Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

If each one of us untangled one string at a time...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Teaching Our Kids How to MEDABO



Last week I handed out three MEDABO cards in very unlikely places.  Two were on the 15X express bus from Staten Island to Manhattan and the other one was on the #4 subway.

MEDABO is a family charity.  My father used to tell the kids to go out and make every day a better one and so my daughter, Alice-Kate, and her cousins decided to make it official by creating these cards.  It's mission is simple.  Recognize acts of kindness and pay it forward.

Three Cards: Three Unexpected Parenting Lessons

The Sunny Bus Driver

The first card was given to the bus driver on Tuesday.  She was incredibly kind to every single person who boarded the bus.  Not easy to do when you're a driver in New York City.  She connected with each person and sincerely asked how they were.  When one regular customer was getting on she showed true concern for his obviously failing health.  It made my heart melt.  

Teachable Moment

The next time I saw the driver, she told me that she had given it to her  son for doing something good and she asked him to pass it along to someone else who was making a difference.

The Kind Passenger

On the following Friday, I boarded the bus but when I went to pay, I realized that the Metrocard that was in my wallet was expired.  I had left the one with $20 on it on my kitchen counter.  When I asked a woman who looked approachable if I could pay her in exchange for using her Metrocard, I had another jolting thought.  I only had $3 on me.  The fair is $6.  She didn't even blink.  She just stood up and paid my fair.

Teachable Moment

We started talking about Tangled Ball and early bullying prevention.  She has twin 3 year olds but she pointed out something really key to me.  Her son had recently used the "hate" word at pre-school.   He was quickly corrected but it left her wondering how he even knew the word?  (She laughingly said that it could have been a lot of other choice words if he was mimicking her but that she actually never used the word "hate.")

It reminded me that kids are sponges.  They'll pick up words and actions that their peers use.  So even if you don't do some things at home, once they go to school, they're learning more than their colors.  

Early course correction is a good idea.


The Wise Upstander

You run into a lot of crazy stuff on the subway.  On Friday, there were a mother/daughter duo having an argument to beat all arguments.  It got really heated and everyone on the train was uncomfortable. There was a sigh of relief when they got off but one gentleman didn't just leave the crazy vibes in the air.  

Teachable Moment

He said out loud,. "That's a shame.  People just don't say I'm sorry anymore"  He continued, "I'm sorry" works.  As a matter of fact, I said it to my 6 year-old daughter last night.  She was upset that I came home late and I looked her in the eye and said, 'I'm sorry.' And she was satisfied."

His parting words of wisdom:  "People are too defensive.  Saying I'm sorry is really important."

I couldn't agree more.

Who is Making Every Day a Better One in your life?  


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Leadership is the Anti-Bully" Month



Thanks to the Pacer Center, October has been declared Bullying Prevention Month.

Since I work mainly with Pre-K through elementary schools, I would respectfully like to rename it "Leadership is the Anti-Bully" Month.  At these ages,  we should remove the labels of "bully," "victim or target" and teach children skills.  Learning how to respect themselves and others will benefit them through middle and high school and the rest of their lives.

There are many great social emotional learning programs that have been introduced into schools over the years, including CASEL, The Leader In Me program, National School Climate Center (NSCC) and Yale's Ruler Program, among many others.

Some schools embrace the idea that teaching leadership and social emotional learning is an important part of the student's education while others don't make it as much of a priority.  But the schools that do embrace it do better academically.  Makes sense.  The safer and happier a child feels, the better they perform.

When Kathryn Otoshi, author of the award-winning book, One, and I created One Can Count, we didn't know what to call it.  We hesitated to call it a program or initiative. Too complicated.  Would people understand if we simply called it a tool?

We wanted to remove any barriers that would make teaching leadership challenging.  The truth is that schools DO have too much to do.  There IS too much on their plate.  Each teacher and staff member can't be asked to be an expert in EVERYTHING.

I enthusiastically support schools who have invested time and money into high-quality school-wide programs that positively impact school climate but not all schools can or have. We wanted to at least provide something simple, inexpensive and that school staff could embrace and make their own.  We wanted to inspire schools to give students a chance to step up in very real ways. Practicing leadership includes simple concepts such as older students mentoring younger children.  It also includes identifying jobs that students can do as part of the regular school day or even the special occasion days. In other words, any opportunity that doesn't compete but enhances classroom time.

We also wanted One Can Count to be inclusive.  We encourage any school to use it in conjunction with any other initiative or program.  Teachers and counselors need tools.

I want to thank the 30 schools on Staten Island who used One Can Count last year thanks to Senator Andrew Lanza, who sponsored the workshop at St. John's University, as well as materials and multiple copies of the One and Zero books for each school.  Principals, teachers, parent coordinators, and counselors got inspired and had fun.  The result?  Kids got inspired and had fun, too.

