Q "There is a lot of focus on bullying right now, with the recent anti-bullying day, and the Province's ERASE bullying initiative. My question is what are Richmond schools doing on a day-to-day basis to really reduce bullying?"
A Bullying is a very emotional topic for parents, and protecting a child from the pain of being bullied is instinctively linked with what it means to be a parent. Many parents also have personal memories of being bullied at school.
In the Richmond School District, as in many other jurisdictions, our working definition of bullying is: "A pattern of repeated aggressive behaviour with negative intent, directed from one child to another where there is a power imbalance."
ERASE (Expect Respect and a Safe Education), the provincial initiative is a positive and useful opportunity for training, but the acronym "ERASE" may imply that bullying will somehow be eliminated through this provincial strategy.
What happens day-to-day is crucial in terms of reducing bullying and creating a sense of connection and social responsibility in schools. Without a sound foundation of social responsibility in schools, external initiatives often aren't effective over time.
If the foundation is there, provincial initiatives such as ERASE can make a good thing even better.
As our foundation, the Richmond School District has a long tradition of Positive Behaviour Support programs in schools.
Since 2002, our Area Counsellor Team has worked with hundreds of teachers and thousands of students to teach school wide expectations and teach and reinforce socially responsible behaviour.
This emphasis on Positive Behaviour Support in schools is part of an ongoing effort to create system-wide behaviour expectations and social responsibility among students. Establishing a culture of respect and connectedness is key to reducing bullying and building a caring culture in schools.
Positive Behaviour Support, in case you're wondering, means just what it says - children are specifically taught to recognize the right kind of behavior and the language that goes with it. When they behave this way it's acknowledged and reinforced. While there are definitely consequences for inappropriate behaviour, the emphasis is on giving positive feedback for the right behaviour.
You may be wondering how this works. Many of us grew up in an environment that tended to focus on "correcting" inappropriate behaviour, often through punishment.
Focusing on the positive things kids do to teach them social responsibility may sound too naive or idealistic.
I'll use a sampling of the expectations in place at Dixon elementary school as an example of Positive Behaviour Support in action. To keep the focus on the positive, all the expectations reflect what children should do, not what they're forbidden to do. Among other things, children are expected to:
? wait their turn
? keep hands and feet to self
? use words to solve problems
? respect everyone's differences
? report concerns to an adult
These expectations may seem basic, but it's important to remember that children don't come preloaded with the social skills that we take for granted as adults. They have to learn them, and while this starts at home, in school the social environment is larger and more complicated. As part of understanding expectations at school, children learn to use their judgment to recognize what behaviour is desirable (green light), questionable (yellow light) and just plain wrong (red light).
Does Positive Behaviour Support "ERASE" bullying? It's not that simple, but bullying is clearly in the red light zone and therefore something we want our students to feel prepared to deal with, should they need to. Positive Behaviour Support gives them the understanding to recognize bullying for what it is and the language to talk about it and seek help appropriately. Additionally, we want our staff to have a process for effectively addressing bullying if it occurs, and Positive Behaviour Support provides this.
More importantly, when a school has fully implemented a process of Positive Behaviour Support, inappropriate behaviours and conflicts are often handled and resolved by students at a much earlier point and never escalate into situations that could turn into bullying.
When children have conflicts, and they inevitably will, does this mean someone is being bullied? Not necessarily, but that doesn't mean the problem is ignored.
As mentioned above, we actually use Positive Behaviour Support to teach children to resolve conflicts themselves and/or describe what's going on to an adult.
The adult response ranges from supporting children in problem solving to confronting and prohibiting the behaviour. This level of response often involves consequences to reinforce the seriousness of the issue.
Even more serious offences can result in reporting and referring the behaviour to outside agencies. The level of response depends on the type of behaviour involved. Bullying, as defined above, is behaviour that is a serious concern and can involve all the the responses described.
For more information and resources for parents on this topic, please visit www.sd38. bc.ca. And of course, if you have concerns about bullying at your child's school, please contact your child's teacher or the school administration.
If you have more questions on this or other topics, please send them to our Facebook page at facebook.com/ RichmondSD38 or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monica Pamer is the superintendent of the Richmond School District.
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