Whether or not bullying is a problem in your classroom, you should keep anecdotal records of students’ behavior. If you have students who are or who might become potential bullies, anecdotal records are even more important. If a student has more than one teacher, each teacher should keep behavioral logs, and they should be compared from time-to-time. Why is this so important? When parent meetings are conducted, a parent will usually confront the anecdotals from one teacher, but if more than one teacher has similar anecdotal records, the information presented will be viewed more legitimately by the parent. Often, a parent will view a negative one-on-one conference with a teacher subjectively and believe that the teacher is picking on his/her kid or worse yet, that the teacher really doesn’t like his/her kid. As an aside, parent meetings should always be held with more than one teacher present. If that’s not possible, an administrator or guidance counselor should be present for support. Never try to go at it alone with the parent of a student who is a bully.
Kids who have conduct problems should not be confused with kids who have Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Kids with this disorder are lacking an important piece of their personality: a conscience. These kids say and do things and can justify and defend their position to a point where it almost makes sense to others. Pretty disturbing. This kid can, at times, make you believe that when they bullied someone, the victim deserved the treatment. They lack empathy and have little or no remorse for their actions. They are truly anti-social and everyday are moving closer to becoming the adult sociopaths that makes the news for committing cruel and bizarre acts in society. He/she needs to be helped right now. His actions need to be watched and documented. He/she needs a combination of consequence and compassion, with the goal of helping him/her develop a greater regard for the rights and privileges of others (respect). Make no mistake about it; this kid has the potential to be dangerous. Accept no excuses, keep a balanced approach (consequence and compassion), don’t feel sorry for him, and help him/her change what may already be made up in his/her mind.
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Bullies and victims suffer from clinical issues all the time. Depression, anxiety, and mood swings all are part of the bully/ victim dynamic. As these issues become more and more obvious, the natural tendency of parents and educators is to lower their expectations and modify the school environment to reduce academic and behavioral pressure. This may not be the best idea. Kids who already feel less-than-adequate and are suffering from a low sense of self-worth don’t need to feel any less capable then they already do. So let’s try something different: make any modifications you need to help kids who have been identified as “clinically involved.” But, slowly increase responsibility over time. Get him/her to a point that when he/ she has completed an assignment, arrived to school on time, or confronted a bully by being brave for two minutes, he/she feels like it was done on their own. Lowering expectations may appear to be the best thing to do at the time, but understand, we need to prepare kids to function in the real world where modifications may not exist. Kids will always provide you with the evidence to support your belief, so start believing that they are capable and they might surprise you.
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Kids today can feel good about themselves for no apparent reason. No one is allowed to fail, even if they do. Everyone wins, even if they lose. Often, the truth is bent a little too much giving kids a false sense of security in their abilities and their behavior. How did I do on that test, teacher? “Not bad,” might be a response when, if the truth were really known, the kid failed. We can’t say that though, without a barrage of criticism from parents and maybe even administration. Behaviors like bullying are thrown into the gray abyss, excusing it away as if it were someone else’s fault, with a due process hearing to discipline the victim more sternly than the bully. It even transcends schools, and society has allowed this twisted behavior into the court system. It’s wrong, and you failed are phrases that must be reintroduced into our culture and our schools if we want bullying to become a “no-no” in society. We are all taught to think “win-win.” Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but IF EVERYBODY WINS, NOBODY WINS.
Often times when we hear things or see things that require us to take action, we become fearful and can often rationalize it away. This can be done by convincing ourselves that it is not as serious as we thought, the kids were only kidding, or worse yet, act like we never saw it or heard it. Years ago, teachers used to quake in fear at the thought of reporting a case of child abuse to the authorities. As an administrator, I was often asked to make the phone call by a teacher. I did on one occasion and was told that the person who observed the abuse or heard about it needed to make the report. With the emphasis placed so heavily right now on anti-bullying, it is critical for teachers to understand their resources when dealing with an incident of bullying. Teachers are the first responders and are in the trench observing students on a daily basis. If you hear or see what you believe is a bullying incident, know who to go to for help. An administrator or guidance counselor is a good place to start. In doing this, you will never be alone in the ownership process. You will always have full ownership if you don’t report it at all.
When we give instructions to a student, we make two very important assumptions that may or may not be true. We assume that (1) they heard us, and (2) they understood us. Dealing with student behavior requires as much instruction as does the academic curriculum. What do you do if you ask a student to do something and they don’t do it? The assumption is that they were being uncooperative or maybe even willfully disobedient. That may not be the case at all. Before imposing a consequence question the student to determine if they did, in fact, hear and understand; leave the child with a warning. The warning is not a prelude to correction, but rather an opportunity to determine if your instructions were clear. If the behavior continues even after the warning, then you can be sure the student is being uncooperative. The trick though is to only give the student one warning. Too many warnings will only frustrate you as the teacher and send an inconsistent message to the student. A student who is a bully may need continued instruction about his behavior. Don’t let his/her behavior stop the process. Lastly, always be sure to impose the consequence after the warning. Never give up, and always be consistent.