*This blog was created by former Superintendent Michelle Saylor, who held the postilion from July 1, 2016 to her retirement June 30, 2020.
The Message We SendPosted by Michelle Saylor on 12/4/2019 1:00:00 AM
The Message We Send
Today I was reading a viewpoint article by Dr. Karissa Niehoff in the November 2019 issue of High School Today. She talks about the unruly behavior by parents and other fans and the impact of these behaviors on youth and high school athletics.
It’s funny (not really) as I often find myself reflecting on similar behaviors that I see not only in athletics, but with many other areas ranging from situations occurring in academics to club participation to classroom interactions. Almost always in conversation with colleagues and others who see the effects on our students, we talk about the examples being set; we focus on the inappropriate language, the lack of accountability, the negative use of social media, and the blatant disrespect of another’s humanity. We worry that the expectations we hold for empathy, kindness, and consideration of others is being countered by the examples set by would be role models. We worry that we’re fighting a losing battle yet we continue to wage a war on these inappropriate behaviors all while acknowledging that those that engage them continue to be empowered by a society that seemingly accepts them.
Yet there is so much more than simply setting poor examples that shape our children’s behaviors. There is the subliminal message that we send when we discount others’ ideas only to amplify our own or our child’s, or when we criticize a referee or teacher because they made ‘a call’ or shared information that we don’t like, or when we take to social media and blast another family because our child didn’t get what they wanted and the other family’s child did. Or, when we are disrespectful to our child’s teacher, counselor, or principal when they hold our child accountable.
In Dr. Niehoff’s article, she shared an excerpt from a resignation letter from a veteran referee who articulates the message our behavior sends -- a message much more profound than just a bad example. The referee writes: (everytime you scream (or insert any other inappropriate behavior that negates a child’s accountability)) “...you tell your son or daughter the following: ‘I do not believe in you, I do not believe in your team, I do not believe in your (collective) ability to overcome your own adversity and you absolutely cannot win and cannot do this without me tilting the table in your favor’.”
Rather than helping our children learn to be successful we are undermining their resilience. We are preventing failures which ultimately stand in the way of achieving success (yes - consider the irony here).
Sure, there are times when there are legitimate gripes. There are times when we need to advocate for what we see as right in the midst of a wrong. However, there are ways to do it respectfully and gracefully. There are ways to engage our children and encourage them to self advocate, enter a conversation, and share their perspective, and there are ways to help them accept their role in the situation and understand accountability to self and others. And, there are ways not too.
Op-Ed: Advocating for Legislation for Charter School ReformPosted by Michelle Saylor on 6/1/2019
(An extended version of my Op-ed posted in the Centre Daily Times. This version discusses the additional bills that have been or are presumed to soon be introduced into the legislature for consideration).
Cyber Charter Reform: Our Children and Our Communities Deserve It
As parents, teachers, and administrators we understand the value of public education; it is the foundation of our society. The purpose for education moves well beyond ensuring students have a robust understanding of academic content. Public education is charged with preparing students for life and in conjunction preparing them to participate in society as full citizens. Layered over this purpose are two questions, each simple in their ask yet complex in their answers: Will our students leave our system with the skills, attributes, and understanding necessary to fully contribute to their communities and beyond? And, is what we are doing good for children, for our students and the underlying purpose of education?
How we answer these questions varies between communities and school districts but it should not vary within. We all struggle with equity vs privilege. Yet, we keep our eyes and hearts on these two questions, always, and strive to provide our students with what they need, when they need it, and where they need it.
As educators we value collaboration with our colleagues and embrace innovation, creativity, and calculated risk taking. Within the public system we fully understand the original purpose of charter schools as a means to this end. Initially charter schools began as a research and development arm for public education, a sort of clinical classroom where we could all learn from new ideas in teaching and learning and adapt and scale them to the traditional public school classrooms. Twenty-five years ago charter schools began as a way to help reform the then current system and infuse it with dynamic and innovative practices. Charter schools were not designed to be competitors to traditional public schools, rather they were designed for collaboration and learning. Unfortunately, they have not lived up to their original purpose and this coupled with subpar academic performance (in comparison to traditional public schools), and inequity in school funding, has led to missed opportunities for our students.
