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Monday, February 25, 2013

No cost, little time, baby steps

Sometimes the enormity of change can paralyze us.  The challenge of preventing and reducing the amount of bullying in schools when added to the pressures of raising test scores, implementing the Common Core curriculum, RTI, analyzing data and implementing a new teacher evaluation process, can be easily pushed aside or moved to the bottom of the priority list.  This tendency to push initiatives aside can unfortunately become a habit on the part of staff.  When the “hidden story” of bullying prevention is really a negative, critical one-“You haven’t done a good job and you better do a better one because now if you don’t you’ll be violating the law and school policy,” it is easy for people to tune out any attempt asking for any type of change.  Add this “repelling type of story” to this often subconscious tendency for many staff to nod in outward agreement, and only comply with the basics of the mandate, it is no wonder bullying prevention is taking place in name only in many schools.

There is an almost automatic response that people will give to call for change that is imposed upon them: we have no time and no money.  These are the universal and perpetual reasons for not doing anything.  The reason they are universal and perpetual is because it is impossible to say anything to counter those arguments.  Schools are busy places overloaded with demands and have dwindling budgets.  But there are alternatives even if they might be microscopic.

One of my favorite axioms for change is by Michael Fullan: “Think big but start small.”  The thinking “big” part can be focusing on an important principle basic to education and to helping others.  As much as I dislike using formulas, sometimes to get jumpstarted on a problem, they can be useful.   Here is one to try using the that axiom:
  • ·      Working with a small group of representative staff, present a list of principles related to not just to bullying prevention but also to the basic values of education.  If staff prefer to develop their own that would be ok also.
  • ·      Ask staff to talk with colleagues or present the list to the entire faculty to select one that they feel is most important and relevant to the school’s needs.
  • ·      Once the small group has chosen that principle.  Ask them to generate as many different ways that the principle could be practiced more consistently in school, with the confining parameters that it wouldn’t cost any money and would not require any planning or meeting time to implement.  This means that it would be simple enough for people to do or say, i.e. already within their repertoire of words and actions.
  • ·      Bring that list of no cost, low time principle based ideas back to the faculty and ask them to reach on consensus on one that they can support at least for one month.
  • ·      Post this principle-based idea on a poster in the faculty room.  Make it visible somehow for staff to see regularly and easily.
  • ·      Get staff to agree to try it as best they can and to reflect on how it might be impacting the school climate.
  • ·      Agree to meet in a month to evaluate how it is going and then decide to either continue it, change it, and/or to try another idea.

Here is an example of what I mean:  Let’s say the principle selected is: Treat students the way that you want them to treat each otherNotice the slight twist in the last part of the golden rule.

One simple thing that staff could do to “operationalize” this principle that would cost nothing and take no extra time, is getting everyone adult in the building to agree to consistently say “please” and  “thank you” every time they ask any student(s) to do anything.

Something this simple and basic could have a profound effect on a school environment.  There could be cynical opposition to this on the part of some staff but I think that even the most cynical staff person would have a hard time verbalizing that opposition.  They may not do it themselves but if the majority of staff started doing it, then the resisters would be the left alone or at least in the majority. 

This type of small step can plant a seed for significant cultural changes.  Once staff has tried this type of “baby steps” approach, it would be easily transferred to having the students do it.  This approach accounts for the 5 simple truths of helping into consideration and allows the school community to create a new story to tell about itself.   

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