers and administrators do every day. As tempting as it may be to want to walk into a principal’s office demanding immediate justice and retribution, handling a bullying situation well requires thought and consideration.
Here’s what I look for in an educator who handles bullying effectively:
- They understand that “Kindness Matters” “Stomp Out Bullying!” and “Zero Tolerance” banners on the school walls aren’t a magic bullet that makes kids be nice to each other.
- They tell the targeted child, I’m sorry this happened. Thank you for telling me because I bet it was hard to share. I’m going to do everything in my power to make you feel better and safer about coming to school.
- They understand that students’ social groups may make a problem multi-layered. Why? Because if the wrong student is identified as the bully or the adults don’t understand the dynamics that enabled the bullying, the people who need to be held responsible won’t be. Meanwhile, the students will know who the real perpetrators are or which adults looked the other way.
- They understand the balance between transparency and confidentiality. That means they share enough information with the community so people feel informed about how bullying issues are handled. But, they make clear that the names of the people involved in the specific incident and any disciplinary actions against them will be confidential to respect their privacy.
- They apologize if they make a mistake.
- They hold teachers accountable for abusing their power.
What do you do if you encounter an educator who does NOT handle bullying effectively? No matter how angry you are, don’t immediately go over their head to the principal and send an email in all capitals, making ultimatums. Instead, you write to the teacher exactly what happened, when, and where. You explain that there is a pattern of abusive behavior that is making it impossible for your child to focus on their learning and feel safe in class. You ask for a response within forty-eight hours that outlines a strategy to address the problem. If the educator doesn’t honor this request than you send another email or meet with them in person to share your concerns they don’t take the issue seriously and you will need to involve their supervisors. If you do need to involve an administrator, familiarize yourself with your school district’s policy on bullying and document everything that happens in that meeting. Just remember, when you meet with them don’t focus on the perpetrator and their punishment. Focus on your real goal: making your child safe.
Whatever role we have in our communities, we all interact with young people. We are all responsible for our children’s emotional wellbeing and physical safety. Let’s do what we can to make every young person starts school feeling like they belong and we will be there to help them.