Over time both the traditional brick and mortar cyber schools and even more significantly the cyber charter schools have fallen short in providing our students with an education worthy of the funds they receive. Perhaps if charter schools were consistently outperforming their traditional counterparts, were held to the same accountability and transparency systems, and were able to infuse our schools with innovative ideas and resources at a fair cost, we could make the argument for charter school experiences; but they are not. They have failed our children and our communities are paying for it.
In Pennsylvania there are 164 brick and mortar charter schools educating 103,000 students and 15 cyber charter schools educating 34,500 students. Taxpayer dollars leave their traditional public school system (in Pennsylvania there are 500 school districts educating 1,570,000 students) and follow those children who enroll in the charter system. This has put an unreasonable and irresponsible burden on our public school systems.
Charter School reform - whether brick and mortar, cyber, or both, has been a topic of interest and often contentious discussion in the legislature for years. Ideas considering more equitable funding, processes to improve transparency, and procedures for greater oversight of charter schools historically have been stopped in their tracks. Now there is an opportunity for our legislators to tackle the gross inefficiencies and irresponsible costs traditional public school districts experience at the hands of cyber charter schools. Senate Bill 590 would form a Charter School Funding Advisory Commission to study real cost of cyber-education. This is the first step in a long awaited process to provide equitable educational options for our children.
Case in point, in the Bellefonte Area School District (and we are reflective of other districts across Pennsylvania), we provide our students with an online learning option. The average cost for our students attending BeLA (Bellefonte eLearning Academy) is $4,000.00 per student in contrast with those students attending cyber charter schools at an average tuition bill of $16,000.00 per student. Coupled with this staggering and irresponsible cost, a cost shouldered by the taxpayer, is the fact that only one PA cyber school comes close to receiving a “passing” grade for success, by a single percentage point (the majority of cyber schools have consistently placed in the bottom 5% for educational performance in the state). Whereas BeLA, like many inhouse online learning experiences, has proven success. In fact, last year 100% of our BeLA students who took the PA standardized tests scored proficient or advanced. Students attending BeLA are afforded all the extra-curricular opportunities and teacher support as their peers in the traditional setting and they are able to move back into the traditional system, should they choose, without learning gaps. All too often students who return to the traditional public school setting come to us with significant needs for remediation and support in order to bring them up to speed with their peers.
Our costs at Bellefonte Area School District over the last five years are as follows:
Regular Ed Tuition Paid by the District to Cyber Schools
Special Ed Tuition Paid by the District to Cyber Schools
Total Tuition paid by the District to Cyber Schools
Additionally, Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 526, if successfully passed, will support school districts that provide their own cyber education programs by removing the financial responsibility for resident students who enroll in cyber charter schools instead of the districts’ program(s). School districts that operate high-performing cyber programs similar to BeLA can do so at significantly reduced costs as compared to paying tuition to a cyber charter school, enabling them to retain critical funding (taxpayer dollars) in the district for the benefit of all students.
Across the state it is estimated that funding of cyber charter schools cost school districts and taxpayers more than $463 million in 2016-17. That is egregious at best.
As communities with high expectations for our children and limited tax dollars to support our schools and our children’s education, it is well past time that we reflect on those two critical questions, and most purposefully the latter, and insist our legislators take a deep look at the current funding and accountability systems. It is time that we invest our dollars responsibly and do what is right by our children and our communities.
Please reach out to your local legislators and let them know that charter school reform, and in this case cyber charter reform - support for SB 590 and SB34/HB 526 as well as HB 355 which enhances charter school governance and transparency, needs to be a priority. Let them know that there are also significant concerns with HB 356 which expands charter schools without oversight and HB 357 which alters the process used to apply to open a charter school. Both HB 356 and HB 357 limit a district’s authority and voice and thus by extension the voices of taxpayers. Our children deserve it!
