Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Power of Words and School Bullying

With a new school year on the horizon, I was tapped to provide a few school bullying workshops at the early childhood and elementary levels. Yes, I said an early childhood bullying workshop. Preschool bullying is an actual thing.

So, by now, you all know me and know that I found a way to incorporate high quality, developmentally appropriate literature into these workshops. I am huge proponent of bibliotherapy, and I strongly believe in the power of words to change lives.

At the preschool and early elementary levels, I chose to focus on the teasing aspect of bullying. Again, it's about the power of words to affect our emotions and how we feel about ourselves. For preschool, the text was Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney. Spoiler alert: This bully goat is a bit of a jerk. He goes well beyond teasing and is actually quite aggressive. My many years as an early childhood educator confirms there are children who behave this way...and worse. In this story, it is the teacher who comes to the rescue. It is important for teachers to be aware of what is occurring in the classroom between students. We understand at this age the children are egocentric and are just learning the concepts of sharing and turn-taking and to expect a bit of bickering, but there is a big difference between this and being an overly aggressive and violent child. 

For the K-2 workshop, I decided to go with the classic Kevin Henkes text Chrysanthemum. In my mind, this is the consummate book of name teasing.  A different book I considered was The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi. While a very good story, The Name Jar isn't so much about name teasing, and is actually a story of diversity and acceptance. Chrysanthemum, on the other hand, shows the effects of teasing and the power of words. The reader sees the  protagonist go through changes throughout  the story as a result of the teasing she endures from her classmates. She goes from loving the idea of school to dreading it. She goes from loving her name to wanting to change it. Chrysanthemum again shows the role and responsibility teachers have with respect to school bullying. In the story, we see the passive role the classroom teacher plays which permits the teasing to continue, contrasted from the active role the music teacher takes in effectively shutting down the bullying.

For the 3-5 workshop, I addressed the idea of being a bystander to bullying. This is also about the power of words, and how powerful the absence of words can be. Those who stand around witnessing bullying in action but do or say nothing are actually a party to it. They are capable of stopping the bullying, but choose instead to be in the audience watching the show. The text I chose for this group was Say Something by Peggy Moss. I love this story because the narrator has an epiphany of sorts after being on the receiving end of some teasing. When she realizes what it feels like to be teased while everyone is around watching and doing nothing, she decides from that moment on that she will say something when she sees others being bullied.

It's my hope that the students who attended these school bullying workshops were informed and empowered to stand up for themselves and for others. Hopefully, they learned just how powerful words can be.

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