As I was reading the October 2012 issue of Educational Leadership (ASCD), there were several articles that drew my attention. One of those articles (“Joining Hands Against Bullying,” p. 26) focused on a topic that many schools face. What got my attention was a request to students to ask questions of adults in their school building around issues that students should care about. Those questions follow.
1. Does the school regularly survey students about whether they feel safe, respected, and cared about? Do they share the answers with students and parents?
2. Is there a confidential way for students to report when they feel unsafe or mistreated, and how do students know about this?
3. Is there an adult in school whose job it is to make sure everyone feels safe and respected and that people treat one another well? If so, who is that person?
4. Does the school have a program that teaches social and emotional skills, such as conflict resolution, showing understanding and empathy, and understanding one’s emotions? If so, what evidence is there that the program works?
5. Are teachers and staff members trained in how to stop bullying or hurtful behavior? Are they trained in keeping it from happening in the first place?
6. How does the school work with students who act in aggressive or hurtful ways? Besides punishment, how do adults help those students stop acting that way?
7. Are any adults in charge of bathrooms, hallways, and other areas outside classrooms? If so, who are they?
8. How can students have a say about things that happen in the school, such as deciding on school values, community events, and nonacademic programming?
9. Does the school have a peer mediation or peer counseling program?
10. Does the school have a policy that clearly states that discrimination and harassment are not tolerated for any reason? Does it cover race, class, gender, and sexual orientation? How and where is this policy presented to students and staff?
As I thought about these questions, I wondered if principals in all schools could answer them and even more important, perhaps, could teachers and students? Is there an opportunity to engage students in dialogue about some or all of the questions? Is there an opportunity to develop a student survey that might provide information to school administrators? Is there an opportunity to use a few of the questions to engage in conversation with student government leaders or parent advisory council members?
Every school has to develop initiatives to respond to bullying. Often those initiatives are through programs or structures created within the school. I am often drawn to the Breaking Ranks© research which clearly that that culture always trumps structure. School culture is critically important to schools, and the principal is responsible for determining that culture. Perhaps seeking feedback and input from students and engaging student leaders in conversations around the topic may improve school culture. Just a thought!