Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

If each one of us untangled one string at a time...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Silent Soul Crusher of #Bullying

Sometimes it's not the words that hurt, it's the shrug of the shoulders, it's the no eye contact, it's the looking through a person and not at them.  It's the absence of words.

Message is received.  You're not important.  Your heart shrinks a little more.  Kids know when their peers or even adults are not that interested in them.  It's like the title of the book and movie by the same name, "He's Just Not that Into You."  

This is something that has to be experienced to understand.  And that's really part of the harsh reality.  Often this is a silent soul crusher because the method of hurting another is off the radar.  No one sees it.  It's no big deal to others.  It doesn't matter.  There is no recourse.  It is isolating and there is no road map.

No child should feel alone.  Correction.  No person should feel alone.

Kids don't read this blog so if you're an adult who is made to feel small by being made to feel invisible, please know that your suffering is real.  Although we probably have never met, I am sorry if you are feeling diminished in any way.

You are important and fight for yourself.  Get new friends.  Seek new circles and perhaps look out for a child who may be feeling the same way.  See them. Validate their importance.  

Your interest is proof of how important you are.  Sometimes it just takes one person to remind a child of their value.  You won't know it by their words but you'll see it in their eyes.

My hope is that you are seen and appreciated today.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Chain of Leadership as the Anti-Bully

The 2013-2014 school year was full of light bulb moments.

It started out with this thought:  What if we gave young students the chance to shine as leaders?  What if we spent as much time creating opportunities for them to practice their leadership skills as we did talking to them about bullying?  What if we got a little creative? What if we could inspire the adults and the kids without it being a hassle or taking away from class time?  What if we made it inexpensive?  Simple?  Flexible? And dare I say, what if it was fun?

The answer was One Can Count, based on Kathryn Otoshi's award-winning book, One, and thanks to Senator Lanza, we were able to answer some of those burning questions.

It is the first time that all 30 elementary schools in Senator Lanza's Staten Island district received the tools they needed to start their own One Can Count initiative.  It became a chain of leadership.  From the free workshop in September to the last day in June, schools made One Can Count their own.  Parent coordinators, teachers, principals and counselors embraced the concept that leadership is the anti-bully.

Here's the simple theory:  Kids need attention.  They'll get it any way they can.  So, if you give them the chance to be their best self, they most often rise to the occasion.  The more leaders you have in a classroom, the better the balance.

Although it's a children's book, every age, including grown ups are inspired by the power that each of us has to stand up and be the One that steps in.

One Can Count is designed to be a stand alone initiative or work with existing programs in the school to help children value the concept of respect.  Bullying is a tangled ball and just like any messy and complicated issue, it often requires many small solutions.

With that being said, I was amazed at what schools accomplished this year.  They took this tool and ran with it.  They had mentoring programs, art and writing projects, assemblies, leadership counsels, performances, and much more.  They created daily reminders of what it's like to be a One.

The year started out with questions but it ended with an answer:

Words of a 5th Grade Leader presenting chain of leadership to Senator Lanza:
Just like the chain, we are connected to one another in our commitment to grow into young leaders.  We are a community of learners who recognize that leadership is not just a position, but a process. -- Piumi
Part of that process:

Books and Materials  

Multiple copies of One and the companion book, Zero, were delivered to each of the 30 schools in early September.


With the generous support of St. John's University, schools came together to hear from experts, including author Kathryn Otoshi and to discuss ideas in which schools could easily incorporate the concepts of leadership.

Free Materials

Materials to help get the tangled ball rolling are free and downloadable here.

Creating the Concept of a Team

Schools had the option of ordering special personalized One Can Count t-shirts for students or teachers.
We're just getting started.  Next year our goal is to have every student feel like a leader. -- Parent Coordinator, P.S. 80
Sometimes it just takes One.

Thank you Senator Lanza, St. John's University, Kathryn Otoshi, and especially schools, for delivering hundreds of light bulb moments for me and hopefully Staten Island elementary school students.  Looking forward to 2014-2015.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A School Full of Leaders: A Plan at SI's Petrides

The goal at Staten Island's Petrides (P.S. 80) is to have a school full of leaders. They believe that every student has the potential to be a leader.  It's a priority and they have a plan. It started with an interested parent coordinator, enthusiastic administrators, a handful of student leaders and a big dose of enthusiasm and creativity.

One Can Count, sponsored by NYS Senator Andrew Lanza and based on Kathryn Otoshi's award-winning children's book, One,  is in full swing.   Petrides, a dynamic K-12 school that values respect, is constantly developing ways to get across the point that each child has the ability to become their "best self" and add to the good of the whole.

Lesson #1

Taking the Lead

Student leaders in the 4th and 7th grades got the tangled ball rolling by visiting each and every classroom from K-8th grade to read One.  Think about this.  Seventh graders reading a children's book to the mighty 8th graders.  That takes courage.

Lesson #2

How Am I a One?

