Tag Archives: respect

How to teach tolerance in the classroom – the case of Meeting Matthew

Don't let ignorance be your disabilityIn an op-ed in the Montreal Gazette this past week, I argued that effective bullying prevention requires, among other things, the teaching of tolerance and acceptance of diversity.

It sounds like one of those obvious statements that should just be a given. Of course we need to be accepting of those who are not like us! Who would argue with teaching our kids about civility and respect?

Well, lots of people actually. Like those in the current Quebec government trying to enact a law preventing public workers from wearing a turban, hijab or yarmulke or any other religious symbol (except possible a cross). Or those who believe homosexuality equals sin. Or those who believe the colour of one’s skin and choice of clothing makes them inherently more dangerous.

But I digress. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that we can all agree we want to teach our children to be respectful of differences (and hope this will some day be true). We’d like to think that parents will do this at home, of course, but whether they do or not, we’d like to see it reflected in their schooling.

So what does teaching tolerance actually look like? What does it mean on the ground for the teacher with 32 grade schoolers sitting in rows in front of her (or his) desk? What can she say? What does he do?

One of the best lessons I’ve read about what teaching tolerance actually looks like comes from a magazine with that exact name. The Southern Poverty Law Center‘s fabulous biannual magazine, Teaching Tolerance, featured an award-winning feature by Paul Roud called “Meeting Matthew.”

The situation? A new 7th grader coping with Asperger’s Syndrome. The otherwise bright and friendly boy picked his nose constantly, yelled out remarks in class and said things to other students that came across as mean and aggressive. The other students perceived him as “strange,” because he’d walk down the hallways with books piled on his head.

Let’s be honest: students like this can test the patience of teachers as well. These kids aren’t always so sympathetic, and the classroom disruptions and socially inappropriate comments can start to feel personal. Teachers are human too. As the writer points out, any student who stirs negative emotional reactions in their teachers is likely to do the same in the other students. In this case, the principal noticed that the boy was starting to be socially isolated by his peers.

Because Asperger’s is a hidden disability, it can be harder to engage the understanding and tolerance of others. Individuals appear perfectly normal and typically have average or above average intelligence. However, their communication skills are not typical. They can have great difficulty making sense of the social cues most of us take for granted, such as facial expressions, common social protocols and body language. It can be harder for them to understand or show empathy to others. Kids with Asperger’s are therefore at very high risk for bullying by their peers.

The solution? A “disclosure meeting.” With the support of Matthew and his parents, the principal decided to explain his situation in a meeting with classmates. He explains his reasoning:

The disclosure meeting was based on the belief that we could nurture the middle schoolers’ innate compassion if we could help them to connect with Mathew’s emotional pain. As a psychologist, I have long been intrigued by a phenomenon that psychotherapists experience all the time but rarely talk about: Therapists don’t necessarily care about new patients who first walk into their office. Yet in nearly every situation, after the patient begins to talk about his or her deep suffering, something magical happens. The therapist quickly comes to care, and often times care a great deal, for this person. […]

But adolescents are famous for their self-centeredness. Were we hoping for too much from his classmates? Martha Snell, a professor of education at the University of Virginia, suggests that due to their stage of development, middle schoolers can barely help themselves from making fun of anyone who is different. She believes that those with disabilities are especially vulnerable.

However, my own experience with adolescents (and younger children as well) has shown that they tend to demonstrate great compassion to a child who is blind, in a wheelchair or has cancer. Their reactions are most likely to be insensitive and even brutal when the disability (such as depression or anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar, Tourette’s or Asperger’s) is hidden and misunderstood.

In bringing the hidden aspect of Asperger’s into the light and explaining how Matthew’s communication patterns worked differently, this principal hoped to teach his students an important lesson. The details of this “disclosure meeting” are beautifully written, carefully conceived and powerful, and I urge you to read them here.

The takeaways are just as critical. The principal describes important changes which continued to persist a whole after the meeting. The students were able to appreciate Matthew as a peer. They were instructed how to intervene in a sensitive manner when he inadvertently disrupted discussions in class, picked his nose or took up too much air time in a conversation. But now,  according to Rood, “the students’ intention was to help rather than harass him. This enabled Mathew to stay open and consider whether he wanted to change his behavior.”

Just as importantly, the other classmates’ behaviour changed as well. Matthew no longer ate alone in the cafeteria. The students took satisfaction in helping him find his way, rather than outing him for being different. Rood writes, “They had strengthened their connection to one another by establishing a new social norm: Acts of compassion were viewed as a sign of strength and character.”

Rood urges teachers not to attempt disclosure meetings such as this one on their own. They should be done only with the informed consent of the student and the his/her parents, as well as the active intervention of a school psychologist, guidance counsellor or social worker. Without proper handling, it is conceivable that a disclosure meeting could result in further isolation of the student in question. For more information, I would suggest the excellent accompanying toolkit for planning disclosure meetings.