This is a month of awareness but the benefits of the efforts on the part of schools, organizations and parents will last a lifetime.






Tuesday, September 2, 2014

National Be Nice to the New Kid Day




Did you know that today is National 'It's Almost Impossible to Work Day'?  The official end of summer comes too fast.

By September 5th, most kids up to the age of 18 will be back in school in the U.S. so I've designated the 5th as National 'Be Nice to the New Kid Day.'
"Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much."   —Blaise Pascal
If you've ever had to walk into a school knowing no one, I don't have to explain the importance of a peer introducing themselves or including you at their lunch table or sharing a book if you don't have one.  For most kids, the fear and anticipation of starting a new school is like jumping out of an airplane. You know other people have survived but you're not sure you will.  That one kind person can feel like soft welcoming ground.

Although I'm sure she doesn't remember me, I'll never forget the girl who was nice to the new kid.  When my family moved from a small town in Indiana to San Juan, Puerto Rico, I was going into 8th grade.  I didn't know the language. I was leaving the world's best friends right before the best year of elementary. And my new brown and yellow uniform could not have been uglier (the phys ed uniform is too embarrassing even to describe) .  A trifecta of horribleness.

To say that I was scared is an understatement.  I wanted to be invisible until Carmelina broke away from her gaggle of friends and switched from Spanish to English as she took me under her wing.  She introduced me to as many people as she could and although they weren't mean, they didn't pay much attention to me either.  I kept thinking how grateful I was to her for getting me through the dreaded first day. Although most of the other girls didn't ever really warm up to me, Carmelina was kind every single day until graduation.

Kathryn Otoshi, author of the award-winning children's book,One, knows that this is a subject near and dear to my heart so she sent me a copy of Wonder.  It beautifully illustrates the plight of the new or different kid and the tangled ball of emotions most kids experience.  They need mentors.  We are their "Go-To Adults."

So when you drop your kids off at school and you remind them to "be nice to the new kid," know you're raising a leader and this former "new kid" is cheering you on.








Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Silent Soul Crusher of #Bullying



Sometimes it's not the words that hurt, it's the shrug of the shoulders, it's the no eye contact, it's the looking through a person and not at them.  It's the absence of words.

Message is received.  You're not important.  Your heart shrinks a little more.  Kids know when their peers or even adults are not that interested in them.  It's like the title of the book and movie by the same name, "He's Just Not that Into You."  

This is something that has to be experienced to understand.  And that's really part of the harsh reality.  Often this is a silent soul crusher because the method of hurting another is off the radar.  No one sees it.  It's no big deal to others.  It doesn't matter.  There is no recourse.  It is isolating and there is no road map.

No child should feel alone.  Correction.  No person should feel alone.

Kids don't read this blog so if you're an adult who is made to feel small by being made to feel invisible, please know that your suffering is real.  Although we probably have never met, I am sorry if you are feeling diminished in any way.

You are important and fight for yourself.  Get new friends.  Seek new circles and perhaps look out for a child who may be feeling the same way.  See them. Validate their importance.  

Your interest is proof of how important you are.  Sometimes it just takes one person to remind a child of their value.  You won't know it by their words but you'll see it in their eyes.

My hope is that you are seen and appreciated today.




Thursday, July 3, 2014

Chain of Leadership as the Anti-Bully


The 2013-2014 school year was full of light bulb moments.

It started out with this thought:  What if we gave young students the chance to shine as leaders?  What if we spent as much time creating opportunities for them to practice their leadership skills as we did talking to them about bullying?  What if we got a little creative? What if we could inspire the adults and the kids without it being a hassle or taking away from class time?  What if we made it inexpensive?  Simple?  Flexible? And dare I say, what if it was fun?

The answer was One Can Count, based on Kathryn Otoshi's award-winning book, One, and thanks to Senator Lanza, we were able to answer some of those burning questions.

It is the first time that all 30 elementary schools in Senator Lanza's Staten Island district received the tools they needed to start their own One Can Count initiative.  It became a chain of leadership.  From the free workshop in September to the last day in June, schools made One Can Count their own.  Parent coordinators, teachers, principals and counselors embraced the concept that leadership is the anti-bully.

Here's the simple theory:  Kids need attention.  They'll get it any way they can.  So, if you give them the chance to be their best self, they most often rise to the occasion.  The more leaders you have in a classroom, the better the balance.

Although it's a children's book, every age, including grown ups are inspired by the power that each of us has to stand up and be the One that steps in.

One Can Count is designed to be a stand alone initiative or work with existing programs in the school to help children value the concept of respect.  Bullying is a tangled ball and just like any messy and complicated issue, it often requires many small solutions.

With that being said, I was amazed at what schools accomplished this year.  They took this tool and ran with it.  They had mentoring programs, art and writing projects, assemblies, leadership counsels, performances, and much more.  They created daily reminders of what it's like to be a One.

