Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

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

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.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Gold Medal Performance in Feeding the Hungry

Just as I was feeling down realizing that there would be no gold medalist to watch tonight, I came across this story of a college guy who should receive the gold for putting 2 and 2 together and feeding thousands.  Food Recovery Network is an organization that donates food from college campuses to the hungry.

Leadership is about not being afraid of having a really good idea and making it happen, even if no one else has thought of it before (but maybe they should have.)  It's about inspiring your peers to do even more.

Thank you, Ben Simon, for doing the equivalent of a perfect freestyle skiing run or an impeccable "twizzle" or racing the fastest down a bobsled course.  You put yourself out there every day without any expectation of a hometown heroes welcome.

I'm cheering you on whether you're in Sochi or not.  College Park is equally impressive.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Are the Next Great Leaders At P.S. 22?

ABC's The View celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by asking Staten Island's P.S. 22 Chorus to appear on their show to sing, "We Shall Overcome."  The song was interspersed with students reciting  lines from Dr. King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech.

P.S. 22 is known for its famous chorus.  They've sung with incredible musical artists as well as making appearances at The White House and the Oscars, among many other incredible venues, thanks to the passion of their musical director, Gregg Breinberg (or affectionately called, Mr. B.)  Mr. B. took a small elementary school job on Staten Island and did it so well that eventually the world took notice.  That's a lesson in loving what you do and doing the best job possible.  That's leadership.

But P.S. 22 is more than the famous chorus.  It's a school full of students learning to be leaders.  I was speaking with the school last week, and they are equally enthusiastic about the many projects they do with the entire student body to ensure that they are contributing to society and becoming the best people possible.

Among other efforts, students from Kindergarten through 5th grade have recently participated in the Warm and Cozy Drive, a winter clothing collection for children in need, they've collected books, blankets and stuffed animals for kids living in shelters, visited nursing homes forging relationships with the residents and working together on art projects, hosted food drives and collected various items for our soldiers.

In other words, all the students at P.S. 22 are stars.  Stars burn bright for many reasons.  It could be using a talent to perform or performing acts of kindness.  Both bring joy to others.  Congratulations to the hard working P.S. 22 staff and their efforts in bringing out the best in these little leaders.  (Leadership is the anti-bully.)

It doesn't have to be Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to appreciate that every child has their own dream.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Getting Creative and Teaching Leadership at P.S. 55

Students are learning that One Can Count at P.S. 55 on Staten Island.

Fifth graders are the experts as they partner with the Kindergartners to reinforce the message, "Everyone Counts."  After reading Kathryn Otoshi's award-winning book, One, the mentors got together with their younger counterparts to lead them in an activity that demonstrates that everyone is unique, beautiful and valuable.  (One is an ageless children's book which beautifully and simply inspires kids -- and adults, too -- to step up for themselves and for others.)

A One Can Count team of teachers and staff came up with the idea of doing something seasonal that expressed the importance of respecting each other's differences.  As the partners created their own snowflakes together, the students had fun getting to know one another as well as crafting something that they could display with pride.

There are so many positive things about P.S. 55's efforts.

Using a Simple Tool

NYS Senator Andrew Lanza provided 30 copies of One and 30 copies of it's companion book, Zero, to each elementary school in his district on Staten Island.  Inspired by the book and the gift, P.S. 55 set out to ensure that each student received their own personal copy of One.


The message of One is for all ages but when you make the older students the teachers, they take ownership of the concepts of kindness, empowerment, and positive action.  There are countless benefits of mentoring but perhaps placing students in a leadership role is the most powerful.  Leadership is the Anti-Bully.

Staff Involvement

When administration, teachers, guidance counselors, parent coordinators and other staff members get together to promote leadership, it's a message to students that they're important.  In essence, it demonstrates leadership and students learn by example.


Think about it.  Children learn more when they feel emotionally safe and when they're having fun.  The fact that Kindergartners have a friend in the 5th grade is a big deal.  Add to that, the time spent doing a creative activity brings joy to both.


Empathy is easier to teach when students are asked to look out for someone younger.  Compassion helps students become "upstanders," the secret weapon against bullying.  When kids step up for one another in mean situations, the bullying stops in seconds.

Hats off to Principal Sharon Fishman, Guidance Counselor Arlene Donnelly, staff members Juleah Bracker and Julia Lucchese and of course and most importantly, the brilliant students at P.S. 55.  Getting creative and teaching leadership helps create a school climate of cooperation.

In other words, P.S. 55 itself is like a snowflake -- unique and beautiful.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Inspiration at the 7-Eleven: #Leadership

When we tell people to do their jobs, we get workers. When we trust people to get the job done, we get leaders. -- Simon Sinek
I've been lucky enough to hang out in San Diego for the past month.  I have my new granddaughter, Lucy, to thank for keeping me out of the harsh NewYork cold.

My daily routine includes getting up early and going to the 7-Eleven on the corner of Beech and State to get a cup of coffee and it always includes nice conversation with the people working there.  For example, early Christmas morning, I happened to ask the cashier how his Christmas Eve had been and then he gave me the most spiritual description of Midnight Mass at St. Paul's Cathedral.  He was so peaceful telling me about the music and the lighting of candles.

It seemed as if he was totally in the moment and appreciating every aspect of life.  It suddenly dawned on me that if he was at Midnight Mass, he must have only had a couple of hours of sleep.  He happily told me that four hours of sleep was fine and he was able to get off in the afternoon to celebrate the holiday with his family.  Not one complaint.  Not one.

I don't know what it is, but every employee there is exceptionally nice.  They're not just nice to me. A handful of homeless individuals frequent this store -- begging outside on the corner before they go in. They are also treated with kindness.

It's gotten to the point that if I'm feeling a bit blue or sleep deprived, I look forward to going in there for a boost.  And it's not the caffeine because I only drink decaf.

It's a culturally diverse group of employees but they all seem to have one thing in common.  They know how to treat people and seem to be genuinely interested.

As I was fumbling around with the simple but complicated process of pouring that first cup, I asked the 20-something guy who was efficiently restocking creamers, if it was a good day.  "It has to be," he said.  I wasn't 100% sure of what that meant so he explained, "It's my choice to make it a good day and so it has to be a good day."  And by making it his choice, he made me aware that it was up to me, too.

As I was leaving, he said, "Have a good one."  And I replied, "Now I will."

Leaders work everywhere and do every type of job.  Doing a good job takes commitment and a positive attitude.

Good lessons for our children.  (And speaking of children, there's an awesome woman there who has 5 children, two grandchildren, and looks 20 years younger than her actual age and I think it's because she has an optimistic attitude!)

Look for leaders wherever you go.  You can even get inspired at a 7-Eleven.