While bullying at school has certainly evolved over the years with the onset of technology and social media, the basic problem persists among younger people. Yet it remains a tricky issue to manage in a school, often occurring in subtle verbal or emotional ways rather than the more noticeable physical bullying. While we know every good teacher will not tolerate bullying in his/her classroom, we also know how challenging it can be to spot it and eradicate it. Our hope with this short series is to help you make a preemptive strike against this undesirable behavior, creating a classroom culture of safety and empathy where all students feel welcome. This week, we'll be talking about how to combat bullying by spreading positivity.
We can all probably agree that the last few years have been difficult (to say the very least). Everyone has experienced challenges somewhere along a spectrum ranging from uncomfortable to devastatingly life-changing.
And many of us, including our students, are still recovering and adjusting. As adults, we are more capable of pivoting, adjusting, or just plain pushing through hardships made easier with deepened relationships with people who surround, support, and lift us up. Take for example the video here. @mr_Alsheimer on Twitter shows how stressors around us and our students can dim the light we have within us, and it just takes a little help, to light that fire again.
Our students, however, don’t always feel that safety net at school. Some sadly don’t have it at home, either. And when faced with challenges, their inability to cope can manifest in undesirable behaviors. Including bullying.
We know from life experience that bullies are often overcompensating for their own insecurities. While that never excuses the behavior and always requires correction, it can help to try to fight the root of the poor conduct by encouraging more positive behaviors.
And really–who doesn’t need a little positivity these days?
Your position in the classroom allows you the opportunity to be a light in a place that can feel dark to some kids. So shine over your classroom. Call out the good you see. Encourage kindness, helpfulness, and finding joy in the little moments. Here are a few ideas to combat bullying by spreading positivity:
Build positivity organically into your day
You can do this through the content you study. While students absolutely need to be able to process a range of emotions in literature, don’t overwhelm them with dark stories.
Don’t be afraid to go off the script a bit if you see students are enjoying something. You can also intentionally make your classroom a fun place. Work something like Wordle,or its math counterpart, Nerdle (which has several different versions that can be played every day!), into your day. Or, on your worksheets, examples, word problems, or tests, use your students’ names and put them in funny circumstances or in situations that highlight their strengths. Be fair and include everyone. And watch as they actually look forward to seeing what’s next!
Call out the good you see
Humans crave positive reinforcement. Watch for the little things: a bashful boy who offers a vulnerable thought; a difficult girl who picks up the marker her neighbor dropped; a helpful child who offers to take out the trash at the end of a long day; a struggling student who brings a test score up a full letter grade. I would take this a step further and be willing to reach out to parents with positive feedback as well. Just write a quick email explaining the situation. The student will likely receive even more positive reinforcement at home, which can increase the chances of the behavior continuing.
Teach your students to spread brightness as well
Some teachers like to start their day with a class meeting, in which everyone gives–and everyone receives–a compliment. This is a real skill that takes some time for students to learn. But eventually, they’ll be looking for the good they see in others and–even better–they will be mindful that others are looking for it in them as well! You can also encourage activities such as anonymous, random acts of kindness throughout the school.
Inspire your students through the words and actions of others
Share (and display) meaningful quotes and use them to springboard discussions. Have them adopt a life quote and journal about it from time to time. Teach them to do the next right thing (one of my go-to mottos in life.) Read true stories to them about kids their age who are making a difference.
As professionals, you’ll want to avoid toxic positivity in your classroom; you certainly don’t want anyone to think they can never have negative feelings. But when appropriate, in the everyday comings and goings, helping students see the good in this world can make a difference in your classroom culture, and you can combat bullying by spreading positivity, through empathy, and creating space.
“Why not dare yourself to become a shining positive light where darkness is the only thing known?” – Edmond Mbiaka
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