BULLY PREVENTION EFFORTS
Last week, the column was focused on the background to bully prevention legislation. I shared that I was at a meeting recently at which legislative topics for the upcoming session were discussed. There was a general consensus that the bully prevention bill from this past legislative session is likely to resurface. From that background, I thought I should review bully prevention efforts that are in place—not only in the ROCORI School District, but quite often in other school districts across the state.
The idea behind the legislation is that Minnesota’s current law on bully prevention efforts is one of the most brief or shortest in the nation. The proposed legislation is much longer and has many very specific requirements—including considerable reporting and processing details.
The biggest objection to the proposed legislation, as it unfolded in the last session, is that there are many unfunded mandates in the bill. The proposal, at least as I understand its provisions, requires a large amount of investigatory work, paperwork and reporting of issues from schools.
OVERALL APPROACH TO BULLY PREVENTION
The ROCORI School District is much like other school districts in the state in that we have multiple levels and steps that are taken to address bullying behavior. Our overall approach starts with the idea that bullying behaviors are not acceptable. We certainly do not encourage or accommodate bullying behaviors. We encourage individuals to report issues of bullying and then we address the issues that are presented—much like any other kind of disciplinary or inappropriate behaviors.
Perhaps the single most important issue involved in bullying behavior is to have the issues reported—to someone. We have a number of formal ways in which bullying behavior can be reported. Much like any other disciplinary issue, a reported situation of bullying begins to build a file or record of behavior. As expected with progressive disciplinary processes, the more situations reported, the more serious the consequences become.
There are a number of steps we take to address the issues of bullying. We have a number of educational programs that are age and grade appropriate focused on bully prevention.
We have many different programs and instructional efforts designed to address the issue of bullying. Our district staff is engaged in a professional development training focused on a theme called “Top Twenty.” It includes guidance and assistance in creating a positive and supportive environment in and out of the classroom. The ideas assist in interactions with adults as well as students.
Our character education programs, at all levels, include efforts to address bully activities and behaviors. We engage students in a variety of learning experiences and settings to teach them about the power of positive approaches and the negative effects of behaviors like bullying. There are school and student leadership training opportunities.
At the elementary level, we try to build relationships across different ages and grade levels through the use of “family groups.” Older students are encouraged to help be responsible for younger students and take leadership roles in activities. In a similar fashion, we have various leadership roles in the secondary level to encourage positive interactions with older students (seniors, for example) to work with younger students (ninth grade, perhaps).
There are specific parts of classroom curriculum that address bully prevention. In programs such as Health or Family and Consumer Sciences, there are units or parts of instruction that address issues related to bullying behaviors, positive and healthy relationships, and “power” situations. Homeroom and middle school “A-team” activities are periodically related to bully prevention efforts. At the elementary level, classrooms use a “responsive classroom” approach to build appropriate interactions among students and set a positive classroom climate.
There are times throughout our school year where we will take specific time to address the issue of bullying. Special speakers and programs are regularly brought into the school buildings and/or district to address the issue of bullying behaviors.
We have brought in programs like Critters and Company, Climb Theatre, and Rachel’s Challenge which specifically focus on presentations related to bullying. We engage, across the district, in retreats offered by Youth Frontiers which encourage building positive relationships and respect for others. Regardless of the specific organization, we conduct annual activities, presentations and lyceums which deal with the issues.
Our student councils or student senate leaders will often conduct activities or campaigns focused directly on the issue of bullying or may address related issues and topics.
As a district, we have worked to implement several “physical” tools to help us deal with bully behaviors. Inside and outside our buildings, we have surveillance camera systems which allow us to track activity. We also have installed cameras on our transportation system.
The cameras have been used, in a number of situations, to observe behaviors, to monitor particular areas or reported locations, to review interactions of individuals, and to respond to reports of behaviors.
We have visual materials and resources throughout the district to address bullying activity. We have posters in each classroom to remind students of steps to address bullying behaviors as well as encourage appropriate steps to take. There are posters across the district to discourage bully behaviors.
We have had students engage in bully prevention efforts by signing, and then visually displaying, Bully Pledges. The pledge asks students to commit to refrain from engaging in bullying behaviors and to take positive steps to prevent the same behaviors from others. At Cold Spring Elementary, we also have the Spartan Pledge which asks students to commit to positive, appropriate, and productive behaviors. All of the pledge “posters” are displayed publicly in our buildings.
Our disciplinary approach, overall, is based on the concept of progressive discipline but is also based on a restorative model. The progressive nature means that consequences for inappropriate behaviors become increasingly stronger—the idea behind that is to address the situation and then encourage a change of behaviors. If the behaviors do not change, the consequences continue to be stronger.
The restorative approach to discipline asks, as a general principle, for students to “make things right” or make efforts to restore damaged relationships, property or other issues. This often involves taking responsibility for behaviors and then going back to fix, restore, or repay what has been damaged. In a bullying situation, restoration would involve fixing or addressing the relationship that has been affected.
Bullying behavior, especially in our age of technology and electronic means of conducting behavior, is an issue within the national and regional “spotlight” of issues. There are many efforts, including proposed legislation in Minnesota, focused on this type of behavior.
As you can see, the ROCORI School District takes a multi-faceted approach to addressing the issue of bullying behavior. It is a topic that we, as a district, take seriously.