Teachers

  • 5 Ways to Prevent Bullying  

    Bullying is a serious issue that warrants the immediate attention of all parents, school personnel and students.  For a long time, the gravity of the effects of bullying was dismissed as we used to believe that “kids will be kids”.  We’ve since grown as a society and now know better. We now understand that making a conscious choice to ignore bullying may hold both life-long and life-threatening consequences. So, let us explore the who, what, where, when and why of bullying.

    What Exactly is Considered Bullying?

    Stopbullying.gov indicates that “the current definition acknowledges two modes and four types by which youth can be bullied or bully others. The two modes of bullying include direct (e.g., bullying that occurs in the presence of a targeted youth) and indirect (e.g., bullying not directly communicated to a targeted youth such as spreading rumors). In addition to these two modes, the four types of bullying include broad categories of physical, verbal, relational (e.g., efforts to harm the reputation or relationships of the targeted youth), and damage to property.”

    Let’s Look at the Stats

    According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 1 in 5 U.S. students ages 12-18 have been bullied during the school year.

    YouthTruth, a national nonprofit agency, analyzed data collected from nearly 80,000 5th through 12th graders across the country and found the most commonly reported forms of bullying are verbal harassment, social harassment, physical bullying and cyberbullying.

    Their findings further indicate that “when asked why they thought they were being bullied, almost half of all bullied students – 44 percent – think it’s because of how they look. Another 16 percent believe they were bullied because of their race or skin color, and 14 percent think they were bullied because other students thought they were gay (regardless of how they actually identify).”

    The National Center for Education Statistics further found that:

    • 33% of students who reported being bullied at school indicated that they were bullied at least once or twice a month during the school year;
    • Of those students who reported being bullied, 13% were made fun of, called names, or insulted; 12% were the subject of rumors; 5% were pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on; and 5% were excluded from activities on purpose;
    • A slightly higher portion of female than of male students report being bullied at school (23% vs. 19%). In contrast, a higher percentage of male than of female students report being physically bullied (6% vs. 4%) and threatened with harm (5% vs. 3%;
    • Bullied students reported that bullying occurred in the following places: the hallway or stairwell at school (42%), inside the classroom (34%), in the cafeteria (22%), outside on school grounds (19%), on the school bus (10%), and in the bathroom or locker room (9%).

    Current research further suggests that there is a strong link between bullying and suicide.  The CDC reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death among children, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year.

    What We’re Seeing in Schools

    Educators and psychotherapists working with our nation’s students aren’t surprised to learn that the most incidences of bullying occur during the middle school years. It’s a hard time for our young learners.  It’s smack in the middle of the so-called awkward phase of physical growth and emotional maturity. Those of us who’ve directly worked this population of students often term them as big babies stuck in bigger bodies. They typically enter middle school lacking a great deal of self-confidence and if properly nurtured, will graduate more self-aware and self-assured.  Sixth-graders experience the most bullying among all school-aged children.

    Stopbullying.gov found that 70% of school staff have witnessed some form of bullying on the school campus. 62% witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month, and 41% witness bullying once a week or more.


    Here are the 5 ways to prevent bullying:

    1  | If you see something, say something.

    Bullying can only be prevented and/or addressed if it’s reported. We must teach children to get away from this protective code mentality of not telling or “snitching” when it comes to serious matters. Our children are being driven to harm themselves through dangerous means like cutting themselves or attempting and committing suicide. If that’s not a reason to report incidences of bullying, I don’t know what is.

    2  | When it’s reported, do something.

    The brain doesn’t fully mature until about the age of 25.  Children are ill-equipped to “handle it” by themselves. This isn’t an issue that we can leave them to resolve without guidance. Adults MUST step in and alleviate the pressure that builds from being a victim of bullying.  We teach children that it’s not nice to be a tattletale, so it takes a lot for a child to tell on their peers, particularly as they get older. As mature adults, we have to stop being dismissive by sweeping things under the rug.

    3 | D O C U M E N T

    I cannot stress this enough. I’ve been on both sides of the aisle on this one, folks. I’ve created school policies to prevent violence and coordinated anti-bullying programs at schools for students from prekindergarten through twelfth grade. Moreover, I’ve worked with parents to teach them how to advocate for themselves and their families.  Most importantly, I am also the parent of a child who was a victim of bullying and have felt like my concerns were not only not addressed properly, they were ignored.

    I’m going to be completely honest. It’s one thing to be the professional in the suit with the fancy words lending your expertise to better create an anti-bullying culture within the school district you work. And, as much as you may love your job and students, you’re allowed a reprieve when the workday ends. It becomes next-level, as in Momma/ Poppa Bear instinct when looking into the teary eyes of your own child who’s being harassed at school you presume to be their safe space.

