Never stop teaching. Strengthen your school climate by giving your students the skills to work through issues with classmates.
I don’t want to downplay the effects that bullying has on our students. Bullying behaviour has life long impacts on students. Schools are meant to be safe, comfortable, learning spaces for all students. Staff in schools work hard to teach far more than academics. Our ability to get along, negotiate, apologize and care for each other has its learning roots in our schools.
I just want to start off with the statement that not all student negative interactions are bullying or should be labelled that way. It is wonderful that we have bullying awareness week, and have classroom lessons focusing on this important issue. But when every comment from a child about another child starts with, ‘they are bullying me’, there has to be a better way to help students understand the distinction between bullying and conflict.
By helping your students understand their behaviours, and giving them the skills to problem solve, you will have less ‘smaller issues’ come to the attention of your staff and/or the office. And, most importantly, by developing a common language that the entire student body understands and uses, when issues do come to your attention all parties can problem solve using a similar common language.
I was recently filling in at a school and assisting two students with a disagreement they were having. A teacher had sent them to me because she was not comfortable watching their verbal exchange on the stairwell as they were heading outside for break.
We went into an empty classroom and I did some teaching. I shared with students the concept of ‘fair chance’.
Each year in our schools I would visit classrooms or have a large assembly, and then have teachers reinforce and re-teach the idea of fair chance. Senior students were always wonderful at acting out a scenario for our younger students so they would begin to understand about speaking up and trying to solve their issues on the playground, in the locker areas, hallways etc, on their own.
The scenario would be something like this. While playing a game, or walking quickly in the hallway one student would bump into another. The child would not apologize for the contact and instead would make an insulting comment to the person that they collided with. And then we would pause.
The student that had received the comment or the contact would say to the person, ‘I don’t like…’ ‘Please be careful..’ A comment that is kind but appropriate in the circumstance. And then we would pause again and ask the question.
‘What would a kind person, a Boyne student who understands Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference, do at that point?’ If it truly was an accident or a mistake, or an event that occurred because of the game or sport that you were playing, what would a good person do?’
Every student knew the appropriate response. When our students called out other students about their comments or behaviour and gave them ‘fair chance’ we would expect an apology, a ‘ya, you’re right’. This acknowledgement from the person showed they understood that they had caused a problem and together the two of them could work towards a resolution.
Now, I’ll stop for a moment and share that these conflicts are minor in scale. Absolutely! Hurtful comments, physical violence and behaviour of a much more harmful nature require more than someone pointing out to a student that it is unacceptable and giving them a ‘fair chance’. Our students were aware of the Harmful Language Protocol and when staff intervention was required. This Interesting Idea is around the smaller mishaps that occur during play. What it does do for the school is prevents the constant misrepresentation of daily occurrences as being bullying behaviours.
Students are taught that after a person gives a polite fair chance comment, they should listen to the next statement from the person involved. If they are unkind, if they are participating in bullying behaviour they would comment , ‘I don’t care, you are still…’. ‘or swear’ ‘ or tell them to shut up’ or other negative comments.
One of the students common lines was often, ‘remember fair chance?’ or directly, ‘I’m giving you fair chance, was that on purpose?’
I still remember the situation where the child responded to the fair chance statement with, ‘I don’t care what Mr. Marshall told us, you are still a …’. And remember, the words used here were not indicative of the Harmful Language Protocol, they were unkind words from a primary student.
In that case we ask the receiver of the comment to look around for others in the game or in the area and ask, ‘did you hear me give him/her fair chance?’ When they have others that heard that fair chance was provided, we now have witnesses to events we do not want to have occur at our school and problem solving with everyone involved is so much easier.
It changes the wording. I would much rather have a student come to me and say, ‘I gave (name) fair chance and they didn’t listen to me’ than ‘(name) is bullying me’. This is a great opportunity to do some learning with the students involved using language that both parties should understand. Some times the problem started with how the student provided fair chance.
Problem solving with students about issues that occur in the school become so clear, when a fair chance statement is given, and the person does not ‘make a difference’ in the moment and start to repair the problem. You still need to investigate the entire event but you don’t have layers of statements to wade through.
Parents were so appreciative when we debriefed and shared the fair chance common language. Parents would hear that when their child was given ‘fair chance’ they still continued to bother, harass, and upset the other child. This continual behaviour is bullying behaviour and was upsetting to hear as a parent.
Many parents have commented that they think it is wonderful the school is using fair chance, and they are starting to use it at home with siblings. Students were provided with ‘homework’ at the beginning of the year, and after breaks (Significant 72) to explain fair chance at home.
The other situation that you are probably thinking about is the child who receives fair chance constantly, Every day, the same students are getting fair chance comments. Again, a different issue and one that needs to be addressed. Working with families to support the child that would ignore fair chance would then occur so students could maintain their friendships. We created the opportunity for lots of great family discussions at home.
There are situations in our schools more severe and important to correct than these ‘little’ instances that occur. However for these common interactions provide your students with common language like the ability to give someone fair chance. All students understand the words and it prevents every minor disagreement in the school being labeled as bullying. It provides language for your students to begin to work on disagreement with their peers in a comfortable setting.
You will be amazed at the number of students who will share with you, ‘I gave (name) fair chance when we were playing and now we are friends again’.
There’s your interesting idea. I hope you have enjoyed your chance to read it.