To conclude our focus on Countering Bullying and Harassment: Skill-Based Lessons to Move from Bystander to Ally, in conjunction with National Bullying Prevention Month, we’re sharing thoughts from an interview with author and Engaging Schools professional services consultant Jane Harrison. Jane has over 40 years of experience in education as a teacher, mentor, adjunct university professor, and a consultant in social and emotional learning, intergroup relations, and conflict resolution. With a Bachelor’s degree in English and a Master’s in Education, Jane started in her own classroom to build a respectful and caring learning environment. During the last 20 years, she has worked in elementary, middle, and high schools both nationally and internationally, with students, administrators, parents, teachers and support staff. In addition to Countering Bullying and Harassment: Skill-Based Lessons to Move from Bystander to Ally, Jane is co-author of two additional books published by Engaging Schools: Connected and Respected: Lessons from the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program and Links to Literature: Teaching Tools to Enhance Literacy, Character, and Social Skills.
How does your experience in the classroom shape your views on what teachers and schools can do to counter bullying and harassment?
Jane: I began my teaching career in middle school, and have worked my whole life with teenagers. I can remember having students come back to visit me years later, and thinking how much nicer they had become! Later I realized that this is pretty normal – young people in their teens are often cruel to each other. Perhaps they’re struggling with figuring out who they really are and testing the boundaries of behavior. The outcome, though, can create terrible situations for themselves and their classmates. I realized that students are eager to talk about their issues and challenges, and that providing them the opportunities to do so led to their own awarenesses being enhanced. They reflected on their interactions and the consequences of their actions. I invited them to share in creating an environment where it would be safe to be who they were. As my own students worked to improve their relationships, I realized that I, too, was choosing to be a better example of being kind and supportive – to model the behaviors that I hoped to see in my students. Engaging Schools’ resources helped me in this work to create safe and supportive environments. This curriculum is our latest resource – one that specifically targets the issue of bullying.
How does Countering Bullying and Harassment build on Engaging Schools’ conflict resolution work?
Jane: Connected and Respected is a great resource to help students to work better together, to resolve conflict creatively, and to value others. However, it has only one lesson that addresses bullying behavior at each grade level. Because we have begun to realize how important the bullying issue really is, due to increased scrutiny and awareness, this curriculum provides additional opportunities to focus on bullying specifically. It helps students to understand the dynamics of bullying, the roles people play, and the obligation that we all have to become allies to those who are targeted.
What choices did you make when you structured this curriculum to make it most effective in today’s middle and high school classrooms?
Jane: We chose to develop six lessons per grade level because we know the challenge that educators face every day – how to “fit it all in.” The issues the curriculum address are ones that all adolescents experience, and are therefore something that students enjoy discussing. If time permits, each lesson is filled with ideas that can be extended. There are stories at each grade level that were written by adolescents, struggling with the same experiences. There are role plays that invite students to grapple with choices that they can make to stand up for their beliefs. These are real-life situations, not scripted outcomes, and students can begin to decide which strategies will work for them, and what power these choices give them to not only stand up for themselves, but to become allies for others.
We’ve understood for a long time that a school environment has a significant impact on learning. Bullying behavior affects everyone – aggressors, targets, and bystanders. It’s hard for kids to learn when this is happening. Most educators do their best to create a safe environment. Countering Bullying and Harassment is a resource to help them do just that. The lessons allow students to address the issues in personal ways. Instead of a lecture on how to treat others, a sure way to turn kids off, the activities invite students to talk about the issues that affect them, and to share in strategizing helpful responses.
When you delved into the latest research in order to update Engaging Schools’ existing anti-bullying curriculum, what topics did you investigate and incorporate?
Jane: Cyberbullying, while often similar in terms of targeting peers with hurtful comments or threats, can be more devastating than other types of bullying. Identities can be hidden, and comments can go viral in moments. Targets will often feel that everyone is against them. Aggressors see no response, and may even be unaware of the harm they are doing. Many adults do not have the technical skills to enable them to keep track of what young people are doing online. As the number of teens using technology increases, so have the incidences of aggressive behavior. It has proven easier to be hateful when using typed words rather than words spoken face-to-face. Teens need to know that all forms of bullying are wrong, and that there are consequences to their online decisions.
Please click here for more information about Engaging Schools’ Countering Bullying and Harassment: Skill-Based Lessons to Move from Bystander to Ally.