Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

Thursday, March 27, 2014

P.S. 45 Takes "Respect For All' Seriously All Year Long

Visiting Staten Island's P.S. 45 (John Tyler School) inspired me.  (For those reading this outside of New York City, P.S. stands for Public School.)

Every student in this elementary school participated in an awesome kick-off  assembly honoring Respect for All Week.  The students were led in a special reading of Kathryn Otoshi's book Zero by a group of their peers involved in the SOAR program.  (To facilitate character building,  New York State Senator Andrew Lanza sponsored One Can Count in all the elementary schools in his district.  Multiple copies of One and Zero were provided to each school.)

According to guidance counselor and SOAR mentor Libby McPike,

SOAR stands for Safe Organized Attitude Respect. It's our school wide positive behavior model. Kids follow these expectations and when caught doing well, can be rewarded with eagle dollars (eagle is our school mascot). Then they shop in the SOAR STORE for items anywhere from erasers to DVD players (all run on donations). 

P.S. 45's approach to teaching respect and character education is one more example to me that "leadership is the anti-bully." And sometimes teaching leadership takes a bit of creativity. Ms. Libby and her students have plenty of that to share. Here's just a snippet of the kind of activities that this dedicated professional and the students she mentors have developed to engage the entire school -- staff and students alike -- in the empowering messages of kindness, tolerance and respect. 
Wear Purple: Purple is the color of good judgment. It is said if you surround yourself with purple you will have peace of mind. Purple is a good color to use in meditation. Purple has been used to symbolize magic and mystery, as well as royalty. Being the combination of red and blue, the warmest and coolest colors, purple is believed to be the ideal color. 
Activity: Good Deed CatalogIt goes without saying that it’s important to teach kids to do nice things for one another. During Respect for All Week, keep a running tally of good deeds that students perform. These can include helping clean up, consoling a sad classmate, sharing, helping out a friends, etc. Tell your class that if they reach a certain number of good deeds for the week, they will receive some sort of prize (Ex. Lunch with the teacher, homework pass, Good Deed Certificate, Etc.)
On the day I visited, the gym it was an enthusiastic sea of purple. 

After reading the book, the group of SOAR students (as young as 3rd grade) led the entire school in a question and answer session based on the themes of Zero, including "What does it mean to have a hole in your middle?" and "How did it feel to have the other numbers step up?".

5 Things I Learned at P.S. 45

•    A thoughtful, creative and enthusiastic administration is the foundation for promoting high quality character education.  (A shout out to principal Ms. Chavez and parent coordinator Mrs. Poli who allowed me to be there and so graciously welcomed me to their school.)

•  It's a worthy commitment to create an environment where leadership is part of the culture year round.

•  Helping students develop leadership skills such as public speaking gives children confidence and confidence is the key to resilience.

•  When students are expected to listen to each other and value each person's opinion, they rise to the occasion.  (Note:  Amazing how many students were eager to be a part of the question/answer session.  The students obviously felt safe to share their opinions with a gym full of their peers.)

•  The students had fun.  Teaching children to step up helps children SOAR and it's never boring.

(Speaking of "stepping up," Ms. Libby went the extra step and wore purple shoes!)

Teaching leadership and respect takes a lot of hard work.  Mentoring children is exhausting and never a perfect process.  For those reasons, I am deeply grateful for the fine professionals at P.S. 45 and other schools around the country who hang in there every day and give it 100%.  You deserve a parade.

Thank you.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Connecting the Dots: Daydreaming, Resilience and Bullying Prevention

There's an upside and a downside to our focus on bullying prevention.  The upside, of course, is that we're shedding light on the pervasive culture of mean that is destroying the confidence of so many children and teens.  

The downside is that the conversation doesn't go deep enough.  Should we be talking just about prevention or should we be spending some time exploring what makes children resilient?  I'd love to think that we can "prevent" all bullying.  With a lot more work and dare I say, money,  I definitely think we can change the balance in schools and homes...but kids will always face the challenge of mean behavior.

So what's the difference between the child/teen that carries the hurt with them forever and the person that not only survives but thrives?  I've talked with 80 year olds that tell me that the hurt stuck with them for their whole lives and the negative experience had somehow formed them.  That's how deep the silent pain hides in the soul.  What if that long tail of pain could have been blunted?  What if their ability to become resilient was nurtured?

The subject of resilience is as intricate as the topic of bullying but it deserves it's day in the sun.  

I highly recommend reading Carolyn George's article "18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently in the Huffington Post.
Many of the most iconic stories and songs of all time have been inspired by gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak -- and the silver lining of these challenges is that they may have been the catalyst to create great art. An emerging field of psychology called post-traumatic growth is suggesting that many people are able to use their hardships and early-life trauma for substantial creative growth. Specifically, researchers have found that trauma can help people to grow in the areas of interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and -- most importantly for creativity -- seeing new possibilities in life. 
When we allow kids to daydream, it nurtures their individual creativity.  Their creativity defines them as  a unique powerful person.  When kids are allowed to go into "the zone," they are happier and more satisfied.  It's harder to negatively impact a person who knows what makes them feel the joy of their own individuality.  Creativity comes in so many forms...art, music, writing, sports, film, tv production, theater, even developing video games...anything that takes vision.  

So here's a tip.  Allow your children to spend time staring out a window or laying on the floor listening to music or curling up in a chair and relaxing.  It's time well spent.  Their creativity may sustain them for the rest of their lives.