Beating bullying… bit by bit

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Beating Bullying Bit By Bit

  • There are countless affective opportunities.
  • Practise using feelings words as your default response.
  • Language shift is critical to cultural shift.
  • Develop your school’s affective statement bank.
  • Catch and reward yourself when you change a default response.

The literature around bullying tells us that it’s far less a behavioural issue than a cultural one. That is, when students who have been engaging in bullying behaviours or students who have been bullied move from a school where bullying is normalised, into a school where it is not, they will experience a significant reduction in either bullying behaviours or being bullied.

It seems that the ethos of we just don’t do that here is a very powerful protective factor against bullying behaviour.

“I think we all have empathy. We may not all have the courage to display it.”
– Maya Angelou

A further examination of what reveals a school’s culture is its language, and in my experience, teachers indicate that they recognise language is the key to improving classroom behaviour, engagement and instilling the school’s values in the student cohort. The language link is simply undeniable. This makes sense and sounds simple but it’s not easy to change habits around both what we say and how we say it. These habits began crystallising with our very first attempts to speak, even before toilet training, feeding ourselves and walking had been mastered.

One way that teachers can change their language is through Affective Statements. A component of the Restorative Practices Framework, these short and regularly deployed statements are designed to remind students that their behaviour impacts others.
Given that most teachers say that these situations present at least fifty times in a school day, seizing so many immediate possibilities is an obvious opportunity.

Consider each Affective Statement as adding a leaf to a bare tree after winter. We don’t suddenly awake one morning to trees in full spring bloom. Each leaf is an opportunity and each matters. Building empathy is a gradual process. If we keep adding leaves of empathy through constant use of Affective Language then the tree thrives. It won’t happen quickly, but nature tells us that this is the only way it does.

I’ve made this language shift. Through repetition, I’ve been able to move my default response to student messiness. When any student in any school drops a piece of rubbish I no longer offer the standard “Hey, pick that up.” Now, I say, “It disappoints me to see you do that. Put it in the bin.” It takes one or two seconds longer to say, but if you are like 99.5% of the population, you noticed and heard the word disappoints in your head more clearly than the other
words. As social beings, we’re naturally wired to hear that word prominently. It stays with us and reminds us that others are watching.

Most teachers simply want some examples of Affective Statements so they can quickly put them into practice.

Here are a few to provoke a little thought, conversation and even some change:

Default StatementAffective Statement
Stop taking your phone out.It’s frustrating to see your phone again. Put it away.
Great work.I’m delighted to see what you’ve produced there.
Never speak like that in my classroom.Hearing language in my classroom like that really saddens me.
That’s right.I’m very impressed with that answer.
How many times do I have to tell you?I’m frustrated at how many times I’m repeating this instruction.
Good to see you helping out.I’m so proud to see you putting others first.
You’ll be in at recess if you don’t finish your  work.I care enough about your learning to give you extra time at recess if you need it.
Now you’ve got it.It’s so exciting to see you take on new challenges like that.
Great to see you taking turns.It makes me happy to see you waiting so patiently and maturely.
I’m not going to tell you again, ok.This behaviour is making me feel like I need to take stronger action.

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