cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by forpawsgrooming: http://flickr.com/photos/forpaws/5554199536/

As “anti-bullying day” approaches again this year, I get questions as to what we will be doing as a school for this one day event.  My response has been,

“As a school, we will continue to do what we do every other day: promote a culture of care, empathy and kindness through teaching and modeling.  We will continue to try to nurture the strengths and interests in our students and help them to be more confident and proud of who they are. We will also deal with bullying and conflict (2 very different things but often confused) in a serious but teaching/learning manner so the lacking skills are taught and the focus stays long-term.”

Bullying is something that nobody should have to go through and when it occurs, we need to take this very seriously and deal with it very carefully.  We also need to be proactive in what we do – we need to create the culture in which people are cared for and care for others.  Now, I am not opposed to the intent of Anti-Bullying Day, as I am often blown away by the efforts of students and I believe we need to stand up to bullying, but I do think the focus is on the wrong thing: bullying.  Whenever we focus on something, it grows.  If we seek negatives in our life, we will find them.  If we seek positives, we will find them too.  Maybe we need to shift and focus on the positive qualities we want to see.

It is easy to put on a pink shirt and say that we are fighting bullying on that day… it is much more difficult to model, teach and create a culture in which kindness, care, and empathy is the norm.  We probably would find it difficult to find someone who is NOT “anti-bullying” (or pro-bullying?) but maybe not have a difficult time to find students and adults who struggle to lead a life of care.

I see many examples of students standing up for qualities like care, acceptance, and empathy and then adults naming it “anti-bullying”.  Check out this “acceptance” flash mob at a Vancouver Giants game in which the students use positive qualities (then titled “anti-bullying)”.

My former principal and mentor Roxanne Watson models this change and wrote a recent post that that challenges us to shift our focus:

… It is a complex issue.  Each time I hear of another life lost to bullying I ask myself why we as a community have not been able to address this problem effectively.

Bullying.  Bully-Prevention.  Anti-Bullying.  Stand Up 2 Bullying.  Stop a Bully.  Pink Shirt Day.  There’s no shortage of attention to bullying these days, nor should there be.  As a former child, an educator and part of a large family I have experienced first-hand the effects of bullying.  I certainly read the paper and follow the news and there is no lack of stories which document the terrible impact bullying has, not only in our schools but in our workplaces, in our own families, neighborhoods, churches, teams, clubs and any other place where people come together.  Each time a bullying story hits the news we hear a renewed sense of outrage and are inundated with anti-bullying campaigns.  It seems to me, considering how often we hear of bullying and how many of us have experienced it in our own lives that these campaigns have not been effective over the years.  So, I have a suggestion;  Stop focusing on bullying and start focusing on kindness.

… I’m tired of hearing the word “bullying”.  It has no positive conotations for me.  It’s a negative spin on a negative problem.  It’s time we stopped focusing on reducing bullying and started focusing on promoting kindness.  For every anti-bullying program that’s out there there is  a program that promotes peace/kindness/empathy.  These are all skills our children (and adults) need to learn.  Roots of Empathy is just one.  Tribes TLC is another, Random Acts of Kindness is a program that has been used at Kent Elementary and found to be wonderful in promoting positive interactions without the need for the usual reward that comes with some of these programs. It has long been a goal of mine to switch peoples’ thinking (starting with my own) from reducing the negative to increasing the positive.

…Kent Elementary is a progressive school.  They believe strongly in creating the conditions for children to be successful. (http://connectedprincipals.com/archives/6554) This is the type of approach that will reduce bullying.  In the same way we create a positive culture for reading or healthy living or self-discipline we can create a culture that recognizes, promotes and teaches (coaches) kindness.

…I strongly believe that all people (not just kids) do the best with what they have at the time.  Students who bully lack the basic skills and understandings of kindness.  Perhaps they have not experienced kindness in their own lives.  Do we punish them?  Many believe this is the way.  I do not.  I believe we take them aside, model kindness, provide opportunities for kindness, recognize (not reward, but recognize) kindness and promote kindness. We create the conditions for them to be successful.
As with other successful approaches this will take time.    It takes time to identify those people who truly are bullies (and they aren’t always children).  It takes time to work with that individual, to have them see how people perceive them.

…You see, no “program” works for everyone.  As in reading or math or behavior a multi-faceted approach is likely required.  This takes time. I believe it also requires a shift from a focus that reduces the negative to a focus that increases the positive.  Aren’t our children and our communities worth it?

Will we do anything different on anti-bullying day at our school?  I am sure there will be dialogue around it and there will be Pink Shirts worn; more importantly, however, our bigger challenge is to continue to honour each child for who they are, focus on their strengths and support their challenges, teach rather than reward and punish, and model a life of empathy and care.  I realize we do not have this all figured out and bullying still exists at Kent School… but I will leave with a few comments from parents/families in the past year that show the value of a school culture on a child:

Bullying is less of a concern for my daughter since Identity Day.  Identity Day showed her that she had a strength and other children recognized this.  The conversations at Kent around recognizing the strengths in others and themselves, along with my daughter’s participation in the drama program has given her a sense of identity and confidence. – a parent of an intermediate student

I am so happy that my cousin gets to come to school and be proud of who she is. – a family member at our honouring ceremony/luncheon 

Please take a moment to watch this powerful video/poem by BC poet Shane Koyczan.  I heard his words a few years ago at a conference and his story challenged me to seek the positives in others.  Bullying needs to end… and there is power in voice and seeing the beauty in each child.

Thank you to Roxanne for her continued mentorship.  Please take her challenge and focus on a school culture of kindness.

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