A million years ago, when I was a teacher, I was on the school’s Behavior Management committee and we worked on a new school wide plan to curb some not so lovely behaviors. We didn’t call it anti-bullying and we didn’t purchase some “kit” that costs thousands of dollars. We just set about creating standards and lessons that emphasized character development, kindness and self-esteem and we did it in a way that encompassed the entire community in a uniform way. The expectations for behavior were clear and agreed upon and the supports were in place to encourage that behavior and to discipline should expectations not be met.
It was hard and there was resistance all over the place. But I noticed, over the years that I remained there that the overall vibe of the school got better. Kids were happier and felt safer which meant teachers were more able to do their jobs and parents were satisfied with all of it.
It was hard. But, for the most part, it worked.
On Monday I had the opportunity to attend a roundtable discussion at CBS studios to discuss Bullying. The table consisted of some pretty impressive bloggers (still not sure how I snuck in) and the team behind the 48 Hours special that will air tonight at 8PM Eastern. The special 48 Hours: Bullying, Words Can Kill was led by an dynamic team which included Sr. Executive Producer Susan Zirinsky and Reporter Tracy Smith from CBS. They spent six months inside Birchwood Middle School in Rhode Island where they were facing the bullying problem head on.
I had the pleasure to meet Lisa Cagno a parent at Birchwood Middle whose son Johnny was a victim of such bullying and his case is credited with spurring the school into action. I also met Liz Vachon, the Social Worker at Birchwood that created the program that started down the path of change so desperately needed.
In person, Liz and Lisa were candid, honest and very obviously tough as nails. I was impressed with everything they said and all that they have done for their kids. Susan Zirinsky and Tracy Smith came at this project with the perfect level of integrity and compassion that quite honestly, I often wonder about still existing in television today. They both were very vocal about how they wanted to portray the truth about bullying but remain careful of the kids and families that were the focus of their special. I was so impressed with them both and everyone involved with this episode, that I was even more honored to have shared their table.
The round table discussion was stimulating although I’m sad to say, not too surprising as I’ve spent enough time in schools to know how ugly it can get. I was happy with the hope that Liz and Lisa brought to the table by showing that at least one school is willing to take it on, for the sake of their kids. The two things that came through loud and clear from everyone there:
- If we want to curb this behavior, it’s going to take all of us-teachers, students, parents, community members, coaches etc. Bullying can’t be fought by one person alone.
- It would be a heck of a lot more effective if we taught kids compassion, empathy and communication skills early, so that we don’t have to back track after they’ve already headed down the wrong path with all of these things.
Bullying is a problem for everyone. Kids may not be telling you, but it is happening in their school and they may even be part of it. Be present. Be aware. Be on top of them. We owe it to our kids.
I strongly encourage watching tonight’s 48 Hours special. It’s meant for adult eyes as there are some sensitive issues addressed. Watch it first before sharing it with your kids. But watch it, then do something, it’s never too early to start.
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