I deal with bullying on a daily basis, year after year. Some years are better than others, but regardless of the make-up of a particular group of students, it is inevitable that bullying will be an issue that comes up regularly. Whether the specific incidents are minor or major, short-lived or chronic, the effects can be devastating for all involved.
Coming into this school year, I knew that bullying could be a major concern with my new students. My school uses PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports), which focuses largely on recognizing and reinforcing positive behaviors. I wanted to do something proactive that fell in line with the beliefs of PBIS, and start changing the attitudes of my students before we had a serious problem on our hands.
Like most pre-teens, my students are fascinated with social media in its many forms. I decided to use it to my advantage by creating a "Say Something Nice" social media challenge. To kick things off, we watched the Kid President's Pep Talk video, which provides excellent opportunities for discussion on this topic. In the video, the Kid President implores other kids to "be more awesome." We focused on the idea that kids can, and do, make a difference. What they do is important, and they should be actively working towards being a positive force in the world. Eventually, I brought the discussion around to ways my students could apply these ideas to how they treat the people in their lives.
Once my kids were thinking along these lines, I challenged them to show kindness to each other in their words and actions. Not only that, but to actually notice when others were doing the same. I created a Facebook page and a Twitter account, which are dedicated to giving "Shout Outs" to students who have been observed showing kindness. These Shout Outs are displayed anonymously, as the whole point is to recognize the student who is being nice to someone else.
Students can either send a message to the inbox of one of the social media accounts when they have observed a kindness, or they can fill out a paper slip and drop it in a box in the classroom. School staff has also been invited to participate and give Shout Outs to students. Every day, I collect the Shout Outs and post to the social media sites. I sent home a letter to parents with the website links, asking them to follow the pages.
My students were a little leery at first. But as I began posting the first few Shout Outs and bringing up the sites during class to read the posts, the enthusiasm began to build. My students love seeing their own names come up on the pages, but they also love seeing the Shout Outs they've submitted getting published.
It is still early in the year, but I am beginning to see a shift in my classroom climate. Students are not only being nicer to each other, they are paying attention to and focusing on the positive behaviors they see around them. They are beginning to be less interested in talking about each other, and more likely to talk to each other. We started small with just a couple of social media sites, but as the year progresses I hope to include more sites, and open the Shout Outs up to the younger classes in our building. Soon, I will turn management of the sites over to my students, so that they will be in full control of the project as it expands past the boundaries of our classroom, and spills out into the world.
Effecting change rarely happens in a flash. Nor does it always begin as a grand scheme. More often than not, a small shift in perspective gains momentum until it snowballs into transformation on a massive scale. What small step can you take? How will you encourage your students to be more awesome?
Lindsey Fuller is a sixth grade teacher in Decatur, Illinois. Her interests are classroom technology integration, literacy instruction, and Common Core curriculum development and implementation. You can read more from Lindsey on these topics at her blog, Tales of a 6th Grade Classroom.
© 2013 Lindsey Fuller. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.