Only You Can Prevent Bullying

Bullying

Credit: http://flic.kr/p/dRjXgk, Inf-Lite Teacher

In grades K-12, 1 in 7 students is either a bully or a target of bullying.  Whether it’s a post on social media, constant refusal to include a peer at lunch or messing up a locker, bullying hurts others and definitely does not show love towards fellow image bearers of God.  We don’t like it and know that it’s wrong but what can we do about it by ourselves, really?  I mean, sometimes we may have a hunch that a student is bullying or being bullied but we really can’t prove it.  Or, other times, it seems like we are the only one who wants to address it.

While comprehensive bullying prevention is best done in the context of the whole school community, where the atmosphere and expectations are the same across all situations and people involved, there are a few ways that you can proactively address bullying on your own at home or church.  The following suggestions were adapted from information provided on stopbullying.gov.

Talk about bullying with kids.

We, as adults, need to help kids understand which behaviors constitute bullying and what to do about it.  You could point out what they can do or say to stand up to bullying, like “Stop” or “That’s enough”.  Also, encourage them to get help for themselves or others by talking to adults about the situation.

BullyingPSA

For conversation starters with your children or class, use this 30-second PSA, “I Will Not be Bullied!” from the American Association for People with Disabilities and the downloadable tool-kit to get them thinking deeper about bullying.

Communicate often. 

When we talk with kids on a regular basis about what is happening in their lives they will feel comfortable to come to us with sensitive topics like bullying.  It’s important that we build trust with them by listening to their views and opinions on school, friends, and activities.  Then, we are able to talk openly by asking questions like “What do you usually do when you see bullying happening?” or “Why do you think someone might bully another?”   And kids will be more likely to see us as a trusted resource when they are being bullied.

Encourage kids to pursue their interests.

Teamwork

Credit: http://flic.kr/p/asmDJZ, USAG-Humphreys

When kids are involved in activities that they enjoy it provides an opportunity to build relationships and grow in confidence.  This builds resilience and can protect from bullying.

Be a positive role model

The old adage that behaviors and values are “caught not taught” still rings true.  When we treat people with kindness and respect, kids see it and are more likely to engage in similar behavior.

Using these ideas can help to reduce bullying towards and by those children with which you have the most contact, and can further your mission of helping them grow in Christ-likeness.  CLC Network also provides professional development to help your school put a comprehensive framework into place in order to become a safer community for all children. Please visit clcnetwork.org for more information.

Beth HarmonBeth Harmon is a School Psychologist at CLC Network, where she enjoys the “ah ha” moment when a parent or teacher gains an understanding of why a child learns or behaves in a certain way. She loves being the advocate to help the adults in a child’s life appreciate the uniqueness of and love the child even more.  

How to Recognize Bullying

Alone on the Bus

Credit: Woodleywonderworks http://flic.kr/p/5wx7Ta

Everyone wants to fit in and be accepted by those around them.  But for kids like Joey and Anita this remains a dream.  Anita, who has cerebral palsy, is taunted by classmates whenever she has to run in P.E.  And Joey, a second grader, is told every morning as he gets on the school bus, that there is no room for him to sit near his classmates.  The outcome of this bullying is that they are at risk socially, academically and emotionally; and through no fault of their own.

But how do we know it’s bullying and not just “kids being kids”?
Well, the four guiding principles are:

  1. Is the behavior occurring over and over?
  2. Is it aggressive?
  3. Is there intent to harm?
  4. And, is there an imbalance of power?

It’s also helpful to keep in mind that bullying can take many forms, such as excluding someone from a social group, physical harm, spreading rumors, or making verbal threats.  It can happen in the classroom, on the playground, in hallways, at home, or online.

But how can a parent or teacher recognize that the bullying is happening? 

Experts estimate that there is no intervention in approximately 85% of bullying incidences, often because adults are unaware that they are occurring.  However, there are signs to watch for; here are just a few:

  • Kids change their eating, or relational patterns.  Are kids suddenly ravenous when they get home from school?  Maybe someone is taking their lunch or interfering in their ability to eat during lunch time.
  • School performance plummets.  Assignments aren’t turned in, grades go down.  It‘s possible that someone is taking homework or repeatedly asking for “help” on their own assignments.
  • Personal property keeps getting “lost”.  Repeated destruction of personal property is also considered bullying.

The good news is that with parents and school personnel working together, kids can be safer and be ready to succeed academically and relationally.  We offer an in-service on how schools can create a proactive structure and atmosphere to reduce and address bullying incidences.  With everyone working towards the same goal, ALL students can be fully included. Later this week, I’ll share some tips on preventing bullying – stay tuned!

