A student being bullied in class in August just came up on a discussion on a Teacher FB page. My name was mentioned because one of my classes had helped a student who struggled with social nuances. He was bullied in the halls before we had cameras, and we were able to change his life for the better with direct intervention.
This time it sounds different. The teacher is seeking advice because she needs to have a conversation with the bully tomorrow. It had become physical and she reported it to her administration who told her to handle it.
Many teachers reacting to this scenario, myself included, are surprised that the admin isn’t taking over once it is physical but our surprise isn’t going to help the teacher with tomorrow’s dialogue with the bully.
There have been many great suggestions on what to do. Their diversity make my heart full as each teacher has his or her own teaching voice and the teacher with this issue must find the answer that best matches her voice:
Here’s my six-step dialogue that has been effective with 7th, 8th, and 9th graders.
- Find a time to have a private chat with the student. Sometimes it means having someone cover my homeroom and seeking out the student and chatting in the hall.
- I ask the student if he or she has a little brother or sister or cousin or neighbor or some younger person they care about. Make that connection because I am hoping he will have empathy for that person.
- Tell the student that I hope I have him or her in class before I retire. I ask what kind of student does he think the little one will be.
- I pose #1 “What if question?” What if someone did a. b. c. to that little one? Would you want me to keep him or her safe? In theory of course the student agrees. (a. b .c. is what this kid did to the victim.)
- I pose #2 “What if question?” What if someone did a. b. c. to you? Would you expect me to keep you safe? Would you expect me to be nasty if needed to make it stop and keep you safe? (Give one of my I-have -been-doing-this for-30-years-and-no-kid-messes-with-me look.) Would you expect me to talk to our police officer, parents, coaches, assistant principals, grandmas and everyone to make it stop and keep you safe? (Still a very I-don’t-take-this-from-anyone-without-making you-pay-tenfold looks.) Pause, (grandmotherly tenderness and love now radiating from my body – the kid will be creeped out by how I can change in two seconds) I will do everything to keep you safe, (and pause as the other shoe drops), and I need your help to give the same protection to everyone including X in my room. I would not let anyone hurt you because you are to valuable to me. And I will not let anyone hurt X or anyone else.
- Direct eye-to-eye contact. Radiant smiles and gumdrops-dropping-from-mouth sweetness. “Do we understand each other? Can I count on you to help me? That is great – I had a special feeling that you and I would understand each other.” (Little bit creepy-like smile from me as one shark recognizes another)
I have used this over the years because bullies are hurting. By offering to protect them and their loved ones, I reach that place that wasn’t protected and probably turned them into a bully in the first place. Bullies aren’t long in the tooth with empathy. But appealing to protecting someone they care about, helps to pave the path of empathy. They understand strength, which this dialogue demonstrates, without putting anyone on the defense. So far, I haven’t yet had someone not respond to this except for one time when the student was put in a self-contained room for extreme issues.
Practice this. Make it your voice. This is mine. It works for me and good luck to all of you who deal with it this year. You are all about to become some victim’s super hero. Make it right. Thank you for what you do for our students.