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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

From the List to the Core

I was asked by a principal to give a "pep talk" about bullying prevention to his staff at the faculty meeting. I had been helping them  implement a bullying prevention plan.  The staff had already been trained in bullying prevention, so I would just be there to help them refocus their efforts and answer any questions they might have.  I agreed to help out and  was told I would have about an half hour and would be the last item on the agenda.  I arrived early and attended the meeting from the start. 

It so happened that it was the day of state testing, so the teachers walked into the meeting looking pretty tired.  The first item on the agenda obviously dealt with the state testing procedures.  The other items were related to  the new teacher evaluation system mandated by the state, a new requirement for writing learning objectives, and a changes in the procedures for ordering materials for the next school year.  As the principal went through these items, I could see the teachers getting more and more tired and distracted.  I quickly realized that this was probably not the best time to talk to them about bullying prevention, yet I was still on the agenda. 

I  knew that I would need to say or do something to gain some of their attention. They were expecting me to tell them something else they needed to do or point out what they were not doing.  Bullying prevention would just add another item to their to-do list. Standing in front of them, I realized that I had encountered one of the key reasons why bullying prevention fails to "take hold" in a school-it is seen as just another item on a list placed on them from above like so many other things  like tests, mandates and regulations.  I announced to them that they should take bullying prevention off their list of things to do. If it merely stayed there on the list,  they would make little if any progress in addressing the problem.  This announcement did get their attention.

I thought that if I did nothing else at the meeting, I needed at least to "reframe" the problem of bullying prevention for them.  This reframing is essential to any progress we hope to make in this area.  School staff need to see bullying prevention as being at the heart of education: creating a safe and supporting environment, empowering students as leaders and learners, and giving them the knowledge, skills and attitudes for success in the 21st century.  As I stated in my previous posts, this is the positive door to use in approaching bullying prevention.  If bullying prevention is at the heart of education, it cannot be an item on a list.  To move from the list to the core will require strong shared leadership for reframing the issue and using a positive door, but this is the right direction to go even it if takes a while to work. 

If a school fails to use bullying prevention as an added opportunity for overall  improvement, it might find itself complying  with the laws, policies, and regulations but doing little to prevent the bullying that adults in the school can't see or hear.  It will be like the successful operation (because all the procedures were followed) where the patient died.

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