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The Anti-Bullying Classroom: Advice for Educators

Jodee Blanco

*Excerpted with permission from the author of Please Stop Laughing at Us

What Not to Say
Never say to a bullied child: “Ignore the bully and walk away; they’re just jealous; twenty years from now those bullies will probably be in jail and you’ll be successful; I know how you feel; or be patient.” 

What to Say
This is what you should say to your bullied student and do:

Step1: Say, "I don’t know how you feel. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. It must be awful.”

Step 2: Say, “Let’s talk about an action that we can take together today to help solve this problem of bullying that you’re facing.”

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Step 3: Contact the local park district, public library and community center one town over and ask them to send you a list of their youth programs, then review this information with your students and help him choose something he can participate in.

Step 4: Contact the parents and explain from a constructive point of view so as not to put them on the defensive that their child has been encountering some challenges but that both you and their child have come up with some exciting solutions that you’re eager to share with them. 

Step 5: Be a Friend. Before you let any student confide in you, close your eyes and visualize that you’re switching hats from that of teacher to friend, and promise yourself that no matter what you hear you’ll approach it from the perspective of an ally, and not the stance of an authority figure. 

Step 6: Don’t Make It Worse. Don’t chastise an Elite Tormentor [bully] in front of the entire class. Devise an excuse to pull the victim out of the line of fire and then approach his assailants individually at a later date. 

Step 7: Use Compassionate Punishment. Traditional punishment doesn’t work. It only makes an angry kid angrier and is best employed as a last alternative. First, try compassionate forms of discipline that help the student access the empathy inside him. For example, in lieu of a detention for bad behavior, require a student to do one nice thing for a different person every day for two weeks and to record in a notebook each evening how the recipient responded and how the response made him feel. Make sure he has each recipient sign and date his entry and include a phone number so you can verify your student’s compliance in this exercise. If the student is remiss, then use traditional punishment as a consequence. 

Step 8: Don’t Take Sides. Remember, the bully and the victim are flip sides of the same coin. Both are bleeding emotionally, both need love and support. When approaching the bully, begin the conversation on an encouraging note with something like “Johnny, I enjoy being your teacher I know you’re a really good kid, that’s why it surprised me when you…” Then, launch into the issue you need to discuss, trying to be as general as possible and only using the victim’s name if there’s no other alternative. This will help to prevent retaliation later on.

Step 9: Get Backup. If you’re a teacher trying to help a student and administration is giving you the runaround, plead your case to the school board, and if that doesn’t work, contact the education reporter at your local daily paper. Conversely, if you’re a principal struggling with a tenured teacher who’s a bully, keep going up the chain of command until someone pays attention, even if that means turning to the press yourself.

Step 10: Incorporate an Anti-bullying Curriculum.  Try to creatively incorporate anti-bullying messages into your required subject matter. For example, if you’re teaching students about the food chain in science class, add a quiz question that asks them to compare the social environment at school to the food chain. You can also have students study great leader in whatever subject you teach who were maligned and shunned for being different or ahead of their time. Their life stories will inspire students who are being bullied, and help to ignite spirited discussion.

Bounus Step: Develop a Code of Conduct. Develop a code of conduct for your classroom and reward those students who uphold it. 

Man in the Mirror

Never forget why you became a teacher, and don’t let government policies, administrative bureaucracies, or anything else get in the way of your love for your students or your commitment to protect and empower them. And if you’re an Adult Survivor of Peer Abuse yourself, don’t minimize what happened, find a therapist and talk about it so it doesn’t hinder you as an educator.

How do you prevent bullying in your classroom?