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Use Curriculum to Combat Bullying

Each day in America, it is estimated that 160,000 students stay home from school to avoid being bullied. If you take a look at the media headlines in any given week, it’s easy to see that bullying is a growing problem in our schools. The good news is that it is a problem that many teachers can help tackle by creating a bully-free classroom, something that is easier to do than one might think.

“We all know that bullying is a major concern in our schools,” explains Peter J. Goodman, author of the book “We’re All Different But We’re All Kitty Cats.” “But there are things teachers can do to help address this problem and prevent it from happening.”

Goodman has now bundled his popular book with an educational curriculum package, which helps children identify and work through their emotions and feelings. The combined tools use cats as characters to help teach children about bullying and accepting others even if they have differences. The curriculum, titled “Bully Free Students Make Bully Free Classrooms,” focuses on such lessons as what bullying is and feelings and bullying, helping children to identify feelings and how to make the right decisions when they do.

“Being able to integrate a bullying curriculum into the classroom is an effective way to help tackle this problem,” says Julia Anderson, Ed.D, a primary school teacher at Arlington Public Schools. “The subject needs to be there at every level during the elementary school years so that the foundation has been laid.”

Using a fun, interesting, and educational curriculum is just one way that teachers can help create a bully-free classroom. Other tips for doing so include:

• Teaching kids to be upstanders, rather than bystanders. Children typically bully others because they believe they are in a power position to do so. But if peers stand up for the child being bullied, the power is taken away from the bully.

• Place an emphasis on teaching kindness. Show kids ways that they can be kind to one another, and recognize it when they do, complimenting them on it.

• Pair up kids who need a buddy. There are, at times, new kids or those who have a harder time in social situations. Teachers can help with this situation by pairing the child up with someone who has a stronger social personality, so they can stay together during particular activities.

• Work with students to brainstorm a list of classroom rules regarding kindness, tolerance, and bullying. Include ways that they can handle conflict resolution, as well, so that they know what to do if situations arise.

“When you combine several of these factors, you will have a much greater chance of creating a bully-free classroom,” added Goodman. “Children learn when they have fun, when the information is repeated, and when they can actively play a role.”

“Teachers have to be more proactive in this area so that we can create a safer classroom,” explains Karen Goldberg, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in working with parents and families. “Addressing the issue now and creating a bully-free classroom can save a lot of problems from occurring later on. Plus, the kids learn skills they can use for a lifetime.”

Here are 10 additional things that schools can do to help prevent and address bullying:

1. Focus on prevention. When you begin working on bullying as a school-wide issue, place the emphasis more on preventing it so that it is not as big of a problem to begin with.

2. Establish a committee. Create a task force at the school to focus on bullying. That committee should include members from staff, teachers, parents, and students. Together, they can work together and have their input considered.

3. Create a plan. Within the committee, work together to create a bully-prevention plan for the school. Include what the consequences will be if people are found to be bullying others.

4. Start early. It is never too early to start working with children about treating others with kindness, respect, and acceptance. Start at the earliest grade that the school has, leaving no children out of the plan.

5. Keep it going. As children work their way through the school, advancing to the next grade, reinforce the bully-prevention message. They need to hear the message every year, as opposed to it being given to them only once.

6. Think multiple methods. Children learn in different manners. Some learn by listening, others learn by hands-on projects, and still others learn by watching. Try to incorporate multiple ways to get the bully-prevention message across to students. Include things like books, plays, games, movies, and more.

7. Encourage peer advocacy. When students go from being bystanders to being “upstanders,” attempts to address bullying will be more successful. Students should be taught to stand up for other students.

8. Teach what to do. Even though the focus should mainly be on bullying prevention, students still need to know what to do if it happens to them. Teach them acceptable ways to handle bullying if they do encounter it.

9. Work with parents. Parents want a bully-free school as much as teachers, staff, and students do. Nobody wants their child to come home in tears after a day of being bullied. Get the parents involved in the bully prevention effort in order to make it more successful.

10. Evaluate and adjust. Once or twice per year, give the students an anonymous survey to fill out, where they can answer questions about bullying on the school campus. This will provide a look at how the students feel about the school atmosphere, and will give staff the chance to see if the bully-free plans need to be re-evaluated.

The Kitty Cats book and curriculum has been written for children in pre-kindergarten through the third grade, www.kittycatsbook.com.

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