Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools

Anti-Bullying

2

Feb

Simple Tips for a Kinder Middle School Culture

By Naomi Drew, M.A., and Christa M. Tinari, M.A

(Originally posted on the Free Spirit Publishing blog, posted March 13, 2017)

Kids thrive in an atmosphere of kindness. They blossom, do better in school, and feel safer when surrounded by kindness.

That said, middle schoolers can be sarcastic and just plain mean to one another. This was corroborated by a national survey we conducted with over 1,000 middle school students: 81 percent said they heard kids saying mean things to one another every single day. An eighth-grade teacher we interviewed concurred. “My kids are constantly putting each other down.” The raw truth is that gossiping, exclusion, and unkindness can be as much a part of the middle school culture as puberty and mood swings.

So what can we do?

Lots! The first thing is to remember that any investment of time you make to create a kinder, more accepting culture in your school will yield rewards far greater than just having students treat one another better. According to the America Institutes for Research,  “Positive school climate is tied to high or improving attendance rates, test scores, promotion rates, and graduation rates.” And who doesn’t want that?

The truth is we actually can teach kids to be kinder. Maurice Elias, director of the Social-Emotional Learning Lab at Rutgers University, eloquently reminds us: “Kindness can be taught, and it is a defining aspect of civilized human life. It belongs in every home, school, neighborhood, and society.”

To this we say, “Yes!” And to help you get started, or move ahead even further in fostering kindness, here are three concrete things you can do right now:

  1. Model, teach, and expect acceptance, empathy, and kindness.
    Modeling and expecting kindness is critical. Kids watch us for clues as to how to behave. Even though middle schoolers are pretty peer-obsessed, our actions and attitudes hold more weight with them than we realize. Modeling kindness is key. Equally important is expecting kindness from your kids. Never let cruel behavior go unchecked. Each time we do, we normalize meanness.  A great example of promoting acceptance, kindness, and empathy is the true story of Coach Biff Poggi of Gillman High School in Baltimore, Maryland. Poggi prized kindness and empathy over all else. The character expectations he set for his football team far exceeded his expectations for prowess on the field. Poggi’s hard and fast rule was “Empathy and kindness for all.” See if you can be as steadfast as Coach Poggi in your commitment to empathy, kindness, and acceptance among your students.
  1. Help your kids see cliques and social groups through a lens of kindness.
    Peer acceptance is more important than ever in middle school. Tightly knit groups form quickly at this stage, and some kids relish the social power of being in the “in-crowd.” Others struggle to fit in, and being excluded chips away at their self-esteem. Kindness can fall by the wayside when kids become more focused on popularity than on respecting their peers.  Social groups based on common interests can provide kids with a sense of safety, purpose, and belonging. Cliques, on the other hand, can also provide these—but at a cost. Cliques are exclusive, and kids in them often discourage members from expressing individuality. They create unhealthy peer pressure for kids to fit in. More powerful members of cliques tend to mistreat less powerful members, who often put up with bad behavior just to stay in the group. Even more problematic is the use of collective power to ignore, tease, or bully others. Ultimately, cliques chip away at the possibility of a culture of kindness.  Your kids might not be aware of the advantage of forming inclusive social groups based on common interests rather than cliques. Understanding the negative impacts of cliques will also help your kids make better choices about which group to align with. Take a look at the following activity. Discuss it with your kids and help them see the benefits of opting for social groups and avoiding cliques.

Activity: Exploring Social Groups and Cliques. 

Think of a social group you belong to. This group must include one person in addition to yourself. It could be a group of friends you spend time with socially, friends from your sports team, kids in band or chess club, and so forth. Once you have thought of a social group, read the characteristics below. Circle the characteristics that describe your social group.

People in my group:

  1. Share similar interests
  2. Place a high value on popularity
  3. Support one another
  4. Are kind to people within the group and outside of it
  5. Are encouraged to act the same as other members of the group
  6. Exclude other students
  7. May feel pressured to do certain things to fit in with the group
  8. Are given the freedom to be themselves
  9. Make fun of, or look down on, students not in the group
  10. Are members of several groups

Discussion Questions

  • Which of the above characteristics seem positive to you?
  • Which could have a negative impact on students in the group?
  • Which could have a negative impact on students who are not part of the group?

Think About It
If your group includes more negative characteristics than positive ones, it might be a clique. A clique is a social group of students who may exclude, tease, or bully other students.

Choose Kindness Over Cliques
What are some actions you can take to ensure that you and your social group are kind, inclusive, and respectful of other students in your social group and students not in your social group?

