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Integral to Your School's Success
Martin C. Kennedy
Character Education has become a serious topic in North American schools in the past few years, but has been on top in Europe and Australia for several years. Large anti-bullying programs in the UK and Australia have given us lots of material to ponder. Unfortunately, much of the push in North America comes on the heels of some very serious security problems in our schools. We learned that most of the students who committed violent acts against other students and teachers had been victimized, teased and or bullied.
Instilling values in students is the goal of character education that starts from the time students enter school, not just in response to a problem. We all wish that our children would possess traits like honesty, trustworthiness, acceptance, tolerance, understanding, etc. Many of them do, some do not. We no longer can assume that our children have these attributes or know how to employ them. To make our schools and society safe for all, educators are now assuming more and more responsibility for character education.
Manners, good citizenship, bullying prevention, conflict resolution and self-esteem training are some of the topics covered in a continuum of character education programming. At the very, very youngest ages, we can work with children on tolerance and acceptance of others. We are learning that the foundations of bullying can and often does start right in the preschool.
Bullying prevention is an integral component of your character education efforts. We teach children that there are actually three 'victims' in any bullying situation; the person being bullied, the bystander and yes, the bully. We know that the child doing the bullying has often been subject to some form of bullying herself. Thus, our programs need to see her in need of support and understanding. The bystander can play the most important role by knowing how and when to step in when they see a problem. The bystander, by remaining inactive, becomes a party to the bullying incident and often carries guilt and shame for not intervening. Of course, fear is one of the reasons bystanders do not step in and a solid program helps to identify this fear.
The child who is the subject of bullying learns how to react, who to seek out for support and how to respond to the bully. Our efforts address feelings, actions and responsibilities. We direct children to learning to identify how bullying makes them feel, what they can do and who to talk to.
Bullying takes many forms, from an 'eye roll' by a disapproving child to overt physical force. Between these extremes, we find name-calling; exclusion; teasing; pressure to relinquish belongings; harassment and threats. The entire school community, including all teachers and administrators, parents, students and support staff should be fully committed to these efforts.
Addressing bullying in a forthright and direct manner will help your school become a safer place. A safer school means a better environment for learning. We are responsible for educating our children to become fully contributing citizens, not just economically but emotionally and socially as well. A wide-ranging character education program with a strong anti-bullying message goes a long way to insuring the success of your students.