    In either case, documentation is key. Whether sitting on the fancy school leadership committees or in court testifying as an expert witness on behalf of the districts that contract with my company or as a parent who is advocating for my own child, documentation matters.  Parents get emotional when it comes to their children, as they should. Kids complain, parents complain, teachers complain. Everyone has a “side” when things go wrong. The mix of emotions may lead to us vs. them exchange instead of a more productive “let’s fix this” meeting.  Bringing a summary including dates, notes outlining each incident, parent communications and school responses will help all stakeholders see that a pattern of harassment is truly occurring. This approach will likely elicit a swifter response by the anti-bullying team than would a meeting of emotional accusations being hurled from side to side.  

    4  | Know your rights and the rights of your children too.

    Your child has the right to feel safe in their learning environment.  One of the most important components of a good school is being a safe school where children are provided with a nurturing environment that positively regards their emotional, mental and physical safety.

    Children should not feel threatened, harassed, intimidated or bullied by any child or adult while at school, on the bus to-and-from school, or when attending school-sponsored events, trips, etc.

    Every school should have a Bullying Coordinator. The person’s title may differ from district-to-district or state-to-state but the job responsibilities are similar.  They are the person who works at the school that is tasked with preventing and addressing incidences of bullying. Good schools have defined anti-bullying policies and violence prevention programs in place to create a district-wide culture emphasizing the importance of student safety.   

    5  | Know when it’s time to take it to the next level.

    If the school is unresponsive or doesn’t take appropriate measures to intervene, then there is a chain of command in place. Always try to work with the teachers and administrators first, as they work with the children on a daily basis.  The next point of contact would be the office of the superintendent, as they oversee all of the schools within a district. The next level would be the county or regional superintendent’s office followed by the state’s Department of Education. 

    There are also organizations that aim to help families navigate the process.  If the child has documented disabilities and has an IEP, or individual education plan, they then fall into what is called a “protected class’ there are additional laws and teams in place to ensure that they are not discriminated against or bullied because of their disability.  There are parent advocacy networks in place to help parents stand up for their children’s rights. Having worked with various districts throughout my career, I have seen firsthand how parents benefit from having an advocate attend meetings with combative school personnel. There are also Educational Law Centers that specialize in representing families who believe their child’s educational rights have been violated.

    Bullying is everyone’s problem. Accordingly, the prevention and reduction of incidences of bullying must be a top priority for all parents and educators.  It’s important to be clear on identifying what bullying is and to know how to attentively respond to incidences without being dismissive. Documentation alleviates stakeholders from sifting through emotional and verbal ramblings and forces them to deal with issues head-on.  Finally, there is a protocol chain in place to eradicate bullying and school violence that includes working directly with school personnel, partnering with an advocate and ultimately seeking legal action when problems are not addressed.


    Sources

    https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=719 

    https://youthtruthsurvey.org/bullying

    https://www.stopbullying.gov/media/facts/index.html

    https://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/what-to-do-about-bullying/

    http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/bullying-and-suicide.html

    https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-bullying#fnref4

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  • Advocate for Your Child: 10 Steps to Productive Parent- Teacher Meetings

    It’s right around report card time. If your child’s school has marking periods divided into quarters then you probably just finished wrapping up parent teacher conferences.  If the school goes by trimesters then you’ll be heading off to conferences in the near future.

    Hopefully, you and your child’s teachers are on the same page when it comes to their education.  Unfortunately, there may be times when parent and teacher will disagree. If you’re anything like me, it makes your blood boil when you learn that your child is being dismissed, overlooked, misunderstood or disrespected by a teacher or administrator.  As a parent, educator for the past twenty years and creator of parent education and empowerment workshops, I have a unique vantage point in this arena. I’ve literally been on both sides of the table and I can honestly say being on the parent side gave me an entirely different perspective.

    Let me start by telling you what does not work.  Yelling. I’m laughing as I type this but yelling absolutely does not work.  I’ve sat in meetings with other professionals secretly wishing I could pull the parent aside, give them a big grandmotherly hug and whisper you have a good point but they’re not hearing you because you’re belligerent.  I’ve also had to remind myself as a parent in said meetings of the same. So, how do you tactfully advocate for your child at parent-teacher meetings?

