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Webinar – Bullying: Define, Prevent, Address

By Cultures Of Dignity | September 9, 2022

What is the difference between school environments of respect vs school environments of dignity?

First, we need to define the words that we are using. Respect comes from the Latin word respectus, meaning “to look back at.” Respect is earned. Dignity is from the Latin word dignitas, meaning “to be worthy.” Dignity is inherent, we all have it, and we all have the same amount, no matter what

There are some shortcomings inherent to the word “respect” and its meaning. It can mean “obey” to students; obey no matter what and obey simply because someone is in a position of power. For example, respect your elders, children should be seen and not heard, etc. It can prevent kids from speaking up when abuses of power are happening. We often ask kids to respect people that have not earned their respect by the behaviors they have demonstrated.

How does the creation of particular environments help us prevent instances of bullying?

Using a lens of dignity enables us to separate behavior from the person’s worth. You cannot respect how someone has treated you, but you also cannot seek revenge or treat them as if they are less than. You still treat someone with dignity, even if you do not respect them or their behavior.

This change is one of many steps to help create a culture of dignity within schools. While it is always important to try and minimize bullying, schools should be very cautious about having a goal to eliminate bullying completely. It is hard to completely prevent bullying in schools. Young people should make mistakes. That is what they are designed to do when they are this age; it is developmentally appropriate. Sometimes, schools can feel as if they are working to eliminate all discipline issues. We want to be proactive and try to lessen the incidences of meanness and bullying while at the same time helping young people figure out what to do when these things do happen. Also, by setting up an environment where perfection is the only option, we create a space where students do not feel safe to speak up when something is going on and more importantly, do not want to own their behavior when they mess up.

A culture of dignity helps you feel seen, heard, and valued. Separating the words “respect” and “dignity” in conversation with the student can help open up a dialogue with them. It can let them know that you see the bad behavior and do not support it, and it also holds them to a standard of how they treat others. These conversations can help the response from the adult feel more authentic like the adult sees both sides and understands social dynamics. We aren’t making everyone apologize, even when one side may not have done anything. This can help build communication and trust with your students.

This shift to dignity and separating the behavior from the person can help them not feel labeled. So it isn’t stuck with them from year to year. Labels can be really hard to get rid of, especially when adults buy into them.

Labels foster the environment of bullying. Kids can become the label that others have given them. Even the kids demonstrating bad behavior have dignity; and w cannot forget that they are kids. They deserve the chance to get away from that label.

How would you define bullying, conflict, and drama? What are some main misconceptions people hold regarding these behaviors?

It is important to get clear about words. It can be easy to misuse them and over use them.

  • Rude is unintentionally excluding, isolating, hurting someone’s feelings
  • Mean is intentionally excluding, isolating, or hurting someone’s feelings
  • Drama is a conflict between people that is entertaining to everyone else
  • Conflict is a mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands
  • Bullying is repeatedly abusing power against another person

Bullying can be overused. Sometimes when kids are mean, even just one time, we can quickly (too quickly) label that behavior as bullying. Parents also know this can be a trigger word in schools, and schools will react to this word.

Bullying can also happen between adults and students, and when we use the word respect too much, it prevents kids from speaking up when there is an abuse of power. Talk to students about speaking up when something feels odd or off, or guide them to find a trusted adult and let kids know that you will figure it out together.

Bullying or mean behavior happens more often within friend groups rather than picking on one kid that is on the outside. At least, this is what we have seen when working with young people. Yes, people can be mean and/or bully the outsider, but more often, the behavior is seen within groups of friends.

Participant questions:

Question- Are things black and white? Is it easy to see these types of behaviors and decide which is mean and which is bullying?

Nothing is easy in education, and it is not easy to define the differences between these words and to know the moment when it crosses over from mean to bullying. Treat most situations like a conflict and follow the process and procedures that go along with that, as this will help define what is actually going on. Find out the full story and hear both sides to best figure out the next steps and help resolve the issue.

It is important to not label or make assumptions about kids’ behaviors. Just because they have been mean in the past doesn’t always mean they are behaving that way again. Kids can and will change; we have to be careful to not shove them back in the box. As we find out all sides of the story there are opportunities to model behaviors. Ask curious questions, ask youth to think about it before acting, and ask who else could help with the situation. Once you have worked through it together, you can give the students choices on how to handle it and what they want to happen next. As adults, we sometimes want to jump in too quickly to try and fix or solve a problem. You can give students some control back by going through options. Doing nothing is an option (but nothing changes). Reporting behavior to the school with hopes of discipline can sometimes be necessary, but this option means you would lose control of the outcome. You can also mention talking directly to the other student with adult support or alone. All of these are options, and they may have different outcomes, which is OK, but at least be aware of what your choices are before decisions are made.

If they are open to talking with the other students, how do they prepare? It is hard to approach conflict when we are not used to it and to know what to say. Remember, all of the things we are asking our students to do are not only hard for them but are hard for us as adults. Giving them some ideas of what to say and then encouraging them to put it in their own words. They won’t be perfect but at least having a plan that is thought through helps them be proactive.

