Bullying: What Are We Teaching?

Did you see the recent news report about a kindergarten teacher who lined her class up and directed each child, in turn, to hit a classmate who’d been accused of bullying other children? I had a lot of thoughts about what happened and about the people involved in this incident. I thought about the teacher and how frustrated she must have been feeling. I remembered how bad it feels when you can’t figure out how to respond to student misbehavior effectively. I wondered why the child was accused of bullying and whether or not he’d actually engaged in bullying behaviors. I thought about what a frightening experience it must have been for him, whether he’d engaged in bullying behaviors or not.

I also thought about the children who were told to hit their classmate. Children learn how to solve the problems in their lives by watching us, the adults in their lives, and by behaving as we do. When their teacher gathered them and told them to hit their classmate, this group of kindergartners learned that the right way to solve a problem is to organize others and exact retribution. Some of the children in the group may have wanted to hit their classmate, while others may have been reluctant. Some may have been frightened. They all learned that one way to solve a problem is to gang up on someone—to bully them, as their teacher did.

The most effective way to solve the problem of bullying is to stop it before it starts, by teaching our students to be kind and inclusive. We teach them through the model that we provide, by being kind and inclusive ourselves. We teach them by discussing the importance of kind and inclusive behavior. We teach them by breaking it down—showing them what kind and inclusive behavior might look like and sound like on the playground, in the cafeteria, in the halls, and in the classroom. We teach them by firmly and respectfully stopping small mean behaviors, those gateways to bullying. It’s easier to stop a mean behavior when it’s small, rather than after it’s escalated out of control. We can also stop mean behavior before it starts by teaching kindness.

When children do engage in bullying behaviors, research has shown that a firm and non-punitive approach is most effective. Such a response also provides a model for any onlookers. A calm, firm, and kind response teaches all children who are witnesses how they might respond to incidents of meanness that they see. When we are calm, firm, kind, and inclusive with children, even those who exhibit the most troublesome behaviors, we take a big step toward preventing bullying.

Caltha Crowe’s new book, How to Bullyproof Your Classroom, offers a practical, proactive approach to bullying prevention. Learn how to create a positive classroom environment and how to respond to mean behavior before it escalates into bullying.

“Teacher-friendly from start to finish!”  —Martha Hanley, Grafton, MA

Tags: Bullying, Misbehavior