Monday, May 7, 2012

How a New Perspective Stopped Bullying in My Class

How to Stop Bullying

Bullies are simply people with difficulty handling their problems. But if you give them a chance to help someone else out of their problems, they will stand together with their peers until the very end.

A master teacher teaches how to stop bullying by encouraging her students to help others in difficult situations.
By Deia Sanders, Master Teacher and Instructional Coach

As a teenager I fractured my spine doing what I loved, gymnastics. I went through a couple of surgeries and several procedures over the next 10 years. There were many times when I would feel angry or upset that this happened to me. It always seemed that about the time I would be feeling my lowest it would be time to visit the spine center, where I was usually the only person who walked in to the office. It never failed that being surrounded by people who were unable to walk made my problems seem small, and changed my attitude to grateful. In life, I’ve learned that there are two things that change my perspective very fast, and that’s seeing others suffer and helping those less fortunate.

It was no surprise that with this experience growing up, my first response to dealing with students who whined about school and bullied others was to change their perspectives. I tried to do this with telling them about the wonderful children in Kenya we worked with who walked many miles to school, and how no one made fun of each other because they were all trying to survive. I brought my husband in to talk to the kids about his experience in Haiti after the earthquake to spur their hearts and motives to change, but there was little lasting effect.

It wasn’t until we got our hands dirty that I saw my student’s attitudes begin to change. Like in most junior high’s, kids often make fun of special needs students. So we began learning about how disabled babies were thrown out like trash in some countries. We read and looked at pictures of this injustice, and began to talk about the wonderful life some people would be missing by not having a “special” child in their life. My students were spurred to action and began raising money to send to orphanages that housed special needs students. Their attitudes began to change towards those in our own classes.

Another reason many kids were bullied and made fun of was because of their economic circumstances. I could share with them about growing up with a single mom and the hardships we had, but it wasn’t until we began to raise money for small business loans in third-word-countries that their attitudes began to change. They wanted to give to the less fortunate rather than put them down.

In a school with 93% living below the poverty line it was astounding to see them cleaning out couches and cars, doing laundry, and picking up coins in parking lots to raise money for these needs. But the most impressive outcome was their perspective change. Many time bullies come to school carrying so much baggage and dysfunction from home that they can’t help but spread it everywhere they go. In the same way my attitude was changed as a teenager regarding my situation, their attitudes were changed regarding theirs. Many times we don’t give an outlet for the weight our campus bullies are carrying around, so it naturally spills on to everyone they come in contact with. If we could find more programs for them to shift their disappointments and struggles to, we could leverage their negative energy towards a positive outcome and show them that it’s not so bad, and not too much to overcome after all.

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