A New Year, A New Approach to Bullying Prevention: How Setting Small Goals Can Make A BIG Difference-Part II
Last week we talked about a quote from Stephen Covey and how it can be applied to bullying prevention. Covey stated: “If you want to achieve something you’ve never achieved before, you have to do something you’ve never done before.” In the past 15 years, we have seen an encouraging increase in awareness of the true dangers of bullying. However, bullying continues to be a significant problem in schools today. In last week’s post, I posed the question: can Covey’s theory be applied to bullying prevention? If we approach bullying in a new way, would we see new results? I believe the answer is YES.
It’s not uncommon for schools to set goals for their students, including the goal to END BULLYING! This is a noble, if not large, goal. However, it’s somewhat vague. Though they’re young, children can and should set BIG goals, but it’s important that we help them to break those larger goals down into smaller, measurable short term goals. To help get you on your way to achieving things you’ve never achieved before, this week I will be sharing 6 specific, measureable goals to creating a bully free environment!
1. The Goal: A Word A Day: This may sound simple and perhaps even cliché, but words truly have incredible power. Set the goal to say one kind thing to someone each day. Encourage students to use their words of kindness on someone they don’t know very well and to think outside the box, going beyond external compliments, such as “I like your shoes!” Of course, such compliments are always lovely to receive, but we want to raise children that are able to see a multitude of good qualities in their peers, not only what’s on the outside
As a class, come up with a list of unique compliments, such as “you are kind” “you were brave today when you volunteered to solve that problem in front of the class” “You have good taste in books” or “you have a great imagination”.
The Measurement: There are many ways to measure progress on this goal and, depending on the time you have available and the learning style of your students, you can choose one or all of them. For visual learners, create a word board where students can write words of kindness they spoke or received. If you want to keep things more anonymous, or would just like to get into more detail, have your students write in a journal for 10 minutes (or however much time you can set aside) reflecting on the progress of their goal. You can write back to them and guide them as they move forward. If you are short on time (and who isn’t??), you could do something as simple as have a checklist of daily goals, including speaking a word of kindness, that students fill out at the end of the day. Meet with students one on one occasionally to chat about how they’re doing and how they can improve.
2. The Goal: Including others: It’s easy to stick with the same group of people, but this can sometimes leave others left out and alone. Set the goal to include someone new in at least one activity each week. This could be as simple as inviting someone to sit at the lunch table or could go as far as inviting a new friend over to play. To keep students accountable and avoid getting lost in a sea of vagueness, have your children write down a specific activity at the beginning of the week. It can be the same for the whole class or vary by individual.
The Measurement: Depending on the age of your students, this is a great opportunity to explore their creativity and integrate some other subject lessons along the way. Younger children could draw a picture of their experience while older students could write it out in story fashion, practicing writing and storytelling skills.
Keeping a journal is also always useful to track progress while simultaneously building writing skills. Encourage students to write about their expectations for new experience beforehand and then reflect on the actual experience later, comparing and contrasting the reality to the belief. This is a fantastic exercise to reveal some of our preconceived notions and to help students learn that there is usually more to most people than meets the eye.
3. The Goal: Thinking about words and their effects: We’ve all experienced that moment where we said something out of hurt or anger without really thinking. We’ve probably all been on the receiving end of that experience, as well. Set the goal as a class to become more mindful of the words that we say and the effect that they have on others. If you feel like getting creative, make bracelets as a class and wear them as a reminder to think before speaking.
The Measurement: As with the previous goals, keeping a journal is a fantastic way to remain accountable and track progress. As they reflect on their days, encourage students to pay special attention to the words they spoke and received and to consider the effects of those words, as well as why they may have been spoken.
Since the goal is to become more aware of all words and their effects, encourage students to write down their observations of conversations outside of their own, as well as their personal interactions. What do characters on T.V. say? How do other characters react? How do the words of the characters affect the viewer? At the end of the journal entry, have students write down what they learned from the reflection and what they will do to make tomorrow’s interactions better. Are they becoming more aware of the power of words?
4. The Goal: Become an Upstander. Studies show that bullying behavior ended within 10 seconds of peer intervention 56% of the time. Standing up to bullying lets the bully know his or her behavior is not ok, provides strength in numbers, and lets the victim know he or she is not alone. However, standing up can also be very scary. As a class, discuss why people might be afraid to take a stand against bullying and work through those fears.
