Sunday 26 May 2013

A Hard Look at Bullying...

Bully by trix0r, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  trix0r 

The following TED Talk is without doubt one of the best statements about bullying that I have come across. It made me think about how we define bullying at Glendale Sciences and Technology School...

What is bullying? Is it in the eye of the beholder? Perhaps it is. If one feels bullied, are they actually being bullied? Teachers and school administrators struggle with the question. Is there a delineation between bullying and plain old conflict? Are we using the word "bully" in a somewhat haphazard way? At Glendale Sciences and Technology School we're reflecting on these questions.

Shane Koyczan paints a picture of bullying that is pretty clear. He describes how the effects haunt those of us who have been victimized for years, and how perhaps we can overcome the effects of bullying, however difficult, over those years... but how we define bullying is so important if we're to effectively deal with the problem.

At our school defining bullying has become an inquiry process. We ask three important questions when investigating reports of bullying:
  • Was it an act of aggression or exclusion?
  • Was it a premeditated act of aggression or exclusion?
  • Has the premeditated act of aggression or exclusion sustained beyond one incident?
We have determined that if the answer to all three questions is"yes," then we can confidently say that we're dealing with an act of bullying.

We have learned that this is a hard determination to make when emotions are running high and people's feelings have been hurt. Whether in a case of less complicated conflict, or an authentic case of bullying as defined, few have the ability to be completely objective about their negative interactions with others... the bullies, the victims or simply two or more people in conflict. Heightened emotions and hurt feelings are common in most forms of aggression, exclusion, conflict and controversy... we are passionate and emotional beings.

We have also learned over time that behind every bully is a story that needs to be learned if we have any chance at all of helping that person overcome the tendency to bully others. Almost, if not always, behind every bully there was first a victim. Hurt people, hurt people.
“Hurt people hurt people. We are not being judgmental by separating ourselves from such people. But we should do so with compassion. Compassion is defined as a "keen awareness of the suffering of another coupled with a desire to see it relieved." People hurt others as a result of their own inner strife and pain. Avoid the reactive response of believing they are bad; they already think so and are acting that way. They aren't bad; they are damaged and they deserve compassion. Note that compassion is an internal process, an understanding of the painful and troubled road trod by another. It is not trying to change or fix that person.” Will Bowen, Complaint Free Relationships: Transforming Your Life One Relationship at a Time
No. We won't try to fix anyone... but we will try to help them by being empathetic to the stories behind their stories helping us accept them as they are; hurting people who need to feel appreciated for the good things they bring to potential relationships. When we deal with the reasons bullies do what they do we objectify them so we can see past their negative actions and perceive the person they perhaps truly are, or at least the potentially good things they have to share with us.

We're not in the punishment business; we're in the problem solving business. Behind every bully there is a lagging skill or unresolved problem that needs to be addressed if things are going to change for them. At Glendale School, we make investigating these lagging skills and unresolved problems our business so we can help bullies become the interesting and relevant people we believe they really are.

Thursday 23 May 2013

We don't need any special labels...

Your attitude is like a box of crayons t by katerha, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  katerha 

The following perspective was shared with me by our school's inclusion facilitator recently...
"Inclusion is an attitude and a value system that promotes the basic right of all students to receive appropriate and quality educational programming and services in the company of their peers"(Guetzole).
Inclusive schools embrace the notions that all children belong, and that all children will learn if their educational needs are met. Notably absent from this definition is any mention of children with disabilities or special education. Inclusion is not a special education issue. It is about developing supportive schools and fostering high achievement for all staff and all students.

As former special education teachers, the two of us were having a discussion about inclusion, and how the terminology special education student doesn't really fit the bill anymore as a result of a welcome philosophical shift toward inclusion within the education system. Our school is fully inclusive. We don't offer any segregated or congregated programming at Glendale Sciences and Technology School... and we're (staff and students) doing just fine. My colleague and I were wondering out loud if we should just strike the term special education from our school's common language vocabulary. In the end, we agreed we should.