Giving students a voice is treating them with dignity, and to get all students to feel heard helps the school create a culture of dignity. Kids are more willing to follow rules when they are based on principles and make sense.

Question: Is there a difference with kids after Covid?

Yes, kids aren’t handling rules the same way. The rules have been different, and now we are trying to reinforce some pre-covid rules, which can be confusing. When kids don’t know the boundaries, it can be hard for them. Adults are also struggling, and that can be hard for kids to see. They see their teachers as perfect or as a source of strength. Kids have regressed a little, and it can be a hard adjustment for teachers who are used to teaching 9th graders but now those 9th graders are acting like 7th graders. Administrators need to provide support for teachers on SEL (social emotional learning) and how to manage it in the classroom.

Question: As a parent, how do I instill courage in my 2 year old girl?

Courage comes more naturally to some than in others and can look different in different kids and people. Some can be outspoken and obvious, while others can be more subtle and supportive. It is important to support and encourage both types of courage. Encourage them at a young age to speak up or to come to you and ask if something feels off. Keep the conversation open so they will ask when someone makes them uncomfortable or hurts their feelings. Through these conversations, you can see how kids handle and get a better grasp of what they need or how they handle situations. Also, letting them know that they do not need to be perfect in all situations.

Encouraging them at a young age to recognize their feelings. What are they, and how do they make us act? Sometimes they don’t recognize how they feel about situations until later. With such young children, you start very basic and help them identify their feelings. It is also OK to let them live in their feelings and not try to push them through the emotion too quickly. They need to feel that feeling and to be emotionally granular.

Question: How much can cyberbullying affect teenagers compared to traditional ways of bullying? What should we do as teachers when something like that happens to one of our students?

It is a very tricky situation. They can affect kids equally, but cyberbullying can sometimes be more intense because it is non-stop. On the flip side, it can be easier for some people to stand up to bullying online. The hardest part of cyberbullying is that it is underground, it’s harder to “catch it”. It is a rough place for educators; it used to be that if the effects trickled into school, we could get involved even if without a consequence from school but maybe getting parents involved. Confronting someone back online can have consequences you may not anticipate. This conversation leads to a discussion on how to confront someone in a productive way.

Give kids options on how to handle it, and help them see/remember that what they text or respond back to can also be screenshot or saved and shared. Go over potential consequences. Help kids figure out how to have some control over a situation that feels very out of control. If you force them to handle a conflict in a way that is uncomfortable for them or feels unnatural you are reinforcing the lack of control they are already feeling.

How do we practically address instances of bullying, conflict, and drama? SEAL is a way to handle a hard conversation.

How to address conflict:
Stop: Breathe, listen, and think when, where, now, or later
Explain: What happened that you don’t like, and what do you need instead?
Affirm: Affirm and admit
Lock: Lock in the relationship, take a pause, or lock it out

These steps can be really hard to do in the moment. We tend to react, which is very natural in these moments. This process is about practice and not perfection. Any step you master or try is a success. Conflict is hard for all of us. You can go through this process with young people, walk through it with them, and ask how they would do it, what are their words, and what feels comfortable to them?

If you can talk about these steps with students, you can work through which ones are easier or harder for them to do as everyone is different. Sometimes with older kids, it is easier to work backwards. What is the end result that is desired? Is it to repair the friendship or to move on from it? Again, try to provide choices whenever possible.

SEAL can be viewed as “cheesy” if you use the acronym, so you do not always need to use the name SEAL when introducing it. Sometimes you can simply say that you are going to discuss steps to take when handling conflict. Or if you do use it, ask them why they think it is silly or won’t work. Let them think about which parts they feel will actually work. SEAL is something that is good to share with parents so they can help their child work through it as well.

When you teach the SEAL method with students and then they don’t use it and things escalate, what should you do?

SEL is hard to instill, teach, and practice. As we say, these types of lessons or classes are not 2 + 2 = 4 types of classes. It is much more about practice and not perfection. We are all human and will have emotional reactions at times. When discussing SEAL, or other aspects of SEL, there are ways to model and appropriately share. It is OK to tell your students: “You know, conflict is still hard for me, but I keep trying.” You can’t get upset when they don’t use the tools we give them. They have to get there on their own and in their own way. We hope they think through it and that it is there for later use. We hope they become adults that can use these skills naturally.

We often have expectations that kids should handle hard issues and moments well or perfectly. We as adults often misstep, ignore, or overreact, so we cannot expect young people to navigate sticky situations smoothly, nor can we chastise them when they struggle. We do not want to attach shame to a behavior that, in turn, is attached to the student as a person, and that prevents growth and learning. We have all said things in a way we did not intend to, SEAL can provide a path to not get labeled in a certain way.

Listen to the full podcast for more on the conversation about Dignity, Respect, Social Emotional Learning, and SEAL. Real-world questions from participants and answers from the panelists provide realistic and concrete ways to define words used in schools and how to handle tough situations with students.

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