Want to know more about disclosure for young people with disabilities and those who work with them? You can also download this comprehensive expanded resource The 411 on Disability Disclosure: A Workbook for Youth with Disabilities.

Anti-social media: What parents need to know about Ask.fm

Ask.fm postDo these jeans make me look fat? Does she really like me? Who are my real friends?

These are just some of the questions that get asked on ask.fm, a social media site that allows users to invite anonymous answers. Kids put those kinds of questions out there in the hopes that they will learn the “truth” from people who don’t feel compelled to spare their feelings.

They hope the “truth” turns out to be good news: No, you don’t look fat. Yes, she truly likes you. I am your real friend xoxo.

But too often, it doesn’t work out that way.

Freed by guarantees of anonymity and emboldened by the computer screen standing between them and the person they are hurting, kids can say terrible, hurtful things. Ask.fm is often involved in cyberbullying incidents — from casual cruelty to death threats. There have been a number of bullying-related suicides linked to use of the site, and one British family has released a public statement asking that the site be taken down following the suicide of their 16-year-old son.

Launched in 2010 as a rival to similar sites like Formspring and Honesty Box, Ask.fm has since surpassed them in popularity. The Latvian-based site reportedly has over 40 million members. The site can be linked to Facebook and Twitter, so questions can be posted to friends and followers. Ask.fm has courted controversy because it doesn’t have any of the reporting, tracking or parental control processes you can find on other social media sites. (Click to Tweet.)

Some schools in the UK and Hong Kong have sent out letters to parents advising them not to allow their children to use Ask.fm.

What do parents need to know?

  • Sites that allow anonymity reduce inhibitions. Kids who wouldn’t be cruel face-to-face and don’t get to see the consequences of their actions may feel justified saying hurtful things online.
  • Seriously consider telling your children they are not allowed to use Ask.fm. For more information, stories of bullying online and support from other parents dealing with the fallout from ask.fm-related incidents, check out this popular Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/AskFmShouldBeDeleted.
  • Whether you allow your child to use the site or not, have a conversation with them about civility online, flaming, and how anonymity might change how people act. 
  • If you choose to allow your child to use Ask.fm, show them how to use the privacy tab in their settings to block anonymous posts, so that all comments are linked to the names of account holders. 
  • Users can also create a blacklist to block comments and posts from those known to be cruel and/or aggressive online. 
  • If your child chooses to link Ask.fm with their Facebook account, they can adjust the settings in Facebook so that posts are seen by the following: public, friends, only me or custom settings (allowing them to choose specific friends). 
  • Supervise your kids’ activities online, especially on sites such as these. At minimum, you should have their username/ password and sit down with them once in a while to monitor what’s happening online. 
  • If your child is involved in a bullying incident on Ask.fm, tell them not to respond. The best option is to delete the app and account. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Ask.fm does not have any formal reporting mechanism, so you cannot get the perpetrator blocked by the site. 
  • For more information for parents about Ask.fm, consult this Webwise Guide.

 

Dignity, respect, manners & civility: An annotated list of bullying prevention resources for schools

RESPECTI hear a lot of difficult stories from the teachers, school principals and parents who attend my anti-bullying workshops, but the mom who approached me after an evening information session for parents this week has lingered in my mind. She was a single mom of three boys, two in high school and one in sixth grade. Her older boys had experienced a fair amount of harassment and bullying in school, she said, but they seem to be mostly handling it. It was her youngest that worried her.

“He’s such a quiet boy. Into books and computers. I’m terrified about what will happen to him next year when he starts high school,” she confided, recalling with tears in her eyes some of the abuse her older sons had endured. “I’m especially worried about the school bus. I’ve called the school in the past and nothing has changed.

“My older boys made it through OK, but my youngest? They are going to eat him alive.”

We spoke about how she might intervene with the school and transportation company. How Bill 56, Quebec’s new anti-bullying and anti-violence legislation, might provide parents and schools with new policy tools and protocols to help deal with these stories.

This story was fresh in my mind as I spent the following day at McGill University, facilitating a full-day working session on Bill 56 policy documents with a select group of principals, directors general, administrators, teachers, guidance counselors and resource people from English schools around the province.  This initiative was organized as a collaborative effort with MELS and the Office of Leadership in Community & International Initiatives (LCII, formerly CEL) and the Faculty of Education at McGill.

One of the requirements of the new legislation is that all schools put together an action plan to combat violence and bullying in their schools. And implementing prevention initiatives is to be a critical part of that action plans.

The 60-odd educational professionals brainstormed a list of some excellent prevention programs, ideas and initiatives, which I jotted down as a list. I’d like to share that list with you here, with links provided to resources wherever possible. I’ve also added a few of my own to the end. Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, it offers a snapshot of some excellent programs and ideas. Please feel free to let me know of any additional programs or protocols that have worked for you – I’ll be happy to add those in as well.