The year started out with questions but it ended with an answer:


Words of a 5th Grade Leader presenting chain of leadership to Senator Lanza:
Just like the chain, we are connected to one another in our commitment to grow into young leaders.  We are a community of learners who recognize that leadership is not just a position, but a process. -- Piumi
Part of that process:

Books and Materials  

Multiple copies of One and the companion book, Zero, were delivered to each of the 30 schools in early September.

Workshop 

With the generous support of St. John's University, schools came together to hear from experts, including author Kathryn Otoshi and to discuss ideas in which schools could easily incorporate the concepts of leadership.

Free Materials

Materials to help get the tangled ball rolling are free and downloadable here.

Creating the Concept of a Team

Schools had the option of ordering special personalized One Can Count t-shirts for students or teachers.
We're just getting started.  Next year our goal is to have every student feel like a leader. -- Parent Coordinator, P.S. 80
Sometimes it just takes One.

Thank you Senator Lanza, St. John's University, Kathryn Otoshi, and especially schools, for delivering hundreds of light bulb moments for me and hopefully Staten Island elementary school students.  Looking forward to 2014-2015.










Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A School Full of Leaders: A Plan at SI's Petrides



The goal at Staten Island's Petrides (P.S. 80) is to have a school full of leaders. They believe that every student has the potential to be a leader.  It's a priority and they have a plan. It started with an interested parent coordinator, enthusiastic administrators, a handful of student leaders and a big dose of enthusiasm and creativity.

One Can Count, sponsored by NYS Senator Andrew Lanza and based on Kathryn Otoshi's award-winning children's book, One,  is in full swing.   Petrides, a dynamic K-12 school that values respect, is constantly developing ways to get across the point that each child has the ability to become their "best self" and add to the good of the whole.

Lesson #1

Taking the Lead

Student leaders in the 4th and 7th grades got the tangled ball rolling by visiting each and every classroom from K-8th grade to read One.  Think about this.  Seventh graders reading a children's book to the mighty 8th graders.  That takes courage.

Lesson #2

How Am I a One?

Students got involved in simple activities that inspired them to think about themselves as a One.  Using cut outs of the #1, they reflected on how they could be a One.  Then they created shadow cut outs of their profiles with an assignment that asked "How Am I a Leader?" Powerful.

Lesson #3

Appreciating Others for Being a One

Students, administrators and teachers are encouraged to recognize others for being a One.  The hallways are lined with photos of kids and teachers with a brief description of their positive action.

Example:  John Paul was caught being a One when he invited a lonely classmate to play.

Lesson #4

Individual Students as Team Builders

Students will all be contributing to a chain of leadership.  Each paper link represents a student and when each student brings their unique talents and they're connected to each other, the community becomes strong, nurturing and a safe place to learn and enjoy growing up.

Lesson #5

Support is Key

Why is One Can Count such a success at Petrides?  Support.  Parent Coordinator Jami Kilichowski and Elementary School Assistant Principal Danielle Bennett attended the One Can Count workshop in September.  They took a spark ignited from the workshop and created a fire of enthusiasm among school staff and students.  And it doesn't stop this year.  A detailed plan has already been outlined for next year.

It's not just words at Petrides.  It's a plan.  One administrator, one teacher, one parent coordinator, one mentor, one student at a time.

I have complete faith that Petrides will reach their goal.





Friday, May 2, 2014

Leadership is Igniting Good

Life is beautiful not because of the things we see or do. Life is beautiful because of the people we meet. -- Simon Sinek

Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to my son give a speech about leadership.  In his short remarks, he said that leadership is about interconnectivity, empathy and attitude.

Of the three, he emphasized interconnectivity which is really community.  We don't necessarily have to have research to tell us that we're social beings who need each other to be happy but there is plenty of it to support the obvious.  Feeling connected is one of our basic drivers throughout life. 
Happiness may be surprisingly contagious. Psychologist James H. Fowler studied the data of 5,000 people over 20 years and found that happiness benefits other people through three degrees of connection, and that the effects last for a year. He says: “We found a statistical relationship not just between your happiness and your friends' happiness, but between your happiness and your friends’ friends’ friends’ happiness.” (PBS: This Emotional Life)
 And staying connected enough to have empathy may be our biggest challenge as a culture.  It's one of the tangled strings in the tangled ball in our texting, friending and posting society.  

But here's the hopeful part (attitude!).  It's all evolving.  There are smart, empathetic connected people who know the value of Facebook, Instagram and all things social media but who are actively giving a generation permission to remember that now, more than ever,  we still need to get to know people face to face.  Adding to the quality of other people's lives adds to the quality of our own. 

It's fairly brave to swim in a slightly different direction.  To say it's ok to embrace something new but to pay attention to the thing that makes us click and makes us whole.  Purpose.

Here's to Ignite Good.  Check out their mission.  I dare you not to be inspired.