After a while, I would encourage you to take parts of the script away. Provide lines for the bully, but have the victims and bystanders improvise their responses. At the end of the role play session, have students reflect on how they think they did and what they could have done differently. That is their goal for the next week.
The Measurement: Before beginning the above discussions and training, have students fill out a survey detailing whether or not they would stand up to a bully, how they might react to a bullying situation, and the reasoning behind their thoughts and actions. At intervals throughout the year, give the survey again and see what progress has been made. Do students feel more prepared? Are they exhibiting less fear? What areas still need improvement? At the end of each role-play session, have a short discussion to assess whether or not the students changed what they wanted to change from the previous week.
5. The Goal: Increasing Kindness. This is a fun and simple one. Kindness is contagious and can go a surprisingly long way towards ending bullying. It’s a lot harder to be mean to someone who is consistently kind to you, and a child is less likely to bully when his or her emotional needs are being met. As a class, come up with a list of acts of kindness that can be achieved throughout the year. Some can be broad, such as opening the door for the person behind you, and some can be specific, such as choosing a random student in the class and bringing him or her a special treat or writing a kind note.
The Measurement: There are many ways to count your random acts of kindness. Here is an idea borrowed from the book Service Learning in the Pre K-3 Classroom, by Vickie E. Lake, Ph.D, and Ithel Jones, Ed.DA . Lake and Jones suggest drawing out goals to help younger children to visualize what they would like to accomplish. For example, on strips of paper, have the students draw a variety of random acts of kindness they would like to achieve. As they accomplish the acts, move the strip of paper from one side of the board to the other. At the end of each week, students can count how many goals have been met and create a paper chain with the strips. As the acts of kindness grow, so will the chain, providing a concrete measure of achievement.
6. The Goal: In My Shoes. Bullying is sometimes the result of a lack of understanding or a lack of empathy. To build these skills, set the goal of learning more about everyone in the classroom by the end of year. One way to do this is to name a “student of the week” (or student of the day, depending on how many students you need to get through or the length of your school year). The goal of the week is to learn more about that student by the end of the week than you did at the beginning. Set a goal of how many new things the class should learn about that student. Throughout the week, students may ask the student of the week questions to get to know him or her better.
Encourage students to sit with the student of the week at lunch or play together at recess. To avoid bombarding that student, be sure to set boundaries such as: no swarming the student of the week, no talking during class time, etc. For shyer students, interactions could take place through letters, as well. Encourage the children to learn through observation as well as conversation. For example, “I observed Sophie during recess and learned that she is very good at kickball.” Make it clear that all observations and interactions are to be kind and be on the lookout for any negative interactions.
The Measurement: Provide students with a sheet of paper with two columns. One column will be labeled “What I know about BLANK” and the other “What I want to know about BLANK”. At the end of the week, write the new observations on the board and count them up. Did you reach your goal?
Though some of these ideas may seem unrelated to bullying, remember that we are trying to break the abstract “end bullying” into more tangible, concrete goals that will create habits of kindness so that bullying is no longer a go-to action for children. These goals strive to dig in and address the root causes of bullying as well as to instill habits of kindness and spirits of empathy. A good deal of bullying occurs in schools, right under the noses of teachers. We want to train children that will choose kindness, even when there are no rules telling them they have to.
As you work through these goals with your students or children, help them to understand how these smaller, short term goals can help them to reach a larger, long term goal. In addition to the measurement tools outlined above, there are many more fun, creative ways to do this! You can create charts, timelines, or even use computer programs to track your progress. Students could use observation, surveys, interviews, and a variety of other techniques to learn if their short term goals are helping them to reach their long term one.
Would you try these goals in your classroom? What new approaches to bullying prevention would you like to try in the new year? How will you measure progress? Let us know in the comments!
Did you know reading is a great way to begin building empathy? This is A. Blob, by L.A. Kefalos is just the thing! With its rhyming verse, vibrant illustrations, and unique view of the bully, this picture book will encourage children to put themselves in the shoes of another and help them to understand that bullies come in all shapes and sizes. This is A. Blob provides the perfect way to begin conversations about bullying at a young age—before problems become too severe.
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This is A. Blob by L. A Kefalos. $14.95
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