I know you’re going to call me naive. I know you’re going to say that simple solutions to complex problems can do more harm than good. I’m even reminded of a mental health professional who remarked that the ‘Just Say No” campaign to battle teenage substance abuse was like trying to battle the problem of homelessness by giving everyone a button saying “Just Buy A Home”. This would certainly hold true when speaking of dealing with bullies. But I’m going to throw it out there anyhow.
So much has been written about bullying in schools. I fully understand that the issue is a deep and complex one that has been addressed by those far more experienced and qualified than I. However, I do know that in at least some instances the problem is the result of the approach we, as school administrators, take.
In a past blog post, I wrote of a general rule I use regarding student learning. It read: Students will rise or fall to the level of communicated expectations. While the rule targeted learning and knowledge goals, it is just as effective regarding student behavior. Slightly adapted it would read: You get the behaviors you accept. Let me illustrate with a true story.
While principal of a school in Los Angeles, I instituted a policy which instructed parents who were inviting girls from the class to a birthday party, to make sure to invite all the girls in the class, to ensure that no one felt left out. (This directive applied once more that two girls were invited.) A few weeks after transferring to our school, a student’s parents received a phone call from me requesting their presence in my office by the end of the day, as their daughter was in danger of being expelled. Within the hour, they rushed to see what their child could have possibly done to warrant such a severe punitive action. I met with them immediately and asked them if they knew of our birthday policy, which had been clearly stated in our student guide. They answered in the affirmative. I then told them that I had heard that their daughter had only invited a small group of girls to a private party and asked them why they had ignored our rule. They looked at me like I was crazy. “For this you dragged us out of work and threatened to expel our daughter?” When I answered in the affirmative, they stormed out of my office. That night I received an email from the parents. I was expecting to hear a tirade about my deficient principal skills (gee, tell me something I don’t know) and informing me of the pending lawsuit alleging mental anguish. I was pleasantly surprised to read the following, “Thank you for your concern. Now we know we picked the right school for our daughter.”
Sure, what I did was extreme, but it clearly communicated my expectations. I was simply not going to accept having a child left out. One of our first steps when joining the battle against bullyingis to ensure that we communicate to our entire school community that in our school we will not accept it! Cyber bullies, classroom bullies, playground bullies, birthday invitation bullies, are not welcome in our school. Just say, no way. We effectively communicate when we ‘walk the talk’, if not, they know it’s just another campaign that will go away when people stop complaining.