Link to Advocacy 101 (legislative links on slide 11)
Harmony in ChoicePosted by Michelle Saylor on 5/26/2019
Harmony in Choice
Pressure to do well on standardized tests (PSSA, Keystone, SAT, ACT), pressure to take AP classes and score 4s and 5s on the exams, pressure to take as many dual enrollment or college in the classroom courses as they can fit into their schedules, pressure to participate in multiple sports and clubs, pressure to volunteer evenings, weekends…pressure to exploit every opportunity. There is a lot of pressure on our children today. Some of it is self-imposed, some of it is exerted by families or peers, and some of it is layered on by society at large. All fueled by a belief that if you’re not at the top of ‘everything’, that if you’re not involved in ‘everything’ you will have limited options beyond high school. Your college choices will be more limited; your employment opportunities will be more limited; others will surpass you and you will be left behind to settle for whatever isn’t already taken.
When did we lose sight of developing deep understanding or skill sets within a few areas? When did we start thinking that doing it all on a surface level rather than diving deep and following our interests and passions was a detriment? Yes, it is legitimate to encourage exploration and creativity. Yes, if children are passionate about what they do and do it because they truly want to, let them. We want our children to test the waters in different areas and get a feel for what they excel at or for what makes their hearts sing; it is part of growing up (and growing older), but not to the extent that they never get to discover what lies below the iceberg. Breadth brings us context and that is incredibly important within our diverse world. Context is necessary to be able to see life through a variety of perspectives. There is no argument in this; we all need to continue to broaden our viewpoint and often this occurs through experience and experiences (perhaps first at the surface level, but true change always comes with the depth of understanding the subtle innuendos of the experience). However, breadth without depth does not serve us well - it will not serve our children well. It is time to encourage harmony and congruence; it is time to help them develop their curiosity not only through variety but also through complexity. Our children should not be so busy with their choices and responsibilities that they miss the magic of questioning, challenging, tinkering, and reflecting. The moment is now to help them release the pressure valves and see themselves (and we see them) as more than a score or a three page resume by the time they graduate high school. Let’s help them recognize not only the power of choices but more so the power of choice within opportunity.
Interestingly, David Coleman, the CEO of the College Board (an organization that has been in existence since 1899 that develops and administers standardized tests and curricula used in education to promote and gauge college readiness), has recently penned a white paper that speaks to this dilemma in education (Recommendations from the College Board CEO for improving admissions (opinion)). He cites current research indicating that when it comes to college readiness, and this is an example specific to AP classes and college admission, “more than three extracurriculars or five AP courses will not improve your application”. Students are wilting under intense pressure to do more simply because they believe it’s expected and it’s necessary. It’s not. It’s time to shift our perspective.
Words: Stop ScratchingPosted by Michelle Saylor on 3/17/2019
Words and Our Children
Two ideas are haunting my thoughts: 1) the existence of words is no statement on their truth, and 2) don’t scratch where you don’t itch. They are not my original thoughts. The first I can attribute to German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and the second simply a phrase that follows in the line of don’t create a problem/issue where there isn’t any.
As I read through the ‘news’ and I scroll through social media posts I can’t help but think that both of these thoughts are at the crux of much of what we see, hear, and share today. Inevitably, someone will post or more often repost something they haven’t researched or found to be accurate, news media will publish content that is only made for the moment and not for depth of understanding, and many will take what they read or hear at face value and internalize or reinforce behaviors, values, or ideas that are not complimentary to where we should be as a society.
I reflect on a conversation a friend shared with me recently. It was related to a social media post. An acquaintance had posted information that refuted scientific thought. There was no data or research, or fact behind the post. My friend had reached out to this person; they worked together, and offered to share the research, to help him understand, to provide the facts, the science, behind the topic – which in this case refuted his post. His response was “No thank you. Don’t waste your time; I have my own theories.” People will read his posts; people will shape their views from his words; some people will believe what they read and make decisions based upon them. With this we circle back to that concept from the early 19th century of the existence of words is no statement on their truth.