Some of the entries on this list are well-known formal programs, while others are suggestions for more short-term strategies or smaller things that can be done on a daily basis. It’s my sincere hope and fervent belief that a combination of formal programs and small, every-day strategies together can help keep many more of our children from dealing with bullying on a regular basis.

  • Olweus Bullying Prevention Program: Developed 35 years ago in Norway, this program is now established in schools around the world, and has emerged as a research-supported gold standard in the area of bullying prevention.
  • Pacific Path: This program aims to reduce violence in schools by encouraging social skills development and conflict resolution strategies in children 4-12 years old.
  • Second Step: Second Step is a classroom-based social-skills program for children 4 to 14 years of age that teaches socio-emotional skills aimed at reducing impulsive and aggressive behavior while increasing social competence. The program consists of in-school curricula, parent training, and skill development.
  • CommonSenseMedia.org: This site is chock full of resources for educators, parents and kids. Lesson plans on bullying include “Screen out the mean,” “The power of words,” “Cyberbullying: Be Upstanding,” “Reality of digital drama” and more.
  • Special Needs Anti-Bullying Toolkit: Students with special needs are at far greater risk for being bullied. This toolkit looks at why this is the case, and what educators, parents and students can do to prevent and/or deal with bullying issues.
  • PREVNet(Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network): This umbrella network of 65 leading Canadian research scientists, more than 90 graduate students, and 52 youth-serving organizations maintains as its mission the prevention of bullying and promotion of safe, healthy relationships for Canadian youth.
  • Don’t Laugh At Me (Operation Respect): DLAM is designed to inspire students, along with their teachers and other educators, to transform their classrooms and schools into “Ridicule Free Zones”. The program materials include a curriculum guide, CD, video and pre-and-post implementation questionnaires for both schools and summer camps. The school program consists of two separate curricula; one developed for grades 2-5 and the second developed for grades 6-8.
  • Stand up! (Be a friend!): An initiative of www.bullying.org with a variety of activities for an Anti-Bullying Week at school.
  • Finding Kind: A documentary, movement and school program aimed at encouraging kindness (and discouraging relational aggression) among girls.
  • Tribes: This research-based, whole-school program builds Tribes Learning Communities in schools around the world. Lesson plans, teaching resources, posters and videos round out a program at teaching collaborative behavior and respect in children.
  • Bullying.org: This association offers educational programs and resources to individuals, families, educational institutions and organizations. This includes online learning and educational resources in order to help people deal effectively and positively with the act of bullying and its long-lasting negative consequences.
  • TeachingTolerance.org: This project of the Southern Poverty Law Centre includes resources on a wide variety of subjects, including bullying. There are teaching kits, lesson plans and educational resources for professional development.
  • Dr. Gordon Neufeld talks about “What Makes a Bully” in this informative video, which suggests that some empathy training may actually backfire when bullies feel validated learning of the hurt they have caused.
  • Character Counts!: A character education program with training and resources for educators.
  • Sunburst.com: This organization offers online learning programs related to cyberbullying as part of their SimpleK12 offerings, called “Protecting Students in the 21st Century.”
  • Fluppy: A program designed to teach pro-social behaviors to preschool children.
  • Face It – intervention theatre production offered by Théâtre Parminou.
  • Organizing workshops and awareness sessions for parents and teachers. Check out RiskWithinReason’s presentations called “Beyond Sticks and Stones: What Parents/ Teachers Need to Know About Bullying.”
  • Define The Line: Excellent resources on cyberbullying for educators, parents and students.
  • Connect For Respect: The U.S. National PTA has put together this prevention program to involve parents in school initiatives to prevent bullying.
  • BeWebAware: This Media Awareness Network site offers resources for educators and parents on promoting cybersafety and digital citizenship.
  • Develop an accessible social media policy for students and staff at your school. Check out this template here for how to get started.
  • Developing an excellent Code of Conduct for students and staff, written in accessible language.
  • Integrating key concepts of dignity, respect, manners and civility in existing curriculum through books, theatre, videos, classroom projects, etc. (check out the NFB’s Bully Dance animated short and accompanying Teacher’s Guide).
  • Visits with pro-social messages by sports figures (such as the Alouettes).
  • Organizing sessions with officers from your local police station.
  • Sensitizing staff to issues related to bullying, handling bullying incidents, re-integrating students involved in bullying.
  • Secret friends: An informal program concept linking compassionate student volunteers with counterparts who have been bullied, to aid social re-integration.
  • Students trained as peace ambassadors for their peers.
  • Public recognition of outstanding citizens in the school community (in an assembly, with certificates, etc.).
  • Focusing on self-esteem and self-confidence in an ethics class.
  • Hiring character education consultants as resource professionals in the school.
  • Nominating a student of the week.
  • And last but not least, this outstanding Resource Manual on School-Based Violence Prevention Programs from the University of Calgary assesses 29 different bullying and violence prevention programs according to their objectives and research support.