Stand Up to Bullying

Bullying. It has become such a buzz word that is often casually thrown around. October is National Bullying Prevention Month and picture books are the perfect way to elicit conversations.
To teach important themes and concepts, my go-to is always a picture book! And as I'm sure many of you know, one of my favorite authors is Patricia Polacco! Always drawing from her own life experiences, Polacco captures the essence of being a child and the struggles they face. In her book, Bully,  the main character, Lyla, moves and starts at a new school. She quickly becomes friends with Jamie; they have so much in common, even though he is a boy. But when Lyla makes the cheerleading squad and the popular (mean) girls invite her to join them, Jamie is left behind. Although initially loving the attention and status, Lyla knows bullying when she sees it and when she sees her new friends tormenting classmates and writing horrible and derogatory comments on Facebook, she realizes that she doesn't want to be friends with such people. She is smart enough to get out and leave the clique. But no one dumps these girls, and now they're out for revenge. This book doesn't have a typical children's book happy ending, all tied up nice and neatly. It ends with a question to the readers: "What would you do?"
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The book, Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchart is a MUST-HAVE! It is packed full of strategies to elicit critical thinking.  To read more, click HERE to catch up on a book study of Making Thinking Visible.  One of the strategies is called Connect-Extend-Challenge. "The routine helps students make connections between new ideas and prior knowledge. It also encourages them to take stock of ongoing questions, puzzles and difficulties as they reflect on what they are learning" (Visible, Connect, 2011)
Connect: How are the ideas and information presented connected to what you already knew?
Extend: What new ideas did you get that extended your thinking in new directions?
Challenge: What is still challenging or confusing for you? What questions or wonderings do you have?
This is a great structure to promote discussion because "bullying" is such a buzz word and students are often confused between teasing, tattling, or they think bullying is only physical. Making the connection is important. This step is similar to a KWL chart: What we think we KNOW about a specific topic. Specifically getting students to extend their thinking is critical, so they don't stay stuck in prior knowledge or misconceptions. Then challenge your students to not settle for one definition or concept. Continue the conversations about bullying with a variety of scenarios throughout the year. Revisit this Connect-Extend-Challenge strategy.
So much can change if we learn to understand each other, rather than saying hurtful things to build ourselves up. I want my students to learn empathy, the ability to sense other people’s emotions, along with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. An effective way to do this is by using empathy scenarios. This Sesame Street video explains empathy so well: (Yes, Sesame Street. Trust me, your upper graders will love this video and will understand empathy after watching!)
We practice identifying feelings of others with simulated scenarios, and how to respond. This is ongoing throughout the year, often during our morning meetings.

I not only want my students to be able to empathize; I want them to be courageous and stand up for what is right. According to The Pragmatic Parent, "Bullying has lasting negative effects on bystanders who make the choice to do nothing. When children witness bullying, and stay silent, this is a form of approval towards the bully. Bystanders can feel like they’re dodging a bullet if it isn’t them being bullied, but the emotional effects of being a witness to such cruelty is harmful. Kids often witness bullying but chose not to say anything, fearful they’ll be the next target of the bully if they do."

All you teachers know the importance of helping students differentiate between tattling and reporting. Tattling entails trying to get others in trouble, while reporting is asking for help from an adult to stop someone from getting hurt. (We act out school and playground mini scenarios also!) Unfortunately, verbal, social, and cyber bullying often goes unnoticed by adults because students are afraid of being called a snitch or a tattletale. However, when a peer stands up to another peer, it is more effective because bullying is based on social validation and nothing means more than validation amongst peers. We want our students to feel empowered!
You can read more about bullying prevention HERE and HERE . For more fabulous book recommendations to teach anti-bullying, click HERE  or on the image below to listen to We Teach So Hard, episode 57!

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  1. Love,love, love Polacco Books, they are right on target as is your timely blog post. So important to help kids deal with bullies. We need more empathy in our world. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I am dancing the dance of happiness after reading your post and watching the video clip! Perfect way to introduce empathy to all ages! I love the book you chose and the different ending. Huge Polacco fan here! I so agree with your desire to have your kids stand up for what is right in addition to deflecting bullies. So many great ideas here!

  3. I think you found one of the only Polacco books that I don't know! I can't wait to check this out. You also suggested one of the only visible thinking routines that I haven't really tried yet. I sooooo wish we could teach together! I think we're kindred teaching spirits!