    1. Always remember that teacher and administrators are fellow humans.  

    When I was working within the public school system, I’d be out shopping and run into a family.  You’d think they’d seen a ghost. There’s usually a double take, followed by whispers and perhaps pointing.  I’d usually break the ice by jokingly reminding the child and his/her family that yes, teachers shop too. I tell that story to remind you that school personnel have emotions and are a summation of their own personal experiences, strengths and shortcomings.  By and large, teachers teach because they love children and want to see them succeed. At the same time, being a parent of one, two or eight children can be overwhelming. Imagine being the authority figure for a class of twenty-five. That too, is a lot of pressure and is extremely overwhelming.  Don’t view school personnel as the enemy. Rather, strive to have them understand your child by lending them your unique perspective as you are the expert of your child. Which leads me to #2.

    2. You ARE absolutely the expert of your child.

    Never underestimate your power as a parent.  Parent-teacher conferences, child study team meetings and academic/behavioral intervention meetings are nerve-wracking.  Many parents feel uncomfortable speaking up for their children in meetings at school. Some parents even feel as if they are being scrutinized or criticized in meetings and sometimes they are being judged.  We agreed that school personnel are humans and sometimes humans who don’t yet have all of the information, judge. You know your child’s birth story, you can attest to their journey of meeting developmental milestones and you are with them when they are working independently at home to complete homework assignments.  These are the questions that school psychologists and learning specialists explore when determining how a child learns and/or processes information. This vital information can only come from a parent, guardian or another adult who regularly interacts with the child outside of school. See, you ARE the expert of your child.  

    3. Your being the expert of your child does not mean that the teacher is not the expert of teaching.  

    While I want to send you into the next meeting feeling confident and empowered, let’s also meet with the understanding that teaching is a profession.  Boards of Directors monitor corporations, hospital administrators oversee doctors and school administrators supervise teachers. Going into a meeting claiming that your child isn’t learning because the teacher can’t teach is counterproductive and disrespectful. At the same time, each and every teacher is not a master teacher.  Nevertheless, we likely wouldn’t be bold enough to put down one of our doctors. The same rules should apply to the professional educators who sacrifice time, money and much more to partner with our families to ensure that our children are not only good students but also productive citizens.

    With all of that said, the key is to realize that, parent included, there are a team of experts seated at the table when a meeting is called to discuss a student’s progress.  Attempt to develop a mutually respectful working relationship with your fellow team members on behalf of your child.

    4. Teaching and learning aren’t always an exact science.

    My educational background is in educational psychology which is the science of how people learn and retain information in combination with the study of how to implement teaching and behavior modification strategies in order to foster student success.  A mouthful, right? To help exceptional learners, teachers partner with child study team members largely comprised of learning specialists, psychologists and social workers.  In order words, sometimes there’s no straight answer to the question of why is my child struggling in school. There definitely is an answer, but like most things in life finding the answer may take us on a journey.  My advice is to plan for a long-term, systematic approach instead of expecting a quick-fix.

    5. Keep a detailed journal.

    All of the other experts at the table will come equipped with notes, data or other pertinent information related to the progress of the student.  In the case of behavioral challenges, the child study team will probably request the teacher take note of the type of behavior and its frequency. You don’t need to have a binder full of information.  You need to have neither a high school diploma nor college degree to jot down some notes and talking points to cover in the meeting. No pressure. The idea is that we all forget over time and when it comes to something like identifying academic challenges we must look at patterns.  So, keeping a detailed journal, even if on sticky notes, will prove to be helpful in developing a solid plan to get your child back on track.

    6. Educate yourself about the issue.  

    Do you speak Greek?  Me either. Imagine being in a room of people at a restaurant who only speak greek. You have a severe food allergy You’re incapable of telling the wait staff that you have a deadly allergy.  Putting myself in that scenario would be extremely uncomfortable for me. At a minimum, I would have to have google translate ready to go on my phone and my EpiPen in my purse. I wouldn’t expect to hold a full conversation, but I’m not going to set myself up for a disaster either.  

    As the expert of your child, take just a few moments to become familiar with some of the jargon you might hear in a parent-teacher meeting so that you don’t feel like everyone else in the room, but you,  is able to participate in the conversation.

    In my numerous conversations with parents about advocating for their children, there lies one common theme amongst the parents of private, public and charter school children.  Parents tend to distrust their own judgment and are likely to be more defensive if they feel powerless. When we educate ourselves, we empower ourselves.

    7. Ask lots of questions.  

    Once you’ve educated yourself about the issues your child may be experiencing, ask as many questions as needed until you feel like your concerns have been addressed.

    8. Know your rights.

    You have rights as a parent.  Your child has rights too. If your child falls into what is called a protected class, such as a learner with special needs, then there are additional laws in place to assure that they receive a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment possible.  

