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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Simple Formula

Until the late fifties the disease polio posed a threat to every family in America.  Now you hardly hear the word mentioned.  Why?  The problem was recognized and the attention to the problem lead to research, resources and ultimately a treatment that could be given to all children to prevent the disease from even occurring.  What if  the sequence I just mentioned ended with just the treatment being developed but  never universally distributed and given to children?  If that were the case, the issue wouldn't be polio it would the hospitals and doctor offices.  People would wonder what was wrong with the medical establishment that it failed to recognize a proven treatment and make it available to the population.  The issue/problem would no longer be polio it would be the hospitals and doctors.

Let's apply this analogy to bullying.  It has received widespread attention and recognition as a serious  and harmful problem.  To the credit of great researchers and practicioners, it is pretty clear what needs to happen to significantly prevent and reduce it in schools.  Although there is no easy to swallow pill that will cure the problem, researchers have clearly identified the social dynamics involved in bullying and what educators can do (and shouldn't do) to significantly address the problem.  Schools, however, have not consistently applied this knowledge of best practice and continue to try to solve it with the same treatments used for other problems in schools.  Really the issue at hand shouldn't be bullying anymore, it should be why the schools aren't doing the things that research have indicated as being effective.  There really shouldn't be any more conferences about bullying or TV shows about bullying.  What we should be talking about is the real issue: change-why haven't schools changed?

This however will probably never happen (I hope I am proved wrong).  The topic of why schools don't change  is too nebulous and probably too threatening.  The answers lie in places where most people don't want to go because to go there would require more reflection and analysis that require too much time and energy.  The biggest reason people don't go there is because they don't think that there is where the answers are-so they look in places for other things to fix the problem. When some of those things don't work they just shop for different things.  There is now a whole bullying prevention industry of products, programs, computer apps, assemblies, data tracking systems that ironically are dependent upon the problem of bullying persisting.  If you don't believe me just go to any conference on a topic related in any way to bullying.  (Full disclosure-I have written two books related to bullying and have presented at conferences.  Conferences serve a useful purpose as a vehicle for dialogue and discussion.  I raise these points to stimulate thinking and hopefully re-focus our energy toward more meaningful, substantive change that goes beyond just addressing bullying as an isolated problem to be fixed while accepting the status quo of schools.)

I propose a simple formula that doesn't cost anything and is consistent with what we know about bullying and what it takes to effectively address it.  This formula is not secret and it is in articles like the one I shared in my previous post by Philip Rodkin. 

Here is the formula:

  • Recognize the problem is not bullying -it is change.
  • Understand the change process (there is a lot of research here also)
  • Understand that change starts with leadership
  • Those in leadership need to first make sure their leadership is not a subtle form of bullying
  • Put the focus on changing adult behavior first and don't worry right away about the students
  • Make sure adults learn what they need to learn about the type of environment needed for optimal learning.
  • Change adult behavior to develop empowered bystanders/students.
  • An empowered and caring community of learners will provide the "immunization" to prevent and minimize the occurance of bullying, recognize it if and when it occurs, and respectfully communicate and address the problem with those who violate its social norms.
It is only as simple or hard as that. This is where we should look and work together.

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