District Administration October 2017 - 62

ProfessionalOpinion
Summer of unrest
brought teachable moments
Schools must collaborate with students to spread civility
By Nancy Willard

T

he summer break was far from
idyllic, marked by demonstrations, marches and even deadly
violence across the country. For school
leaders, fostering a positive school climate for returning students must be a
high priority.
In these troubling times, schools
must place the highest priority on becoming an oasis of kindness and respect
for all of our nation's young people.
A huge problem in fostering a positive school climate is the failed efforts
over the last decade to "prevent bullying." What schools are trying to do to
prevent bullying appears to have had
almost no positive impact.
Misperceptions about bullying
As was set forth in a recent National
Research Council report (DAmag.me/
nam) on bullying, there is an inaccurate
understanding of the nature of bullying
behavior. The common wisdom is that
bullies are at-risk students who have
other challenges. While these students
do engage in aggression, they are not
the main actors.
The primary source of hurtful
behavior, especially at the secondary
level, is a set of socially skilled, popular
students who are hurtful as they try to
establish social dominance. These students denigrate those who they consider
"deviant." They also engage in battles
with those they perceive as rivals for
dominance, status and romantic part-

DAmag.me/rest

62 October 2017

The common wisdom is
that bullies are at-risk
students who have other
challenges, but they are
not the main actors.
ners. They are compliant with staff, who
often consider these students "leaders."
Changing this behavior requires an
empowering, positive-social-norms approach that emphasizes being kind and
respectful as the path to a position of
school leadership.
The second huge problem are state
anti-bullying statutes that dictate a
"rules and punishment" approach. But
research demonstrates the ineffectiveness of this philosophy. Schools that
function in an authoritarian, rules-based
manner often have higher levels of bullying and other violence. A majority of
students don't report hurtful incidents
because they don't think it will help or
they fear things will get worse-and
evidence supports this.
On top of these concerns is the
fact that schools are under pressure to
reduce suspension rates and must file
annual reports of disciplinary code violations. What appears to be happening,
however, is that principals are declining
to designate incidents as "bullying"
under the strict statutory definition. As
a result, students who seek assistance
are left feeling even more helpless and
hopeless. And yes, this appears to be
contributing to increased chronic absences and youth suicide.

Positive steps
It is essential that schools switch from
bullying prevention to ensuring positive climate by follow these tips:
* Focus on the positive objective
of embracing civility, rather than preventing bullying. Launch a "Kindness
Campaign" to encourage respect.
* Collaborate with students to
promote the positive social norms
displayed by the majority of school
population.
* Recruit students who have a
natural drive for leadership and who
are kind and respectful to drive civility campaigns. Ensure your leadership
team includes students from minority
populations.
* Empower students who have been
bullied by building their self-confidence and social skills. Trust that these
students can gain the strength, insight
and skills to make positive change.
* Be prepared to offer more intensive interventions and support to
chronically targeted and marginalized
students who behave hurtfully.
* Ensure staff members know how
to respond when they witness a hurtful
situation or if one is reported to them.
More serious, ongoing hurtful situations require a full investigation, use
of restorative approaches, intensive
support for any involved student, and
follow-up to ensure effectiveness. It
is also essential to assess and correct
any aspects of the school climate that
may be supporting continuing hurtful
behavior. DA
Nancy Willard is the director of Embrace
Civility in the Digital Age.
District Administration


http://www.DAmag.me/nam http://www.DAmag.me/nam http://www.DAmag.me/rest

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of District Administration October 2017

District Administration October 2017 - Cover1
District Administration October 2017 - Cover2
District Administration October 2017 - 1
District Administration October 2017 - 2
District Administration October 2017 - 3
District Administration October 2017 - 4
District Administration October 2017 - 5
District Administration October 2017 - 6
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District Administration October 2017 - Cover3
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