Throughout the school year I visit a variety of schools and organizations to share my take on bullying. My workshop is unique as it has students holding an honesty mirror up to themselves as a community, and they have fun doing it! After an informative presentation, students perform scenes reflecting how their unique community treats one another (when adults aren’t around!). Nobody needs to know how to act to participate. Everyone is included.
In February, I had the great pleasure of visiting Edith Cavell Elementary School in Vancouver, leading 65 grade 6/7s in my Anti-Bullying in Action half day workshop. Apparently, there are a few ‘bullies’ in the group and their negative actions need to be stopped but, as we know, this is easier said than done. Like I always say, wearing a Pink Shirt or passing a sign with a No Bully Zone message doesn’t do all that much to change the ‘bully’. It’s not that the ‘bully’ is bad, but that they have some trouble understanding what a healthy relationship looks like.
I ask every group, ‘who here wants happiness?’ And, yes, you guessed it – everyone raises their hand. Then, I let them know about studies proving that happiness comes from living a life of purpose and of fostering healthy connections. As social creatures, when we contribute to our communities, and are focused on improving our relationships, we are happier. This ‘bullying’ behaviour is not a normal stage they’re going through – but an ineffective way of relating to others by establishing power in hurtful ways. This is no way to make real friends or gain popularity.
These purported ‘bullies’ simply won’t be happy if they continue to behave this way.
We discuss how their behaviour goes deeper than the playground. It’s about family of origin communication habits, with blaming, and some finger pointing. A lack of effort/skills to slow down, ask questions, and better understand one another. There’s also trauma, past and present, that any young person can be secretly and worse- shamefully going through. Schools tend to rally around kids in need but it can be super challenging when the child is angry and defiant. Acting and playing and honestly talking about the way we all get along can be an easy way to have kids really learn about their social and emotional intelligence.
Let’s be clear – this work takes courage.
Kids observe their own behaviour by improvising bullying scenarios (provided by students beforehand so that the stories truly mirror their community). As a community, they figure out what they could do if they were to face the hurtful event in their scene. I am convincing them, all the while, that they DO have the POWER to put a stop to the bullying if they so choose. One kid was of a kid who’s always being taunted with a special name for being a little different (eccentric, if you will). What does the rest of the school community do? Stand by? In most cases, they do (even though it makes them feel bad too!). But, in my workshop, I coax them into safely trying to defuse the bullying and to support the ‘victim’. The hope is that when confronted with similar circumstances in the future, they’ll step up and do/say something to the bully, and will support the victim in some of the ways we figure out during the workshop.
They provide the new rules of behaviour.
It makes sense, since they’re the ones who’ll enforce them.
This group of enthusiastic students were game. They acted! They shared! Some students even shed a few tears expressing their outrage that some kids are so hurtful to them and that they just don’t know why. These ‘bullies’ won’t simply go away, so it’s incumbent on the adults to effectively (and lovingly) educate, confront, and empower them to be better versions of themselves.
This is how you empower youth to take care of one another when we adults aren’t around.
Relationship skills, and contributing positively to all of our communities, is the path to true, authentic happiness.
Shouldn’t we be giving this life lesson to all young people?
Testimonial from Edith Cavell Teacher Liisa House: The. Best. Workshop. I wanted the whole afternoon just to process all that was coming to the surface for these kids. Awesome! Kids want all students to have that opportunity!
Contact me to discuss a visit with your school community: Jodi@imperativeeducation.org