Headlights — The Educators Blog

Being Bullies; Being Bullied

Sally Baer is Head of School at Bornblum Solomon Schechter in Memphis, Tennessee, serving first through eighth graders. She has been with the school, either teaching or as an administrator, since the school’s inception 24 years ago.

Sally Baer

I would like to share with you parts of an article I wrote in September for our weekly school communication, The Shabbat Shofar. The article, entitled Being Bullies; Being Bullied was intended to offer parents and students concrete responses for dealing with bullying issues while cautioning against use of the bullying label too often.

Among the many values we work to instill in our children are those of kindness, respect, honesty, and a sense of responsibility. As Jewish educators and as parents, we know the value of modeling character traits that we want to build in our children. We talk about ways to exhibit these values, and we offer guidance and advice when our children are faced with difficult situations.

The September, 2011 issue of Educational Leadership is dedicated to “Promoting Respectful Schools.” While there is a wealth of material available on social skills, respectful attitudes, and on anti-bullying campaigns I have seen little information that I believe is as specific and properly targeted as the articles in this magazine. In their article What Students Say About Bullying, Stan Davis and Charisse Nixon write what students believe they can do for themselves, what peers can do for one another, and what adults at school can do that helps the most. I would like to share with you some of the beliefs of what children can do for one another.

Children interviewed by Davis and Nixon believe that peers helped one another the most by responding to the child who was bullied in the following ways:

  • Making sure the child who was bullied always had friends around
  • Paying more attention to their friend
  • Distracting the friend so the focus was not on having been bullied
  • Listening to their friend and encouraging him or her to ignore the bully.

These are, of course, only a few ideas as seen by students who were interviewed for the article. We continue talking to our students, listening to their ideas, and offering our thoughts to them. As responsible educators, we must ensure that our students feel protected, safe, and supported, but how do we do this?

I have consistently read that students who feel connected to adults whom they believe care and listen have more success in dealing with the problems they face. Children need our help if they are hurt by the way another child treats them or if they witness another child being hurt because they may not know how to respond. Even the child who is hurting others needs our help. Active involvement and listening on the part of adults helps students learn how to communicate effectively and become secure and responsible.
I believe that conversations with our students and teachers are a critical piece of building the bonds that students so desperately seek. We might ask teachers who are most closely connected with their students how they build those relationships. We might ask students what helped to create those bonds that cause them to feel closely connected with adults in the school. We need to continuously revisit active listening. Educators and parents must listen to what their children are not putting into words. We must observe those behaviors that may look innocent on the surface but have hidden meanings and implications.

If you are not already familiar with Facing History and Ourselves, I strongly encourage you to check into it for the sake of your students. Although not originally slated as such, I see it as a current day anti-bullying program. The curriculum and materials that are currently geared toward learners not younger than middle school, are insightful and sensitively handled. Philosophically, the program is intended to teach tolerance, acceptance, and respect. It helps us to look at ourselves and examine our own values while expanding our thinking regarding the impact of others throughout history. There is a particular focus, but not exclusive, on the Holocaust.

As the dynamics of education continue to grow and change frequently, we must not lose sight of the need for every student to feel respected. The integration of respectful attitudes into our Judaic programs comes naturally. Students must hear about respect, observe respectful behaviors modeled by the adults in their lives, and have guidance when putting respectful attitudes into practice. This too is part of their learning experience, part of what a Solomon Schechter education offers.

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