Wadson Michel is the super-cool, multi-lingual child-therapist-turned-school-administrator who serves as Assistant to the Principal at the Healey School in Somerville, MA. This morning he and the Prinicipal Mike Sabin talked a little about the anti-bullying efforts Michel heads.
One important thing to understand, as so many other experts also point out, is that by far the group of students most effective in squelching bullying at school is the group known as bystanders: those who are neither bullying nor being bullied at any given time, but simply being used by the bully as an audience. Michel & Sabin and their staff teach students throughout the school that if they witness bullying, they need not confront the bully. They are to find a way to extract the victim from the scene, “Hey I have to show you this…!” even with a gentle hand on the target child’s arm if it helps the student feel empowered to cooperate and leave the bully standing alone. Bystanders are not encouraged to confront the bully.
School wide, teachers are being trained to use Open Circle and Second Step programs to foster empathy and mutual respect, important in all schools, but perhaps especially in multicultural settings where misunderstandings can play a greater role in hurt feelings. They also have a mediator on-site for more subtle and yet sometimes more painful cases of social exclusion-type bullying to recreate individual trust and empathy.
Michel emphasized that kids do need to report bullying incidents. He is helping students distinguish play in which everyone is having fun from activities in which only one side is having fun. Sabin said the bully needs to receive a punishment, but that is more a message of justice and the school’s refusal to tolerate bullying. Punishing a bully is not effective in stopping that particular individual’s bullying behavior. Education and training in social competency is what’s needed. This reminds me of Marshall Rosenberg‘s assertion that everything we do is an attempt to get our needs met; the need a bully may be trying to meet shouldn’t be judged in and of itself. Sometimes we all could use better and more effective strategies to meet our needs.