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Sunday, December 15, 2013

How to Bully Proof Your Campus

Whether it's on the playground, in the locker room, or discreetly right under your nose, bullying happens every moment of everyday in our schools.

Here are 5 things you can do to decrease the odds of it happening on your campus.

1) Know the players. Looks can be deceiving!

Bullies are sneaky to say the least. In fact, one of your beloved darlings who makes straight A's and gives you Starbucks gift cards for Christmas, may very well be picking on one of your not-so-beloved students. One of the best ways to spot a bully is to catch them off guard. The cafeteria lunch line or when students are in line at recess are breeding grounds for bullies to emerge. Who cuts in line (bully)? Who typically sits alone pretending to read (victim)? Who is picked last when choosing "teams?" Instigators are highly manipulative and sneaky!

Watch!  The triple dog dare! Scene from The Christmas Story

2) Get the whole story.

 Before jumping to conclusions, stop and meet with involved parties separately. This may need to happen in an administrator's office depending on the severity. Nonetheless, before picking up the phone to call home and basically ruining the student's entire holiday, listen to all parties involved before writing the student up. This isn't to say there shouldn't be consequences for saying an inappropriate word or fighting in the boys' locker room, but there may be more to the story. Warning: document, document, document! Having the student write down in his/her own words will protect yourself and your campus administration from future headaches.

3) Don't be an enabler.

Just because you need a smaller student to play the sheep in your Christmas pageant doesn't mean you use the smallest student. Why make the bully's job any easier? Students who are typically bullied are targets for a reason. Maybe they haven't hit a growth spurt and are small for their age. They may be super-intelligent and would rather talk about computer coding or fossils over computer games. Ask a student privately before assigning them to a task.

4) Be approachable. You may appear 15 feet tall to a young child  who is in first grade.
As goofy as it may sound, practice your facial expressions in the mirror.
Find a way to diminish scowls and creased foreheads in exchange for a less scary look. It is one thing to show disapproval, it is another thing to scar a small child for life! Perspective is everything!

5) Teach students to self-advocate!

There's a fine line between tattle-telling and self-advocating. Students who learn to stick up for themselves and express their needs are less likely to fall victim to bullies. When a student self-advocates they are empowering themselves. Whining and crying are weak ways to express needs and may look like tattle-telling. Our job as teachers is to teach them the difference.
Comfort and console, but then role play to model how to self-advocate. Teach students to say, "I need to be able to stand in line without others cutting in front of me," versus (student crying) "So-and-so cut in line!" It is our job to set students up for success by ensuring them that their voice matters. Yes, it's a full time job and may not be a part of our state standards, but in the long-run this may be the one skill that gets them through life in one piece!


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Lost in Translation


As with most adventures in life, things don't always go as planned. It was 2007, light years away from Angry Birds, Iphones, and instagram.
Class projects relied on the good ol' #2 pencil, glue stick, colored pencils, crayons, scissors, and a trusty ruler. I was a week away from spending a romantic springbreak get-a-way with my
husband touring the city of love and lights; Paris, France. But as with all teachers, it is in our DNA to carry our students in our hearts, even on vacation.

I was walking the aisles of Hobby Lobby when a miniature passport with the Eiffel Tower on the cover caught my eye. Wa-La! The Flat Stanley project was scheduled to launch. It would be the crème de la crème of literacy ventures. I would take a class-made Flat Stanley to Paris, snap photos, and return ready to translate the photos into a journal starring our very own Flat Stanley.

By the way, Flat Stanley is a fictional storybook character created in 1964 by Jeff Brown. He was an ordinary boy until a bulletin board fell on him during the night flattening him. The book series has Stanley capturing burglars and retrieving keys from storm drains; feats of heroism attainable because of his flatness.

Unless Mr. Brown had a time machine, there is no way that he could've imagined the magnitude in which his loveable character has impacted literacy projects around the world.

 Before internet gizmos and gadgets, hash tags, and Avatars, Flat Stanley was a simple paper cut-out, shaped like a boy with reddish-brown hair, fair skin, and rosy cheeks. He traveled via the United States postal service or was physically carried by a kind and willing soul, or he stayed put. Thankfully, there are more options today!

As fate would have it, the day my literacy class was scheduled to discuss our global project, I bit down on a cherry jolly rancher and cracked my back molar. I went to the dentist and was told I needed a root canal. I scrambled sub plans and wrote detailed notes on Flat Stanley literacy circles, mapping out his adventures to famous landmarks, and of course, using paper templates of Flat Stanley.

When I returned on Thursday, teachers would vote anonymously on which Stanley would go. It was a lot to ask from a substitute, but visions of the project trumped any common sense.

Dreams of French pastries and desserts kept me strong through the ordeal, and I was confident the Flat Stanley project would prevail. I would not...could not...let a jolly rancher take me and our class project down. 
The swelling was worse than expected and  a dry socket would keep me out until Friday...the last day before spring break. I emailed my substitute who assured me the students were "highly engaged" and the students' characters were "coming along nicely."
I returned to school to find a plethora of paper creations lining the walls, only none of them looked like Flat Stanley.  I opened my book bag and a lump formed in my throat. The crispy white sheets of Flat Stanley templates, were tucked neatly inside my school tote bag, along with my project plans. 
I looked around the room. There was a Harry Potter look-alike (scar and all), a transformer, a Justin Bieber, and even a Pegasus. I wanted to cry. What have they done? I cursed the jolly rancher. In the absence of templates and lesson plans, the students didn't know that they were creating a Flat Stanley replica that would actually go to France.

My substitute wasn't to blame either. I had forgotten to take the templates out and half of the plans were paper clipped to the copies. She only knew to read books and have students create a character using their imagination. It was the best I could've expected, really, given the circumstances.

I confess that I blamed the jolly rancher for years for the project gone bust. But there was a bright spot in the Flat Stanley Fiasco, as I called it for years. His character was unmistakable. Except for the rosy colored cheeks and Flat Stanley clothes, it was Kenny to a tee.

 He had also designed a passport with a hand-drawn Eagle on the cover with black marker. I pulled him aside, "You did a wonderful job drawing your character. What is his name?" (I excepted for him to say his name). "Mrs. Dollar! He already has a name...Flat Stanley!"
After class, I quietly asked Kenny if he'd like for me to take his Flat Stanley and he answered, "Duh!
That's why I made a passport!"

I confess that I wanted to create an authentic Flat Stanley, the one Mr. Brown would be proud of (or so I thought), but my teacher inner voice screamed no! I guess you could say it's one of the moments when, as a teacher, I had to let go of preconceived notions, my ideal lesson, the crème de la  crème project.. and go with the heart.
Confession Reflection:
  • Has there ever been a project/lesson that didn't go the way you planned? What did you learn from the experience?
  • Can you think of a teacher who affirmed you in some way? Did the experience shape how you relate to your students?

  • How can administrators nurture a climate that affirms risk-taking and celebrates "jolly rancher" moments?