Financial Slavery

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Year of Respect

So, I was starting to feel like a lone voice in the wilderness again.  I spent all of last year researching bullying and how to make a difference in school districts.  After working with my students to read and speak with leading experts in this country (many of whom are divided) and reading research from around the world, my students developed an award-winning, original device drama, entitled "Shadows," which was created as an educational piece to encourage dialogue and debate among students about changing school climate and making the hallways and classrooms less friendly and supportive to a bullying atmosphere. 

We had realized through research that a zero tolerance policy based on punitive measures was not being backed up by research.  It didn't seem as effective as what Finland was doing (for example), which was climate change through working with students on developing empathy and understanding, changing the bystander effect and creating an overall safer environment for bystanders and victims and less rewarding environment for bullies. 

This is actually really difficult to do in today's climate, when we turn on the television and watch our politicians bully each other (and the people they're supposed to represent); when we watch "reality" television and watch bullies get huge rewards (more airtime, longer stints on the "competition"); when we watch sitcoms and watch bullies get huge laughs - it is not easy to teach kids that bullying doesn't pay.  They look around and of course it pays.  It pays on the highway (people move), it pays in restaurants (people get comps), it pays everywhere.  Hard to fight that type of environment!

So, we had spent a year creating a thoughtful, evocative, empathetic piece to promote dialogue and awareness.  I spent my summer writing curriculum to support it.  And then... the school wanted to just do some stern threats to students about the new bullying laws here in New Jersey, another assembly (with Shadows) as part of the state mandated Week of Respect, put up a couple of posters and call it a day.  I almost jumped off the GW myself in frustration.  But after going home and stressing overnight, I came up with a plan.  And the next day I went into my principal with a strategy. 

I sat down with her and started with a simple statement.  I told her I felt we were approaching the Week of Respect as an obligation and I felt we should look at it as an opportunity.  I proposed A Year of Respect.  We're supposed to be the innovators and leaders in anti-bullying.  Let's lead.  I proposed focusing primarily on the freshmen (we're a very large school and we needed to start with baby steps).
  •  I offered to take the curriculum written (primarily applied theatre work) and go into our US History classes once a month (during traditionally lull times - testing weeks, post vacation weeks, post exam weeks, etc) and do 1 activity a month with the kids.  If the teachers were feeling pressed about Social Studies curriculum, I would do a half period.  I just need coverage for my classes.  I would do it. 
  • I also would coordinate with the visual art teachers and request a little money (a few hundred dollars) to have the kids create posters that visualized Respect.  The winning designs would be copied in color and displayed all over the school. 
  • I would contact the English teachers and some local newspapers and see if we can a contest at school for poetry or short essay, would the paper publish the winning piece?
  • I would contact the Dance Team (very popular at our school) and ask them to do a song about Respect for the pep rallies this year.
  • The Acting for Film and Television class (which I co-teach) would create PSA (public service announcements) all year to support the effort and play in the cafeteria.
The principal got so excited, she immediately said 1) YES!  and 2) she wanted to order a big banner for the school.  We started talking about other ways to innudate the school with the message.  Suddenly, something that had felt like a burden to her and like the wrong way to tackle anti-bullying to me - felt innovative and fun and exciting and MOST IMPORTANTLY - has a possibility of actually creating a difference.

Of course, she's asked me to spearhead the entire project, but this seems important to me.  So instead of doing a traditional "hall duty" or "cafeteria duty" or "study hall" duty as required in our contracts - I'll be doing this.  I'm excited.  I know it is going to be a lot of work but I can't wait.  If you have ideas, suggestions, ways you are doing things in your district, PLEASE share with me.  I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks!  And happy school year!


  1. You are amazing. There is so much you can do with this: my concern is I hope the other teachers support you as much as the principal is. The kids will be with you: your passion will take them there with you.

    Win the adults over: what you're doing for THEM: they will need a PD or PDs from you to all work together.

    Please keep me informed. Hey...can I come visit one day, write a report for Bornstoryteller?

    I'm serious.

  2. Hi Stu! Thanks so much for the kind words and support! It is difficult to get all the teachers onboard - so I always approach it as inviting teachers to come play in my sandbox. Those who are reluctant don't have to initially. I'm hoping student enthusiasm will help with this.

    I would love to have you visit the school. Let's talk more about it!