  1. Teach kindness—literally.
    You can plant seeds of kindness in your classroom every time you talk about its importance and model it through your behaviors and attitudes. Help your students understand the basic human need all people have for being treated with acceptance, respect, and empathy—the fundamentals of kindness.  Here’s something else to remember: Just as kindness spreads, so can cruelty and callousness.  A Harvard Study of 10,000 middle school and high school students reported that 80 percent of students were more concerned about their own success and happiness than they were about others’. The report states something all of us have seen: “When caring takes a back seat, youth are at risk for being cruel, disrespectful, and dishonest.”  On the other hand, when enough kids treat each other with kindness and respect, others are likely to follow. This happens because of “mirror neurons” in the brain that prompt people to unconsciously mimic others’ behaviors. According to neuroscience researchers Souvra Acharya and Smarth Shukla, mirror neurons are activated when we observe the actions of the people around us. This helps explain why kids learn through imitation. We have to fill our classrooms and hallways with enough empathy, kindness, and respect to motivate every student toward kindness and away from cruelty.

One final thought: When you wonder how you can fit one more thing into your day, please remember that your efforts will touch your students’ lives in fundamental ways. Remember, too, that in this changing world, any infusion of kindness is both necessary and valuable.

Naomi Drew and Christa Tinari are coauthors of Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle School: 48 Character-Building Lessons to Foster Respect and Prevent Bullying.

 

25

Oct

Bully

Teachers Can Impact Bullying More Than They Realize

Summary:  This article reports on programs that can help stop bullying and the role that SEL can play in creating safe spaces for students. The role that teachers can play in stopping bullying is also outlined in this article.

Source:  Amelia Harper, Education DIVE, October 24, 2017

Categories:  Anti-bullying, Positive Relationships, Classroom Practices, SEL Basics

11

Oct

Empathy Instilled Through Fictional Literature Can Curb Bullying

Summary:  This article supports the idea that fictional literature can help students understand relationships and help to curb bullying.  “When students read works of fiction that reflect the diversity they will encounter in their daily lives, they are less likely to bully those who are different from them”, author Michael Dahl writes for eSchool News.

Source:  Linda Jacobsen, Education DIVE, October 11, 2017

Categories:  Empathy, Anti-Bullying, Classroom Practice, Emotional Intelligence

22

Sep

Teaching Civility Can Reduce School Bullying

Summary: This article explores the issue of bullying and proposes a focus on teaching civility and SEL instead of focusing directly on anti-bullying itself. “Schools need to focus on embracing civility and kindness rather than preventing bullying and ensure that staff members know how to respond to hurtful situations.”

Source: Amelia Harper, Education DIVE, September 19, 2017

Categories:  Anti-Bullying, Emotional Intelligence,

4

Sep

Smartphone

Cyberbullying Concerns Prompt Cell Phone Restrictions at Maine Middle School

Summary: This article reports on a decision to restrict the use of cellphones at Lewiston Middle School in Maine in the hopes of reducing cyberbullying.  The decision resulted from the deaths of two students and reports that cell phones were used to bully during school hours.

Source: Linda Jacobson, Education DIVE, September 1, 2017

Categories: Anti-Bullying, Code of Conduct, Student Behavior, Mental Health

12

Aug

Finland Found a Proven Way to Combat Bullying. Here’s What It’ll Take To Make It Work in the US

Summary:  This article talks about “KiVa” which stands for “against bullying” in Finnish.  The program is used throughout the Finnish schools and has met with success in dealing with bullying by focuses mainly on bystander behaviors. 

Source:  CNN, August 11, 2017

Categories:  Anti-Bullying, Classroom Practice, Positive Relationships

17

Jul

Depressed-1

America Sees Alarming Spike in Middle School Suicide Rate

Summary:  This article comments on the rise of teen suicide across America and in New Jersey where particular efforts have been undertaken to reduce bullying and improve school culture and climate.  Despite these efforts, the suicide rate in New Jersey has continued to rise.  Middle schoolers seem to be at particular risk.

Source:  James M. O’Neill, Staff Writer, The Record, July 16, 2017

Categories:  Anti-bullying, School Culture/Climate, Mental Health, Student Engagement

7

Jun

Smartphone

Cyberbullying Challenges Mental Health in Our Schools

Summary:  This article, by guest writer J.M. Myers, addresses the challenge that cyber-bullying puts on the mental health of a school and its students. Schools must address cyber-bullying even though it usually occurs outside of school.  In many ways, it is much more pernicious  than face-to-face interactions.

Source:  Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers, Education Week, May 24, 2017

Categories:  Anti-Bullying, Mental Health, Codes of Conduct, Technology

28

Mar

Blueprint

Anatomy of School Bullying

Summary:  This article provides information from a report on school bullying that was published by the National Center for Education Statistics identifying the “hot spots” for bullying around the school building.  They identified the transitional areas between classrooms as the places where bullying was most likely to occur.

Source:  Stephen Merrill, Edutopia, March 21, 2017

Categories:  Anti-Bullying, School Culture/Climate, SEL Research

31

Jan

Bullied

School Bullying Linked to Lower Academic Achievement, Research Finds

Summary:  Most studies on bullying have tracked children for relatively short periods of time and focused on psychological effects, such as anxiety or depression. This is the first long-term study to track children for more than a decade from kindergarten through high school and analyze connections between bullying and academic achievement,

Source:  Gary W. Ladd, American Psychological Association, January 30, 2017

Categories:  Anti-Bullying, Educational Research