Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Life Needs an Instant Replay
Social situations can happen quickly and "vanish" out of sight. Unlike physical objects that we can look at and touch, social situations instantly slip into our memories. Experiencing a new and different social situation can often leave us thinkging to ourselves, "What just happened?" followed by "Why didn't I do or say something" or worse yet, "Why did I do or say that?". We have all had these feelings, but as adults, we have a bank of prior experiences that help us understand what happened in retrospect. As adults however we can easily forget that young people lack this preparation and are more likely to be either caught off guard or confused by social situations. Very often when students are asked why they did something or said something they honestly reply, "I don't know." We cannot prepare for every situation but preparation and some degree of familiarity can help us when we find ourselves in an ambiguous and quickly evolving social situation. These social situations usually trigger emotions which also make it harder for us to think straight in the situation. We have many educational practices that recognize this need for preparation. Fire drills are one example of such a preparation. If a real fire were to occur, we cannot wait for each person to cognitively process the situation and choose the right response. With enough rehearsal, we can be trained to automatically respond with the safest action. We also see rehearsal and preparation in sports. Coaches call time out during critical spots in a game to review possible scenarios and remind players of their options. These time outs however would not be effective if they weren't supported by hours of practice. I share these thoughts because today I had the great opportunity to see a Peaceful School Bus meetings in action at a local elementary school. The students viewed a few scenes from the movie Bridge to Terabithia showing bullying on the school bus. The students viewed the scenes once but then viewed them a second time and told to view them through the lens of the student who bullied, the bullied student or the bystanders. Following the replay they discussed how they thought each of the three key participants/roles felt and what they could have done differently. The students were fully engaged while viewing the clips and discussing the situation. They had insight into the feeling of each of the students in the video and had a variety of effective alternative responses. The school bus is an especially difficult environment in which to to think straight. What happens there is often also something many students deliberately would like to forget. I had to feel that these students, however, would be better prepared for the social situations they faced on the bus. It is also important to remember that in bullying situations, we don't need every student to respond appropriately or in a helpful, responsible way, we just need one or two students instead of none. One other thing happened in the meeting that would be easy to overlook. The teacher leader of the meeting asked the bus driver to pick a goal for the students. He said they needed to do a better job of remaining seated throughout the ride. The leader asked the kids why it was important to stay seated. I realized that many kids don't automatically know the answer to the question. Many kids would think that staying seated was just another rule to follow. It may seem like a small and obvious thing but explaining the reason behind the rule and how following the rule is in their own best interests can make a positive difference in student behavior. The forty five minutes devoted three times a year to the PSB is really a small investment that can pay dividends in improving life on the bus for all students.