So often with the online news (in some cases the print and traditional media too) and with social media we encounter ‘breaking news’ or posts that offer us no more than a fleeting moment of anxiety, drama, or confusion. In essence, scratching where we don’t itch. Information (and I use that term loosely) that begin to characterize our view of the world and skew the meaning of knowledge and understanding. Often this stuff, these words, undermines empathy, learning, relationships, and even our humanity. As adults this affects us; imagine what effect it has on our children who are at an age where they are beginning to define their identity.
So where am I going with this? Friday I attended a safety symposium. One of the sessions I attended dealt with words, with social media, with news, with adolescent use of social media apps and the ramifications of that use – both good and bad. The session was led by Dr. Courtney McLaughlin an associate professor at IUP and her doctoral student Adrienne Bardo. Although I will not get into the specifics of the session and their work within my blog, I will share that some literature and research indicate that adolescents, especially adolescent girls, that engage social media three or more hours a day (and data tell us that 46% of teens self-report that they are online almost constantly) are much more likely to experience adverse reactions related to their well-being than those who engage 2 hours or less.
As parents and professionals what can we do? Well, generally speaking, we can’t stay quiet. Silence suggests approval and acceptance, confirmation of a behavior. In this case words, our words, are extremely important. Going further (beyond articulating our expectations and consequences, and monitoring their use through apps designed to do just that) we can promote healthy social media use through engaging our children in critical thinking around the ways they communicate and the words others use. We must teach them to challenge what they read and hear and to not assume those words represent truth. We can teach them how to monitor their use; how to check facts, how to scroll past things that scratch us where we don’t itch. And equally significant, we can model healthy use of social media. In doing this we can engage conversations around what we read and hear and work together to get to the facts that either support or refute the words that are shared. In the process we can teach and model empathy, understanding, curiosity, and truth – even if that truth runs counter to what we’d like to believe. Together we can learn to navigate words and stop the scratching.
What Could Your New Year Bring?Posted by Michelle Saylor on 1/29/2019 1:00:00 AM
What Could Your New Year Bring?
As 2018 wraps up and 2019 arrives many of us may have made our New Year’s resolutions. Chances are, if you did, it included one or more of the following: exercise more/be more active, eat more healthily, lose weight, learn a new hobby or skill - all with an ultimate goal of being a better person. Yet, statistics tell us that many of us fall short of our personal goal(s) and often within the first few weeks of starting. Interestingly, many of us enter into these goals with little confidence we’ll attain them successfully.
I often ask myself why we are so unsuccessful in this endeavor. Could it be that we set a goal without an action plan? Could it be that we reach for something just beyond our grasp without building in little successes along the way? Could it be that we are simply not committed from the start? Or, could it be that the resolutions we undertake truly don’t interest us or align with a purpose that speaks to our hearts and minds?
As educators, we regularly set professional goals too. More often than not, we meet these goals. Why? What is the difference? As I reflect on this question, it becomes evident that my professional goals go beyond myself. They are designed not to simply improve me in some way, but more importantly to lift others - to build capacity, to positively affect student growth, to sustain an effective program, or to increase human capital. They are born of purpose and nurtured with love.
Many, many years ago, a wonderful mentor shared a book with me: Greater Than Yourself: The Ultimate Lesson of True Leadership, written by Steve Farber. It’s a parable that demands deep reflection as you take inventory of what you have to give to others and how you will do so. Like our typical New Year’s resolution he asks you to expand yourself, yet more like what we do professionally he also asks that you give of yourself and replicate yourself and in doing so you purposefully lift those around you. The challenge is infectious and speaks to our souls.