Beth HarmonBeth Harmon is a School Psychologist at CLC Network, where she enjoys the “ah ha” moment when a parent or teacher gains an understanding of why a child learns or behaves in a certain way. She loves being the advocate to help the adults in a child’s life appreciate the uniqueness of and love the child even more.  

Anxiety in the Classroom

It’s a new year…so what is there to worry about??

Now that we have made it through another packed holiday season (some of us while trudging through wicked winter weather), we can finally settle down and look forward to rolling into the school routine once again.  And that should be comforting…right?  But for many of us, especially the kids, it’s not.  So let’s take a minute to consider what “worry” looks like in our students and then let’s use our fresh 2014 brains to come up with a few new ways to help.

First of all, here’s a list of behaviors that might mean your students are worried (even if they don’t say it out loud):

Girl at Desk

Credit: Elizabeth Albert, http://flic.kr/p/8BGu5p

  • “deer in headlights” look on their face
  • tries to avoid school by reporting aches and pains that are not real
  • frequent requests to go to the bathroom
  • seems really “cranky” in the morning before school and also on Sunday night
  • cries or tantrums in class, especially on test days
  • stands alone on the playground
  • intense and rigid reliance on rules, tattles or says “it’s not fair” a lot
  • perfectionism

OK, that was a very long list.  And I bet most of us grownups, as well as our kids, have engaged in many of those behaviors more than a few times.  That might be totally normal, but it might not.  If those behaviors are so frequent or severe that they make it hard to be productive, or hard to keep our relationships healthy, or hard to have fun…we need to find professional help.

In the meantime, here are some strategies that we as teachers and parents can try any day to relieve the worry.  Go ahead, give a few of these a try;

Teacher helping student

  • get to know your students individually early in the year
  • help your students relax before a test by using deep breathing or stretching activities
  • maintain a peaceful and predictable classroom environment
  • provide accommodations in a subtle and respectful way, giving choices when possible
  • be consistent with your home/school communication, reporting both strengths and difficulties
  • engage in academic “time-in” by having your students complete educationally relevant activities that are easy and fun for him or her (e.g. word searches, math puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, drawing, Rubik’s Cube, etc.) for a few minutes each day
  • smile

So now that you think about it, there may be stuff to worry about in this shiny, new year.  Especially if you are a student who struggles with academics and with friends at school.  But the great news is that there are lots of things to do about that and most of them don’t cost money or take a lot of time.  I don’t know if you are sick of the whole “new year resolution” thing, but I would challenge you to make one right now.  And it may go something like this;

“I will make an extra effort to notice my students who might be worrying too much and I will do one new thing to try to make them feel better.”

Happy 2014!

Sherri Rozema photoSherri Rozema, Ph.D. is a School Psychologist at CLC Network where she enjoys working with individual students to study their strengths and difficulties, and THEN working with parents and teachers as a team to improve their school experiences. 

 

How One Filmmaker Looks at Inclusion for His Son

Recently I had the opportunity to watch Including Samuel, a 58-minute documentary by filmmaker Dan Habib about his young son who has cerebral palsy.  It’s a really well-made film, exploring the potential and the challenges of inclusion from Mr. Habib’s perspective as a parent. DVD Cover

I was struck by the number of questions the film raises, but doesn’t necessarily answer.  Perhaps that is what makes the story so appealing—no two people are going to have the same answers.  The film introduces you to four different people, each with their own set of abilities and disabilities, and each with their own experiences of inclusion for good or bad.

The questions Habib raises—does inclusion work? Why or why not?—depend so greatly on the people involved.  We meet Keith Jones, a disability rights advocate, who struggled to get the education he wanted due to his cerebral palsy.  We meet the principal of a school where inclusion is the norm, and seems to work.  We also meet a student and the teachers at a school just beginning inclusion, with lots of questions and concerns about its success.

For a staff member at CLC Network, an organization devoted to helping schools be as successful as possible at serving all of their students, it’s not easy to watch a student and teachers struggle through the early stages of inclusion as shown so apparently in this film.  I just want to give them every encouragement to stick with it.

But, we then meet a young woman who thrived more successfully in a segregated environment than in her formerly inclusive school.  We certainly can’t deny what’s best for her.  Each person is different, and their needs are not going to be the same.

Even though this film was not created with or from a Christian perspective, you can easily see the love for Samuel in his family and community.  If his inclusive school was not an option, I think we can all agree that a lot of people would have missed out on knowing this child.

