Bullies and Naivete’

An upper elementary teacher I am coaching asked me recently if I knew of some strategies to address the bullying she was encountering in her classroom. She said she had talked to the class and spoken privately to individual students. It wasn’t working.

I suggested she show parts of a sixty-minute DVD from PBS entitled Animal Odd Couples. Or do a read aloud from the New York Times Bestseller Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer S. Holland which tells about 47 remarkable stories from the animal kingdom. The stories are short and captivating. Two picture books I also love are Tarra & Bella by Carol Buckley and Owen and Mzee told by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff and Dr. Paula Kahumbu.

Now, it’s naive to think that showing a DVD or reading a story about unusual animal friendships is enough to stop bullying. It invites discussion. Questions to consider. What are the dispositions of these disparate animals? What dispositions do they share in common? What conditions were present that might have supported their friendship? How do these two animals interact with other animals? What draws us to these stories? What are the animals teaching us? Do animals bully? If so, under what circumstances? I have found that exploring these unusual friendships helps students move into a discussion about bullying?

I also shared with the teacher the March, 2013, Volume 20, Number 3, issue of Voices from the Middle, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of English. The entire issue is focused on tolerance. Articles in the issue offered a variety of clearly explained lessons on bullying as well as a list of young adult books students could read on the topic. A good source for book titles on bullying can also be found at www.readwritethink.org/parent-afterschool-resources/podcast-episodes/books-about-bullying-30778.html

Even with the suggestions offered above, I am not naive enough to think that it will cure bullying. Bullying comes from a place of fear and our culture these days is pandemic with fear. When we as teachers provide lessons on bullying, we need to provide an environment of emotional safety. How emotionally safe do we feel ourselves? What fears do we have to let go of before we explore bullying?

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