     

    9. Don’t be afraid to say no.  

    As your child’s biggest advocate, it is okay to go against the flow and trust our well-informed gut.  Sometimes, we just know that a decision that we’re being asked to make is the wrong decision. It is okay to insist that your support team work with you to come up with a more suitable solution.  However, that means that you may have to stand on a firm “no, that will not work for me.”

    10. Be the glue.

    My daughter had two back-to-back concussions earlier this year.   Although I’m well versed in the effects of traumatic brain injuries in children, I was ill prepared to immediately jump into action when my daughter went from memorizing three-page speeches to not being able to remember one line of text from one day to the next.  I had to have several serious talks with myself to not allow my emotions to get the best of me. It took six months, her pediatrician, a team of neurologists and physical therapists, daily conversations with the school principal and my reading everything I could get my hands on regarding multiple concussions in teens for me to be able to advocate on her behalf when one of her teachers insisted that her concussions should have no bearing on how she was being graded. I had to be the vessel to keep all parties on the same page. Otherwise,  the school would be doing one thing, the doctors would be recommending another and my daughter would have been caught in the middle.

    If you want to minimize things “falling through the cracks”, you must be the glue.

     

    As parents, we have to advocate for our children.  We know them best and we want what’s best for them.  Instead of finding yourself in a position where you’re going toe-to-toe with the teacher and principal, I encourage you to leverage school personnel as your team of fellow advocates that will help your child win.  The first step toward student success getting all stakeholders on the same page. And, if all parties aren’t on the same page, we must equip ourselves to with the education and tools to relentlessly work toward our end goal of providing our children with the best education possible.

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  • Back to High School

    September is just two weeks away! Honestly, where did this summer go? The rain just washed it away! Any who – we always hear about “back to school” tips. Usually in the first week of July when the kiddos just got out of those locker-lined halls. Instead of planning barbecues and laying out by the pool, we are bombarded with backpacks, pencils and binders flooding an entire fourth of Target. So, we decided to wait until the appropriate time to talk with you about a lesser discussed subject -“back to high school” tips! Today I am going to be writing about what you can do as a parent to help your child prepare for their first day as a high school freshman.

     

    1.    Familiarity

    Help your child get familiar with their new school. They’ve never been here before and it’s probably much larger and more intimidating then their middle school was. Some schools offer an orientation where all of the kids can come in and get familiar with the building as well as practice their locker combinations. However, if your child’s school district does not offer orientation at the end of summer, make sure to find a time where you and your kid can take a tour of the school. It is particularly helpful if you already have their school schedule, that way you can easily help them locate the classes that they will be attending and do a general run-through of their day! If possible, picking up a school map will help if your child gets confused and can’t remember where a class is located.

    1.    Organization

    Help your child prepare for their first day of high school. While many teachers don’t give out a list of supplies until the first day of school, it is best to come prepared on the first day with a folder, notebook, pen and pencil. Trust me, there are going to be a lot of handouts! When your child gets home from school, go through their lists of supplies with them and make a plan to get everything that they need. If you are looking to cut back on costs (who isn’t?), try to scavenge around the house for supplies that you may already have lying around from previous years. You can also plan a supply swap with friends and family. For example, while you might have an extra notebook you don’t need, a friend might have an extra folder that you do need. You can then swap items! If all else fails, the Dollar Store is always a great option!

    1.    Involvement

    High school offers a wide variety of clubs, sports and other opportunities. Encourage your child take advantage of these! You can help by taking a look at the school’s website and seeing what kind of extracurricular activities they have to offer. Sit down with your child and weed out the ones that they are not interested in and zero in on the ones that fascinate them. Having your child get involved in something like soccer, drama club, or student council will help them attain a sense of belonging. It will also help them expand on their circle of friends and find where they fit in. Multiple small middle schools often merge into one larger high school so there is a good chance that there are a lot of people your child does not know yet. Participating in activities will help them branch out while also discovering their interests!

    1.    Communication

    Always keep the lines of communication open. Your child is going through change and may be anxious about this new transition in their life. The work load changes from middle school to high school and your child may be under more stress than he/she once was. Your child is also experiencing bodily changes as they are now becoming an adult, which can be a very confusing time. You can help your child get through this by keeping an open dialogue about the struggles that they are going through. Monitor their feelings and let them know that you are listening and that you care. If you notice any warning signs of severe anxiety, lower self-esteem or depression, seek help. Talking with the student guidance counselor is a good place to start.

     

    These next four years are going to be exciting for your child. As parents, you’re going to be able to watch them transform from your precious babies into wonderful adults. Always remember that no one is perfect. Allow them to make mistakes, it helps them grow! Just make sure the mistakes aren’t too big. Happy high schooling!

     

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