We agreed because our school is fashioning itself as one described above... one where all children belong and where all children will learn if their educational needs are met. We intend Glendale to be a supportive school that fosters high achievement for all staff and all students. We believe implicitly that all students do have a fundamental right to receive appropriate and quality educational programming and services in the company of their peers from caring and empathetic teachers and paraprofessionals within the school. We also believe that all staff have a fundamental right to receive appropriate and quality educational support and professional learning services in the company of (and perhaps from) their caring and empathetic peers. This is how we think the collaborative process is optimized.

This is the essence of our Empathy Reboot Project. We are using this project to illuminate the imperative to be inclusive, and as a conduit to leverage empathy as our vessel toward a truly inclusive school. We know that success is measured in innumerable ways, and that by careful application of a strengths-based focus for all students and staff, we will be able to perceive success where formerly it may have eluded us. We understand that "normal is just a setting on the clothes dryer," and strive to value the contribution to learning that every single child and adult makes within our school. Our school does not equate kids or adults with the tabula rasa (blank slate) metaphor that preschool kids are often attached with, and rather think of each other as numerosus rasa... child and adult learners as abundant slates. We think of every member of our school community as a learner with infinite potential to acquire skills and knowledge. This is how we as teachers model never-ending learning, allowing us to teach knowledge, skills and attitudes more effectively from a place of confidence as opposed to anxiety.

We believe an inclusive school culture is one where all feel welcome and respected. It starts from the premise that everyone in our school... students, educators, adminstrators, support staff and parents... should feel they belong, realize their potential and contribute to the life of the school. In our inclusive school culture, diverse experiences and perspectives are seen as gifts to enrich the school community. 

An inclusive school culture is one where diversity is embraced, learning supports are available and properly utilized, and flexible learning experiences focus on the individual student. There is an innovative and creative environment and a collaborative approach is taken. At the heart of inclusion is committed leadership and a shared direction... every member of our inclusive school culture is viewed as a potential leader; staff, students and parents alike.

In our school diversity is a feature, not a bug. We acknowledge and celebrate differences as we divine characteristics that define us as a uniquely individual members of the school family. Twisting our cultural lens a bit focuses awareness of how self-identity is influenced by our perception of others, the world and everything within it. Culture is what we believe. The circumstances that surround every single conversation about culture are a sum total of the perceptions of those participating. If we are to peacefully and hopefully engage each other, we have to try to understand and empathize with each others cultural perceptions.

The cultural perspective we all hold is shaped by our experiences as influenced by our birthplace, our family, our spirituality and the zeitgeist within which we were born; it’s the cultural reality lens we look through. Our cultural identity is learned beginning the moment we’re born. Obvious physical characteristics and genetic traits define our culture in part from the second we’re conceived. After we’re born, the evolving cultural identity we form is largely influenced by our relationships and surroundings. Steve Van Bockern, coauthor of “Reclaiming Youth at Risk- Our Hope for the Future” refers to this identity as our cultural tail. I had the pleasure of attending a retreat with Steve on the Morley Indian Reservation west of Calgary in 2002. He explained that we can’t cut off our cultural tail; it’s always there, behind us affecting our perspective, but also that great things are possible in everyone’s future despite this tail that follows us.

Whether good, bad or indifferent, our cultural tail tells the story of where we’ve come from; who we are in terms of how our environments affect us, but it doesn’t have to predict where we’re headed. From a cultural perspective, in many ways we begin our lives rather innocently. Like clay to the sculptor, we start as unformed material yearning to be molded and shaped into a more tangible form; our growing cultural identity. Just as soon as we see the light of the world we begin forming perceptions and feelings about our culture and how we are different from, or similar to others. We are the sum total of what we think we are. Adults at Glendale strive to be responsible about noticing the cultural perspectives of children so we can help them form positive perceptions about their personal identities. We also need to do this with each other enabling all of us to confidently build relationships and circles of support as we share our perspectives with each other.

Ultimately these evolving personal identities define us as important and valued members of our school culture. We all have a story... we strive to learn everyone's story at Glendale. Our stories are what define us... we don't need any special labels to help us do this.