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Friday, December 21, 2012

It's the Culture! No Surprise

Here is a link to an excellent research article using qualitative research on bystander/witness behavior and thinking entitled:

“Rules of the Culture and Personal Needs: Witnesses’ Decision-Making Processes to Deal with Situations of Bullying in Middle School” by Silvia Diazgranados Ferrans, Robert Selman, and Luba Falk Feigenberg in Harvard Educational Review, Winter 2012 (Vol. 82, #4, p. 445-470),

It is a quite extensive scholarly article worth taking the time to read.

Their findings recommend that students be educated about the influence they have as bystanders and taught a variety of strategies for dealing with bullying when they witness it.  They also recommend focusing on building school cultures where students feel connected to each other and the school.  They emphasize the importance of adults modeling the type of caring and courage they want to see in the students.  Students should actively engaged in developing the rules and shaping the school culture.

In my book I summarized these approaches into three categories A B C:

Autonomy/agency-students need to be actively engaged in creating a caring culture.  They need to be empowered to act based on their moral conscience.  The focus cannot be on just following top/down rules.

Belonging-students need to feel that everyone is part of a community.  They need to know what a community is and how it differs from a group.   School have to know how a community differs from just a group.  This needs to be a topic of conversation.  Schools that typically use suspension as a universal consequence for students who breaks the rules, inadvertently send that message that membership in a community can be jeopardized by behavior.  Students should always be accepted as people and always remain a member of the community.  If they break any rules, it is more a sign they need help and support rather than exclusion.

Competence-students need specific skills, phrases, strategies to use when confronted with bullying situations that often are ambiguous.  Many students know that what is happening is wrong but lack the skills to strategically intervene effectively.  Learning to navigate the social world is not easy and students need our help and support.  Becoming skilled does happen automatically for every student.  Even students who have great empathy will eventually become hardened if they don't learn how to demonstrate it-they will lose it if they don't use it.

To sum of this up into one phrase (by way of James Carville and the 1992 election)when it comes to bullying prevention -"It's the culture, stupid."

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