What Can We Do About Bullying in School?

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past fifteen years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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Confession. Sometimes my middle school daughter and I binge watch a series on Netflix if we deem it worthy enough to get lost in that world. Yesterday was one of those times as we watched 13 Reasons Why.

I heard a few comments about it from a teacher group I was working with the week before — a fictional portrayal of life in a high school that may feel all too real.  So my daughter and I sat for a couple of a couple of hours, mesmerized and terrified by the world we entered into.

As an educator, I kept thinking … How could it be this awful? This fictional account showed a toxic culture for so many. The moves the building administration and teachers took may have been well-intentioned but also hollow and frivolous.

As a parent, I kept thinking … How could the parents not know? And if they did, how could they not do anything about it? Yet, I have learned from personal experience that there are so many signs you recognize in the review mirror. When you can rewind and replay isolated snippets that turn into a very different narrative than what daily life used to look like.

As a parent of the child who was sitting next to me … What is school like for her? How much of this resonates with her daily reality? Not just what happens in school but how her electronic device can potentially have toxicity follow them home, trapping too many in a 24/7 nightmare of awfulness.

We watched together, shielding our eyes in certain moments to take a brief escape from the tremendous pain. The togetherness made it better. We were sharing a common experience. We had a common reference point for quiet conversations.

I want to feature two partners that are triggered by this viewing experience.

Jane Doe No More

First, I have the privilege to partner with Jane Doe No More for over seven years on curriculum and learning experiences that open the lines of communication.

Donna Palomba is the founder of Jane Doe No More, born out of her horrific experience with sexual assault. She was the victim of a violent crime while her children slept down the hall and her husband was away for the first time in their marriage.

“Like most victims of crime, I placed my faith in the system created to ‘protect and serve’ the innocent,” she writes on her website. “I called 911, and trusted that my perpetrator would be sought and caught.

“In the weeks and months following my assault, I was re-victimized by the very system put in place to protect and serve me — an innocent victim. On top of the pain and suffering associated with the crime, the abuse afterward rendered my healing all the more difficult.”

Considering the horrific statistics around children and abuse, it is critical we make changes to break the social stigmas associated with these crimes. It’s what Donna is working to do through the sharing of her story.

“I believe we learn most from our greatest challenges and I want to share what I have learned,” she writes.

The Bowtie Boys

I also want to highlight a new partner I believe is just as powerful in this space: the #bowtie boys. These high school students continue to demonstrate compassion and bravery in articulating their views on what high school feels like, something critical to today’s students.

This video features the Bowtie Boys discussing the realities of bullying:

There were a number of soul-crushing moments in this video for me:

  • One student says, “I think the body is a lot stronger than the brain. The body heals but the brain might not though. Cuts heal.”
  • Another student commented: “The adults failed by not looking from the kids perspective … You don’t know until you walk a mile in their shoes.”
  • Another student shared, “When you are called a name, it isn’t a really big deal. But when it keeps happening over and over and over it builds up and builds up and never goes away until you are about to explode.”

More from the Bowtie Boys

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