Practical steps on the way to a school culture of respect

By Anne Collier

We hear a lot about the need to change school culture in order to defeat bullying and cyberbullying. But how? PBIS does not cut it for middle school teacher Daniel Witz. In a commentary in the Washington Post, Witz critiques the well-known Oregon-based anti-bullying program PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports) as practiced at his school, then offers an alternative: “10 steps to reduce bullying that I believe are broader and more relevant than PBIS to what actually happens among kids.” It’s great that the steps include “major hurdles to implementation.” So you have both steps and obstacles to watch out for. For example, here’s a really important hurdle (for parents as well as educators): when adults overreact or take literally everything they see in teens’ social media use. “The behavioral focus has to reflect the reality of adolescent thought,” Daniel writes. “Comments like ‘I hate math class’ or ‘I hate Mrs. Smith’ sound negative, but are more about releasing frustration than bringing someone down. Teachers and students need coaching not just in spotting and correcting bullying; they need coaching in how to handle a little rejection. Students should not be [singled out] for saying, ‘I hate Maggie’ or ‘I hate Devin.’ However, starting an ‘I hate Maggie’ club [or Group or Page] and getting others to ‘hate on’ Maggie clearly crosses the line into harassment.” There’s a lot of practical (and practicable) wisdom in this piece – for parents as well as teachers and school officials. [See also “Clicks & cliques, Part 2: Whole-school response is key.”]

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