Bullying in schools will never stop unless two crucial things happen. First, every adult in the building must be 100% invested in stopping bullying in its tracks and subsequently trained on what that looks and sounds like. Second, bullies must be engaged in open and emotional conversations—what I call Explicit Conversations—with an adult in the building – discussing the real effect of their behaviors. The bully must be brought to an understanding of the pain they have caused.
In my novel, titled CRACKED, it wasn’t until Bull Mastrick came face-to-face with the pain he had caused Victor, that he understood the havoc he’d wreaked. It took Bull having to spend time in a psychiatric ward, listening to Victor’s story in group, for him to really “get” the severity of his actions.
It doesn’t have to get that far, everyone. There is no reason for things to get so bad with a child or teenager – for them to feel so isolated and alone – that they attempt (or succeed) suicide. It doesn’t have to get that far.
And I ask all of you reading this…how can it get that far?
How is it possible, that in a school, filled with educated adults, all with hearts for children, can bullying be allowed to continue? How big of a rug must we have as a society to turn on the nightly news and hear of another suicide related to bullying, and go back to our jobs in education, and not shake the hell out of the system? Make drastic changes?
I’m a firm believer that the classroom setting provides countless opportunities to teach powerful life lessons. Teachable moments arise when human beings are together. And when thirty people are together for a whole school year, important things happen.
When Tom tells Nadine she looks like an elephant or when Ryan hears that he runs like a girl or Vincent announces that Sam is an idiot – those moments need addressing. Those are the teachable moments, the moments you stop the lesson on semi-colons, put the dry erase marker down, and have a talk.
I ask you all this: How can some teachers simply keep teaching? How can they not address what was said? How can the hurt be ignored?
Perhaps it’s fear. Fear of not getting to the entire curriculum, fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of overstepping, going out on a limb, fear of what emotions will be shared, which are all valid fears. But, it can’t be that cut and dry. Life is not cut and dry. Life is messy and glorious, scary and inspiring.
Educational researcher, Ted Sizer says, “The environment is important. If it jangles the mind or interrupts or demeans or frightens, there cannot be the kind of focused, sustained intellectual activity that is required to learn.”
I say, without a safe, peaceful learning environment, learning feels like a monumental task, that hill you just can’t get your bike up.
For the educator that thinks, “I don’t have time to deal with all of that, they can work it out themselves…” I respond in the words of Helen Keller: “No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.”
Lack of time simply can’t be an excuse. Seizing the moment can be brief.
Pulling the student aside and asking, “Tom, how would you feel if someone called you an elephant in front of the whole class?” takes approximately three seconds to say and the bully is forced to think about the power of their words. The power isn’t in the time it takes to talk with the bully, but in the identified feelings the Explicit Conversation brings to the forefront. Teaching young people lessons in empathy are the only way bullying will go away. And educators are given countless opportunities to revolutionize student’s minds.
I have a new book coming out January 1, 2013 from Simon Pulse-Simon and Schuster, titled EMPTY, about an overweight teenaged girl who gets bullied and abused, and her life spirals out of control. I yelled at my computer screen many times: “Somebody do something!” The adults go through the motions with Dell, but none of them made bold moves. They all fail her. Miserably.
One of my educational heroes, Linda Reif, says, “We all need to do things, no matter how difficult those things are, because they are the right things to do.”
I couldn’t agree more.
I challenge you, whoever you are, to take a stand. Seize the moments. Don’t settle for what’s always been done. Young people’s lives are at stake. Plain and simple.
K. M. Walton is the author of Cracked, Empty and the co-author of Teaching Numeracy: 9 Critical Habits to Ignite Mathematical Thinking for mathematics teachers K – 8. As a former middle-school language-arts teacher she’s passionate about education and ending peer bullying. She gives school presentations on the topic “The Power of Human Kindness.”
She lives in PA with her husband, two sons, cat, and turtle. Visit the author at kmwalton.com or follow her on twitter @kmwalton1.