Recently I pulled this book back off my shelf and shared it with my administrative team. I challenged my team to reflect, to take inventory - to see what they have to offer others and where they can expand. I asked each of them to look around, to discover who might benefit from their resources and to think about how they could each lift one person as they lift themselves. I challenged them to engage something greater than him/herself and to begin, as Steve Farber calls it, their own individual greater than yourself (GTY) project. In doing so choose ‘your project’ thoughtfully and seek out someone who will benefit from what you have to give. Choose someone you trust and believe in; someone in whom you see great potential who may simply need a nudge, some guidance, your resources, etc. to continue to evolve. In his article in the Harvard Business Review Steve lays out some steps to help you get started with Your Greater Than Yourself Project https://hbr.org/2009/04/the-secret-of-great-mentors
Regardless of resolutions or goals I have my own GTY project and it excites and motivates me. It calls upon me to reflect deeply as a leader and as a human, to continue to invest in others, and to help make a difference that speaks to my purpose. It brings me clarity. My challenge to you, like that to my team, is to "pick one person, and make that one person your own, personal GTY project. Raise that person, boost him/her above yourself. Start there and see what happens." (p51)
Keeping Wonder…Finding PurposePosted by Michelle Saylor on 12/29/2018 6:00:00 AM
Keeping Wonder…Finding Purpose
Over the holidays I had the pleasure of spending time with my two young granddaughters. They ground me and help me realize what is truly important in education and even more importantly in life. Their ability and desire to question, to push boundaries, to be fascinated by the world around them and to naturally learn captivates me. They don’t need me to force them to learn, they do so with every breath they take.
In full disclosure, watching small children explore and discover is my happy place. I’ve always believed that we don’t do enough as educators to nurture curiosity, celebrate wonder, and encourage play. All too often we find ourselves caught up in the mandates of academics with little time left to engage what really matters – a child’s creativity and natural inquisitiveness. Sure rigorous academic content is important, but in and of itself it’s not the answer.
Perhaps too often we are frustrated by our students’ (or our children’s) apparent lack of innate motivation, of what we all too easily label, at best as a lack of interest, and, at worst as downright laziness. We throw up our hands and wonder how we engage them in the learning process. Where did we lose them; where did we go array? After all they didn’t begin like this.
Research tells us, as if we didn’t already surmise, that innate or intrinsic motivation is clearly linked to passion, interest, and purpose. We don’t need to entice our students/children with a video game, movie, or other form of screen time, for example, to get them to engage in learning, we simply need to invite them to meld their individual passions and interests with challenging opportunities to ask and answer complex questions. A learner’s purpose cannot simply be to know, but rather to discover, question, and apply. When that happens, a child doesn’t need external motivation - a “carrot at the end of a stick”; rather the process becomes the carrot.
Tony Wagner’s research tells us that “play, passion, and purpose” are the critical components for development of the discipline and perseverance necessary for success. (http://www.tonywagner.com/tonys-latest-ed-week-commentary-graduating-all-students-innovation-ready-now-available/)
So what can we do? In our schools and in our classrooms we can and should ensure that we’re growing entrepreneurial mindsets, sparking the imagination, and allowing for ample opportunities to discover passion and purpose within a culture of collaboration. Play, risk taking, questioning, and innovating are second nature and failure is just as important a part of the learning process as success – and should be celebrated as such. Students need to not only be able to solve complex problems, but they need to nurture their curiosity so they can foresee problems before they arise and anticipate potential solutions through a variety of lenses and perspectives. This is a much higher aspiration than simply knowing; this is affecting change, this motivates, and this materializes through those three p’s: play, passion, and purpose.
At home, what can we do to nurture curiosity and innovation? We can model our interests and our passions; share them with our children. We can follow their lead, ask open ended questions, avoid “but”, and help them see how failure can be just as much of a learning and growing experience as success. We can encourage our children to tinker, to help them think through alternatives when they become puzzled or confused (not think or do for them), break away from routines, and expose them to different cultures and new environments, and help them become comfortable with change.
As Thomas Friedman shares in Thank You for Being Late the answer doesn’t lie in helping our students, our children, think “inside the box” or “outside the box” but rather “without a box” (p. 14). Young children have no concept of that box; let’s work to keep it that way.
Trust YourselfPosted by Michelle Saylor on 10/27/2018 6:00:00 PM
So I’m sitting here, just finishing a speech for an engagement early next month and realizing the value of the experience. No, not the experience of the moment I need to get up in front of hundreds of people and talk (that is always scary); but rather the experience of being pushed outside of my comfort zone, of being forced to reflect on what I believe and value, and allowing myself to be vulnerable.
