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September 9, 2013

On this Bus…

Image: Flickr/Jeff Meyer

Image: Flickr/Jeff Meyer

On this Bus…

It was on a bus that my family was introduced first-hand to bullying. My son, riding home with a friend, was the target because of his red hair. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that when I found out my son was punched in the face for the color of his hair, I almost came unglued. In the end, however, the punch in the face, was minor compared to the punch in the gut we all felt when we came face to face with the lack of action on the part of two groups: the other kids on the bus and the school administrators.

Bullying is a complex subject and I won’t pretend to fully address every angle possible in this article. My son was involved in a single occurrence; others are targets for years. There is verbal bullying, physical bullying, and cyber bullying. Some adults intervene beautifully, while others turn a blind eye.

Given the fact that bullying has been discussed ad nauseam for quite a few years, here’s the question I want to answer in this article: What can we as adults (parents, teachers, administrators, etc.) do differently to lead our kids?
One of the major responsibilities that we have as adults is the structure that we set for our children. Whether we are parents, teachers, or bus drivers, we are responsible to our children for the environment that we create. While we don’t have control over our children’s behavior (like it or not), we do have control over the structure of their environment and the administration of consequences. Because of this, we have the opportunity to set a positive tone in our home, classroom, or bus. Here are a few specifics on how to set a positive tone in your environment.
Check your language. One of my biggest pet peeves with the Anti-Bullying Campaign is the language that’s used. Repeatedly, kids are told “Don’t bully,” “No bullying,” “Don’t be a bully.”
Let me ask you, “What are you thinking about when you’re told over and over to not bully?” You’re thinking about bullying! Unfortunately, the incessant talk of bullying actually has the potential to increase the very behavior we are seeking to diminish! It’s like telling someone to NOT think about a pink elephant. Well, guess what? They’re going to think about a pink elephant! Instead, we need to be informing students about the behavior that we want to see rather than what we don’t want to see. This leads directly in to the next point.

Communicate clearly your expectations.  “This is our bus.  And on this bus, we treat each other with kindness and respect. Now when you step off of this bus, I don’t know how you’re going to act. When you go home or go to your classroom, you might act differently, but on this bus, we are kind and considerate.”

In his book The Essential 55, award-winning teacher Ron Clark says it is important to let kids know what is expected of them.  “It’s unrealistic to expect kids to automatically behave exactly as you hope they will. Kids are kids, and many actions that may seem like common sense to us will seem foreign to them. I have found that no matter who the child is, if you explain exactly what you want from him and exactly how you hope he will act, then he will try his best to perform up to your standards.” (p. 166) Apparently, Mr. Clark knows that of which he speaks. Not only does he start each year by explaining his 55 rules to each new classroom of students, but he has seen the positive effects of clearly teaching proper behavior. Part of that teaching includes role-playing, a helpful way for kids to immediately practice what they are learning.

So clearly communicate your expectations. Create scenarios and allow the kids to practice appropriate behavior. If you don’t tell them what they expect, it’s more difficult to hold them accountable.

Create a family environment.  Look at the “on this bus” quote above. Do you notice how there’s a sense of camaraderie, a sense of family? It’s like saying, “Other families may tear each other down, but in our home, we build one another up.” It’s important to create an environment in which kids know that they belong, that they are part of the group. When we treat others in a harsh or rude manner, it affects the whole group. This can directly impact their sense of responsibility when they see someone being bullied. If expectations are clearly communicated and they believe that they are part of a group, they are more likely to intervene and stick up for the target of the bully. Unfortunately, we often see bystanders experience a “diffusion of responsibility.” In other words, they don’t individually feel any responsibility. Each person bears a small part of the responsibility and therefore no one is responsible. Instead, if the adults encourage a sense of belonging, then the children will want to stick up for those in their group. They will have more of a brotherly or sisterly concern for their classmates.

Follow through with appropriate consequences. The word “consequence” is usually interpreted to mean “punishment,” but it’s important to understand that it simply means the result or effect of something that has already occurred. I raise this issue because too often people dish out consequences for inappropriate behavior but not for good behavior. Here’s a challenge for you: look for both, but focus on the good behavior. If you’ve set an environment where you expect your students to be kind and respectful of others, then you must absolutely discipline when those rules are broken, and it should be quick and clear. In other words, the consequence needs to happen as soon after the offense as possible and it should be clear to the child exactly what their offense was. But don’t stop there! Be on the lookout for children who are being kind and respectful and extend a “consequence” to those children as well. Perhaps they get a special treat or privilege, but make sure it is celebrated so that all of the students can take note. As a mentor of mine says, “Whatever you celebrate, grows.” Do you want to grow kindness and respect on your bus? Then celebrate it. Do you want your students to be responsible and mannerly? Then celebrate it.
As the adults in our communities, children are looking to us for direction and encouragement. Let’s not let them down! Let’s lead them in creating an environment where bullying takes a back seat to respect, kindness, and encouragement.

One thought on “On this Bus…

  1. GREAT article, Sarah! I completely agree that we need to teach our kids what we want to see, not just what we don’t want to see. So sorry about your son’s experience.

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