Defeating a bully culture with courage and empathy

How do we get kids to do crazy things…like add fractions? Almost every meeting at SAMS starts with the “fractions quote” –

At a time when the traditional structures of caring have deteriorated, schools must become places where teachers and students live together, talk with each other, take delight in each other’s company. My guess is that when schools focus on what really matters in life, the cognitive ends we now pursue so painfully and artificially will be achieved somewhat more naturally. It is obvious that children will work harder and do things–even odd things like adding fractions–for people they love and trust.” Nel Nodding, 1998

I love how this quote ties directly to our vision. SAMS is a school committed to authentic learning (adding fractions) in a caring environment (for people they love and trust). This quote and our vision at SAMS prompted a conversation at our parent meeting Monday night, so we spent some time addressing the concept of bullying. This issue can be scary, and it is also scary that we don’t always know the definition of bullying, how prevalent it is in our schools, and how to help children navigate a world with bullying and meanness.

Minnesota law defines bullying:

  • when an actual or perceived imbalance of power is in place
  • the behavior is repetitious and/or forms a pattern
  • materially or substantially interferes with student’s educational opportunities or performance or ability to participate in school functions or activities or receive school benefits, services, or privileges.

The hard part about defining bullying, in the ways mentioned above, is that it does not address overall mean or unkind behavior. Unfortunately, students, like adults, can be mean to each other sometimes. Being mean does not necessarily indicate a bullying situation. This information can be super difficult to distinguish and it takes a lot of conversation and investigation to decipher.

Once we’ve determined the nature and the extent of what is going on, we know we have an urgent responsibility to serve the needs of all students involved in the situation or bullying experience.  As educators, who believe there is no such thing as other people’s children, it is as important to educate, provide empathy, and a caring environment to both the victims of bullying as well as the one perpetrating the bullying.

Both Amy and I are comfortable sharing the ways in which we respond to bullying or unkind behavior here at SAMS.  Though we are learning all the time about best practices, we are confident in our abilities to both lead anti-bullying efforts here at SAMS and support kids who are victims or perpetrators of these bullying experiences.  Reach out to us, set up a meeting with Traci, find us on Twitter…just know that we are always open to conversations with you all about relevant issues like this one.

So the question becomes, how do we, as adults, who care about all kids, engage in meaningful conversations with our children and students about things like bullying, meanness, or unkind behavior? Empathy, upstanding, and positive culture? I was listening to a radio program where Dr. Robert A. Saul was sharing his insights regarding how to raise young citizens in the age after Columbine. He said that for any community to be healthy, everyone must believe in the following three statements for every problem that occurs: I am the problem, I am the solution, and I am the resource. I am challenging every St. Anthony community member to see not just bullying, but all issues we face in our community as our issue. I also challenge us to see ourselves as the solution and the resource to solve the problem.  To get us started, I’m proud to announce that we are starting a advocacy group to defeat bullying culture and cultivate empathy and character.  Stay tuned for more information and let us know if you want to be a part of this work.

For more information regarding bullying click on this link.