And so I wonder. I wonder how often we push our students. How often do we encourage them to engage opportunities where it may be a little scary, where they might fail, where they need to take a risk because they really don’t know everything they’d like to know, where maybe, just maybe someone will challenge them and they’ll have to trust themselves. I repeat, they’ll have to trust themselves.
Trusting yourself is at the center of everything. Until you trust yourself you cannot trust others. If you don’t trust others you will never open yourself to new ideas, experiences, and opportunities. You will never fully realize your potential. That is a sad concept to consider. Our children, our students, harbor endless potential. They have within them the possibilities to bridge understanding, challenge the status quo, build communities, innovate and move positive change - if they believe in themselves, if they trust themselves.
It is critical that as educators we sit back and reflect - do we truly trust ourselves? If not, how can we get to that point personally in order to give more to our students - to model and encourage them and to provide opportunities for them to reach beyond what they know and are familiar with. We need to show them how to trust themselves so they can inevitably create their own opportunities as they reach toward their futures.
PerspectivePosted by Michelle Saylor on 8/26/2018 6:00:00 AM
Is your glass half full or is it half empty? Do you see the best in people or fixate on the worst? Do you dance in the rain? Do you wake with a smile? Or do you grumble, roll over, and pull the blankets over your head confident it’s going to be another miserable rainy day? How we look at the world shapes our behavior. It colors our interactions with others and frames how we will react to everything we encounter throughout our day.
Now, I’m not saying everyday is going to be rosy, nor am I suggesting you look at every situation without a healthy dose of reality. What I am saying is that in a world where so much seems to be beyond our control, our attitude and how we look at those events and situations that most closely affect us, is within our control.
Recently, our district had the opportunity to open our 2018-19 school year with a visit from Jon Gordon. Although much of his message continues to resonate with me, two concepts stand out: Why not approach life with the phrase “what do ‘I get’ to do today” rather than “what do I have to do”, and, the idea of Meraki.
So, I challenged our staff to jot down on a post-it what they would ‘get to do this year’ and share it to a group posting. It was inspiring. After all, as individuals lucky enough to work within the public-school system we ‘get to’ positively affect lives every day – we get to inspire others, we get to dive into our action plans to improve teaching and learning, we get to maintain, care for, and support all that makes our schools welcoming, we get to reach out to someone having a tough day or who needs a helping hand. We get to affect change. Even more invigorating is that as a team we get to magnify all this and extend our reach beyond what we can even imagine. We don’t have to do this, we choose to do this – we ‘get to do’ so much that others will never have the chance to even consider. How amazing is it to get to make the most of these opportunities?
Now couple what we get to do with the concept of meraki. What is meraki you ask? Meraki means to do something with love, with heart, with soul. It means to leave a part of yourself within your work. Wow. Not only do we get to affect positive change, to shape and touch lives, but we get to do it with all of our hearts and souls. We do get to leave a part of ourselves in our work. You can’t ask for more than that. So, when those around you look at the negative, when you feel saddened or disillusioned, when you’ve reached your “twentieth mile” (Jon Gordon), remember everything you get to do, remember how much you get to put into it, and remember the legacy this leaves. It’s all in perspective.
Gordon, J. (2017) The Power of Positive Leadership: How and Why Positive Leaders Transform Teams and Organizations and Change the World. New Jersey: Wiley
Learn more about Jon Gordon: http://jongordon.com/
Always Live in BetaPosted by Michelle Saylor on 6/3/2018 8:00:00 AM
Always Live in Beta…
As the 2017-18 school year officially comes to the end I find time to sit back and reflect, reflect deeply and purposefully. Over the course of the last year we faced many challenges - some internally, some externally, but as a team we weathered them well. Our children seized opportunities; they grew academically and socially. We caught (or returned) the curveballs society threw our way. We began work on a much needed stadium project and initiated serious conversation around our other facilities - we began to ask the questions we’ve needed to ask for many many years.
