ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Let's Get Real: Addressing Bullying and the Bias That Fuels It

Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Karissa Bell

One boy talks about how he is consistently bullied by his classmates. Seconds later, footage is shown of another student pushing him off his bike. One girl talks about how girls at her school are continuously harassed and even touched by the boys in their class. Another boy talks about how he is the bully because he wants people to stay out of his way.

Let's Get Real is the title of Groundspark's most recent film about bullying in schools and the bias that leads to that bullying. And it's difficult to imagine that the film could get much more real.

In the film, kids of all ages speak quite candidly about their experiences bullying and being bullied. But even more unsettling than their tales of bullying are their statements about how their teachers seem unaware of or indifferent to their situations.

Later, in the ensuing discussion, educators described how they feel trapped when it comes to issues surrounding bullying. How if they don't intervene, they become enablers, yet if they do intervene, they risk making it worse for the bullied students and perpetuate the cycle.

Presenter Amy Scharf, Groundspark's national program director, explained ways educators can address the complex issues surrounding bullying at a screening of the movie at the ASCD Annual Conference.

"Addressing bullying, we really deeply believe that it's not just about working with the individuals involved, but rather that this is an issue of culture and climate and environment," she said. "It's all about creating an entire system where that is not tolerated, that is not condoned, and that is not cool."

Groundspark provides a variety of resources for educators. Some, like their films, are made to work directly with the students. Others are designed exclusively for educators so that they can deal with issues related to bullying—issues like bias.

"A lot of bullying is connected to issues of bias," said Scharf. "A lot of bullying that we see in our schools either starts because of a difference in race or culture or perceived gender expression; or it might not start there, but those issues get brought in and used as weapons."

Scharf also offered these basic suggestions for preventing bias-motivated behavior:

  • Articulate your expectations and ask your students and colleagues to share their expectations.
  • Model the behavior you expect from students and colleagues. Treat them with respect.
  • Stop it. Say something when you witness name-calling or bullying.
  • Name it. Identify the language or behavior specifically. For example, it is better to say, "'That's gay' is not only disrespectful, but homophobic," rather than to say, "Cut it out" alone.
  • Be consistent with class rules, school policies, and enforcement. Be even-handed in every class, on every part of campus, and apply rules and policies to all students equally.
  • Invest the time. Staff must have the opportunity to discuss and create strategies that are appropriate, and the time to evaluate the procedures' effectiveness.
  • Get current on language and its meaning. Recognize the ways the meaning and use of certain terms may change with different generations. Within a particular community, terms may also have a specific meaning and effect that is unique from when these terms are directed at or by someone in a different community.

Scharf emphasized that everyone has a role to play when it comes to bullying: "We want to create a climate of respect for everyone. When people feel not just that they can survive, but that actually they're valued, they can really thrive."

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