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Open conversations with students crucial for anti-bullying: Richmond teacher

Reports of in-person bullying at school have decreased, but cyberbullying remains a pervasive issue
A stock image of students at school.

A Richmond teacher thinks the conversation about anti-bullying in schools should start with empathy.

Michael Taylor, who has been teaching in the Richmond school district for the past 11 years, said the goal is to get students to “really comprehend the impact even just one comment or choice can have on someone’s self-esteem, beliefs, and actions.”

One effective way of doing so, even though it is difficult, is sharing real stories of local youth, such as Amanda Todd’s tragic loss which shows how words can have “truly devastating consequences” and that “more could have been done by our community.”

Taylor credits the advocacy of Todd’s mother and other educators, as well as anti-bullying initiatives such as Pink Shirt Day, for the “significant reductions of reported in-person bullying in schools,” but said cyberbullying remains a pervasive issue.

“(Cyberbullying) is something that unfortunately educators are often blind to, as it often goes unreported,” he said.

The key to tackling this blind spot is to talk to students.

“In fact, my understanding and experience with online bullying come primarily from honest and open conversations with students about their personal experiences,” Taylor explained.

He also emphasizes the importance of encouraging active reflection on the cause of bullying and how students can be the solution such as by taking on the role of an “active bystander” who intervenes and does not tolerate bullying.

Taylor, who has taught at both elementary and secondary levels, said the method of delivery may vary to keep the subject relevant to each age group.

“In elementary school, students are taught the golden rule; to treat others the way you would want to be treated, and empathy education is a primary focus,” he said.

Meanwhile, the conversation with high school students will put more weight on cyberbullying since they have a greater online presence.

However, the key concepts of social responsibility and social-emotional learning remain the same.

The school district’s approach has also evolved beyond classrooms to promote acceptance and appreciation of diversity and elevate expectations of how youth should treat each other, said Taylor, which is critical for addressing the root of bullying.

Although the school district’s approach to tackling anti-bullying may have evolved over the years, the subject has remained at the forefront of its priorities.

“Each subsequent grade and generation needs reminding of the collective standards and values we hold up in our community about how we treat each other,” said Taylor.

Regarding the concern that, for some Pink Shirt day has become more of a fashion statement, Taylor said that’s not what he’s seen.

Rather, Pink Shirt Day has become an “entry point” for meaningful conversation and lessons “that underscore the anti-bullying message along with the critical concepts or values of open-mindedness, inclusion, diversity, and respect,” Taylor explained.

“From my experience, Pink Shirt Day has been an incredibly effective and meaningful anti-bullying campaign,” he added. “The symbolism that naturally comes from students and staff consciously and collectively wearing one colour is a powerful one.

“The vast majority of students understand that by wearing pink, they are expressing solidarity with a cause that our society and schools now universally recognize as almost a fundamental human right.”

Furthermore, wearing pink sends a message to youth that “this is our norm, this is our expectation, and this is our commitment.”

“I believe that this is the lasting message that rings true for students and is imparted on Pink Shirt Day.”