Students got involved in simple activities that inspired them to think about themselves as a One.  Using cut outs of the #1, they reflected on how they could be a One.  Then they created shadow cut outs of their profiles with an assignment that asked "How Am I a Leader?" Powerful.

Lesson #3

Appreciating Others for Being a One

Students, administrators and teachers are encouraged to recognize others for being a One.  The hallways are lined with photos of kids and teachers with a brief description of their positive action.

Example:  John Paul was caught being a One when he invited a lonely classmate to play.

Lesson #4

Individual Students as Team Builders

Students will all be contributing to a chain of leadership.  Each paper link represents a student and when each student brings their unique talents and they're connected to each other, the community becomes strong, nurturing and a safe place to learn and enjoy growing up.

Lesson #5

Support is Key

Why is One Can Count such a success at Petrides?  Support.  Parent Coordinator Jami Kilichowski and Elementary School Assistant Principal Danielle Bennett attended the One Can Count workshop in September.  They took a spark ignited from the workshop and created a fire of enthusiasm among school staff and students.  And it doesn't stop this year.  A detailed plan has already been outlined for next year.

It's not just words at Petrides.  It's a plan.  One administrator, one teacher, one parent coordinator, one mentor, one student at a time.

I have complete faith that Petrides will reach their goal.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Leadership is Igniting Good

Life is beautiful not because of the things we see or do. Life is beautiful because of the people we meet. -- Simon Sinek

Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to my son give a speech about leadership.  In his short remarks, he said that leadership is about interconnectivity, empathy and attitude.

Of the three, he emphasized interconnectivity which is really community.  We don't necessarily have to have research to tell us that we're social beings who need each other to be happy but there is plenty of it to support the obvious.  Feeling connected is one of our basic drivers throughout life. 
Happiness may be surprisingly contagious. Psychologist James H. Fowler studied the data of 5,000 people over 20 years and found that happiness benefits other people through three degrees of connection, and that the effects last for a year. He says: “We found a statistical relationship not just between your happiness and your friends' happiness, but between your happiness and your friends’ friends’ friends’ happiness.” (PBS: This Emotional Life)
 And staying connected enough to have empathy may be our biggest challenge as a culture.  It's one of the tangled strings in the tangled ball in our texting, friending and posting society.  

But here's the hopeful part (attitude!).  It's all evolving.  There are smart, empathetic connected people who know the value of Facebook, Instagram and all things social media but who are actively giving a generation permission to remember that now, more than ever,  we still need to get to know people face to face.  Adding to the quality of other people's lives adds to the quality of our own. 

It's fairly brave to swim in a slightly different direction.  To say it's ok to embrace something new but to pay attention to the thing that makes us click and makes us whole.  Purpose.

Here's to Ignite Good.  Check out their mission.  I dare you not to be inspired.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Students Encouraged to Be Their "Best Selves" at P.S. 69

Our school has been placing an emphasis on exposing our students to Character Traits such as Respect, Patience, Tolerance, Responsibility, and Loyalty (just to name a few.) This emphasis shows them that truly exhibiting these traits will allow them to collaborate and communicate effectively. -- P.S. 69
P.S. 69 is keeping their eye of the prize.

Last week was big for New York schools.  Testing Week!  Administration, teachers and students gear up for this day from the first day of school.  Everything seems to lead to this ever important time.

Correction.  Almost everything.  At P.S. 69, they have a wider goal.  It's making sure that students learn how to treat each other and become their "best selves" all year round.

As part of One Can Count, sponsored by NYS Senator Lanza, every grade level and every classroom used Kathryn Otoshi's award-winning books One and Zero as a foundation to promote the concept that "Everyone Counts." (The school even involved the parents by asking the second graders to perform a play based on One for the PTA meeting.)  Although the new core curriculum has taken over and has been a time consuming focus, P.S. 69 didn't want character education to go by the wayside.

And good for them because as the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence explains,
Our research shows that students with higher emotional intelligence are better prepared to manage their emotional lives so that they can focus, learn, and do their best in school.
Inspiring kids takes time, energy and a lot of creativity.  Hats off to ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) Nest Coach Stefanie Martingano, and principal Doreen E. Murphy for making sure their students gain leadership skills because leadership is the anti-bully.  Teachers get in on the act, as well, and wear their One Can Count t-shirts to remind the students that "Sometimes It Just Takes One." With the help of the staff, each student has received the message that they are a leader.

Even before the tests were finished, it was clear that this is a school full of winners.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

P.S. 45 Takes "Respect For All' Seriously All Year Long

Visiting Staten Island's P.S. 45 (John Tyler School) inspired me.  (For those reading this outside of New York City, P.S. stands for Public School.)

Every student in this elementary school participated in an awesome kick-off  assembly honoring Respect for All Week.  The students were led in a special reading of Kathryn Otoshi's book Zero by a group of their peers involved in the SOAR program.  (To facilitate character building,  New York State Senator Andrew Lanza sponsored One Can Count in all the elementary schools in his district.  Multiple copies of One and Zero were provided to each school.)