We’ve poured over data and put strategies in place to improve those areas we’ve identified as weaknesses whether we’re looking at instruction and pedagogy, operational efficiency, or personnel and management. TIme will tell us where and when we need to further fine tune - or switch gears, in these areas - education and leadership are dynamic processes that demand continual review, inquiry, and analysis. Decisions we make one day may be outdated or need re-examination the next as more information is discovered and evaluated. Although decisions made by our leadership team may not always be looked upon as positive by those outside of the system, or those who are not privy to confidential information, they are always made in the best interest of the collective whole of our student body.
I emphasize this because sometimes, based upon one’s own individual context or experiences, looking beyond the scope that defines one’s own life can be difficult. However, in education, we are accountable to the collective well-being of our students and charged to do so with ethical, safety focused, and fiduciary responsibility. Inevitably, there will be times when our personal beliefs are in direct conflict with what needs to be done. With this in mind, there will always be those who disagree. It isn’t an easy task, but it is a necessary one.
Why do I share this? Why am I taking the time to write it out? Because learning, learning for everyone, is ongoing. It is sometimes uncomfortable. It is always ultimately enlightening and rewarding - if we let it be. Education is all about learning. Education is dynamic. Education is necessary. And as such, education and learning are in continual flux and forever evolving. We are always trying to improve our experiences, opportunities, systems, and processes. We can never accept status quo. Change is the word - that is why, to be our best as educators and leaders, we always live in Beta.
Their Eyes Are On UsPosted by Michelle Saylor on 4/3/2018
Their Eyes Are On Us
We read about bullying; our children tell us about incidents of bullying. Yet what is bullying, what is the difference between bullying and inappropriate or unacceptable hurtful behavior, and, why does it occur?
First, Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior (often with malicious intent) among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time (StopBullying.gov, stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying/index.html). What distinguishes bullying from other behaviors is that bullying includes an imbalance of social or physical power and occurs (or is threatened to occur) on a repetitive basis. Cyberbullying often involves acts or words that are designed to undermine or damage social relationships or status. Bullying, either physical or cyber, may cause harm or distress (physical, psychological, social, or educational) to the targeted individual (https://cyberbullying.org/what-is-bullying). Bullying may include actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
Often acts of harassment or aggression (some of the same behaviors listed above) are reported as bullying and they’re not. It is important not to confuse them with a true act of bullying as these differing behaviors necessitate different interventions or consequences. As hurtful as it may be, a single act does not qualify as bullying - although it should be addressed within the context of which it occurred.
What are some signs of bullying? If a child is being bullied, he/she may (not all children exhibit signs) show the following warning signs (https://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/warning-signs/index.html):
- Unexplainable injuries
- Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
- Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
- Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
- Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
- Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
- Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide
If a child is bullying others you may notice the following:
- Getting into physical or verbal fights
- Having friends who bully others
- Becoming increasingly aggressive
- Getting sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently
- Having unexplained extra money or new belongings
- Blaming others for their problems
- Not accepting responsibility for their actions
- Are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity
What we don’t talk about, but need to recognize, is that the bully may also be experiencing social, psychological, emotional, educational, or familial circumstances that fuel his/her behavior. These too need to be addressed in an appropriate manner if we are to get to the root of the hurtful actions.
It is also important to distinguish between ‘normal’ child behaviors associated with the different points in their development from intentional hurtful actions. Often it appears as if there is an almost indistinguishable line between the two.
Why does bullying occur? One of the better articles I’ve read discussing the why’s behind bullying can be found at https://bullyingnoway.gov.au/UnderstandingBullying/WhyDoesBullyingHappen We all know that positive school climate plays a role, but what we also have to understand is that bullying occurs within a social context and that context is not only defined by the school climate but also by the values and social norms of the wider community; by the examples we set as adults.
So yes, their eyes are watching us. They are watching how we treat each other. They are watching the degree of empathy we engage with each other. They are watching what we type in social media. They are watching, they are listening, and they are modeling our behaviors. Often the change we seek, begins with us.
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- May 2016