To see a preview of this film, click here.  You can also view a great follow-up piece about Samuel’s school and family here. CLC Network is not associated with Dan Habib or Including Samuel.  Please note this film may include offensive language.

Dombrowski photoElizabeth Lucas Dombrowski is the advancement director at CLC Network. Learn more about inclusive education on our website.

An Inclusive Congregation – Changes Our Church Made to Welcome All

Our friend, Michael Sherriff from Parkside Community Church (Westwood, New Jersey) saw a need within his church to welcome and include people with disabilities in their congregation. Last February, he applied for and received our free G.L.U.E. (Giving, Loving, Understanding and Encouraging) Training Manual and DVD and soon set out to organize an inclusion training day for volunteer members of his church. Michael shared with us some of the immediate and long-term changes Parkside Community Church made to welcome people with all levels of ability.

Parkside Congregation

Parkside Congregation

One immediate change was to invite everyone to read Scripture during church services. Our participation in reading Scripture during worship has been embraced with more enthusiasm than I ever expected. I’m not sure our pastor even planned on receiving such a large response. Parkside Community Church is a relatively small congregation with Sunday attendance averaging between 30 – 50 people. The list of participants just started their second round of reading about 2 months ago. In the planning stage, my pastor mentioned that anyone 13 years old or older who could read could sign up to read during worship. I disagreed as that was not the intention; anyone from infancy or older should be able to read during the service if they are led to participate. I promised to assist anyone in whatever capacity was needed to allow each person the chance to read Scripture during service.

Scripture doesn’t need to be spoken perfectly for us to hear, because really, what we are hearing is not what Jesus hears. What matters more is what we are sincerely offering to Jesus from the heart. The Scripture text is emailed or handed out a week in advance. It is also printed in large print and left on the lectern where the reading takes place. This proactive approach has yielded positive results by helping participants prepare prior to their opportunity to read scripture. On the other hand, there are some folks in the congregation who still struggle with the idea of reading scripture due to their anxiety and fear. I am praying with time we can encourage and work with them to get involved because the barriers of exclusion are constantly being broken down.

Another way we have met people’s unique needs is by switching over to a large print bulletin (as opposed to our folded 8½ x 11 bulletin). This larger bulletin has a larger font size, making it easier for everyone to read. We did not want to single any person out by offering some a large print, while others received regular bulletins. As a result, everyone at a Sunday service receives this new bulletin.

In addition to the announcements listed in the bulletin, we now also display them on the screen at the end of service while Pastor Rodney shares them with the congregation. People are less likely to get distracted by this visual reinforcement.  We hope this will be helpful for persons with invisible disabilities such as ADHD.

We also wanted to express God’s love to the greater Westwood community. Pastor Rodney approached me about a local recreation program for children with different levels of abilities. We decided to partner with this community program by providing scholarships so families who lacked the funds could participate. Pastor Rodney said he was truly blessed when he showed up at the recreational meeting and presented the check for the scholarships.

G.L.U.E. Training Manual and DVD

Since presenting the G.L.U.E. training, I have seen a desire from both the church leadership and the congregation to become more inclusive. I have seen a majority of the congregation experience a transformation in their own attitudes. The result is a desire for more training and people willing to embrace the G.L.U.E. model of Giving, Loving, Understanding and Encouraging.

For me, the best outcome from the G.L.U.E. training was it started a necessary conversation. I feel most people believe it will be expensive to embrace inclusion. But, we have been able to implement very low or no cost solutions with positive outcomes to further welcome everyone and become more inclusive as a larger community. The G.L.U.E. materials are presented and supported throughout with strong Biblical principles. In addition, participants learned to recognize how each person is a piece of the larger puzzle and is therefore, crucial in the kingdom of God.

From the G.L.U.E. process, I believe we are better equipped moving forward and asking the right questions:

For example, what does it mean to be accessible, inclusive and mission- driven within our own community? What blessings has the church been missing by not recognizing the principles taught throughout the G.L.U.E. process? Can we welcome and bless more individuals throughout the community by understanding each person’s inherent value in the Kingdom of God? Can the church continue to move forward and eliminate multiple stereotypes and barriers which prevent individuals from worship?

With the CLC Network and their G.L.U.E. training curriculum, I was able to provide answers to these questions in a comprehensive manner. The program is accompanied by a wealth of resources and tools which has helped me to implement the G.L.U.E. process.

Michael Sheriff IMGMichael Sheriff is the disability concerns regional advocate for the Greater Palisades Classis and local advocate for Parkside Community Church.