According to guidance counselor and SOAR mentor Libby McPike,

SOAR stands for Safe Organized Attitude Respect. It's our school wide positive behavior model. Kids follow these expectations and when caught doing well, can be rewarded with eagle dollars (eagle is our school mascot). Then they shop in the SOAR STORE for items anywhere from erasers to DVD players (all run on donations). 

P.S. 45's approach to teaching respect and character education is one more example to me that "leadership is the anti-bully." And sometimes teaching leadership takes a bit of creativity. Ms. Libby and her students have plenty of that to share. Here's just a snippet of the kind of activities that this dedicated professional and the students she mentors have developed to engage the entire school -- staff and students alike -- in the empowering messages of kindness, tolerance and respect. 
Wear Purple: Purple is the color of good judgment. It is said if you surround yourself with purple you will have peace of mind. Purple is a good color to use in meditation. Purple has been used to symbolize magic and mystery, as well as royalty. Being the combination of red and blue, the warmest and coolest colors, purple is believed to be the ideal color. 
Activity: Good Deed CatalogIt goes without saying that it’s important to teach kids to do nice things for one another. During Respect for All Week, keep a running tally of good deeds that students perform. These can include helping clean up, consoling a sad classmate, sharing, helping out a friends, etc. Tell your class that if they reach a certain number of good deeds for the week, they will receive some sort of prize (Ex. Lunch with the teacher, homework pass, Good Deed Certificate, Etc.)
On the day I visited, the gym it was an enthusiastic sea of purple. 

After reading the book, the group of SOAR students (as young as 3rd grade) led the entire school in a question and answer session based on the themes of Zero, including "What does it mean to have a hole in your middle?" and "How did it feel to have the other numbers step up?".

5 Things I Learned at P.S. 45

•    A thoughtful, creative and enthusiastic administration is the foundation for promoting high quality character education.  (A shout out to principal Ms. Chavez and parent coordinator Mrs. Poli who allowed me to be there and so graciously welcomed me to their school.)

•  It's a worthy commitment to create an environment where leadership is part of the culture year round.

•  Helping students develop leadership skills such as public speaking gives children confidence and confidence is the key to resilience.

•  When students are expected to listen to each other and value each person's opinion, they rise to the occasion.  (Note:  Amazing how many students were eager to be a part of the question/answer session.  The students obviously felt safe to share their opinions with a gym full of their peers.)

•  The students had fun.  Teaching children to step up helps children SOAR and it's never boring.

(Speaking of "stepping up," Ms. Libby went the extra step and wore purple shoes!)

Teaching leadership and respect takes a lot of hard work.  Mentoring children is exhausting and never a perfect process.  For those reasons, I am deeply grateful for the fine professionals at P.S. 45 and other schools around the country who hang in there every day and give it 100%.  You deserve a parade.

Thank you.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Connecting the Dots: Daydreaming, Resilience and Bullying Prevention

There's an upside and a downside to our focus on bullying prevention.  The upside, of course, is that we're shedding light on the pervasive culture of mean that is destroying the confidence of so many children and teens.  

The downside is that the conversation doesn't go deep enough.  Should we be talking just about prevention or should we be spending some time exploring what makes children resilient?  I'd love to think that we can "prevent" all bullying.  With a lot more work and dare I say, money,  I definitely think we can change the balance in schools and homes...but kids will always face the challenge of mean behavior.

So what's the difference between the child/teen that carries the hurt with them forever and the person that not only survives but thrives?  I've talked with 80 year olds that tell me that the hurt stuck with them for their whole lives and the negative experience had somehow formed them.  That's how deep the silent pain hides in the soul.  What if that long tail of pain could have been blunted?  What if their ability to become resilient was nurtured?

The subject of resilience is as intricate as the topic of bullying but it deserves it's day in the sun.  

I highly recommend reading Carolyn George's article "18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently in the Huffington Post.
Many of the most iconic stories and songs of all time have been inspired by gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak -- and the silver lining of these challenges is that they may have been the catalyst to create great art. An emerging field of psychology called post-traumatic growth is suggesting that many people are able to use their hardships and early-life trauma for substantial creative growth. Specifically, researchers have found that trauma can help people to grow in the areas of interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and -- most importantly for creativity -- seeing new possibilities in life. 
When we allow kids to daydream, it nurtures their individual creativity.  Their creativity defines them as  a unique powerful person.  When kids are allowed to go into "the zone," they are happier and more satisfied.  It's harder to negatively impact a person who knows what makes them feel the joy of their own individuality.  Creativity comes in so many forms...art, music, writing, sports, film, tv production, theater, even developing video games...anything that takes vision.  

So here's a tip.  Allow your children to spend time staring out a window or laying on the floor listening to music or curling up in a chair and relaxing.  It's time well spent.  Their creativity may sustain them for the rest of their lives.