What’s at the Top of Your To-Do List?
Written by Mike Alley, Principal, St. Clair Middle School; Middle Level - East Representative, MASSP Board of Directors
Being experienced, (which is a nice way of saying old) I’m fairly certain that most administrators approach every year the same way I do. I spend most of the summer getting organized and making lists of all of those things I want to do/implement. With everything that we deal with on a daily basis, it’s easy to lose track of our to-do list.
Now that we’re a month into the new school year, one item that we can’t afford to let get buried on our desk is dealing with the perceived increase in bullying. My current world revolves around the middle school. Like it or not, bullying has been around at the middle school level as long as Fred worked for Mr. Slate at the gravel quarry (raise your hand if you know that reference…OK, put your hand down - no one can see you). Unfortunately, with the increase in technology, bullying has become a 24/7 issue that we need to not only be aware of but be prepared to deal with.
For years I handled bullying in a very consistent but almost under the radar fashion. I never looked the other way and I made sure that every poor choice had consequences. I felt that I was pretty good at my job. The reason I tried to keep it under the radar was that if we brought more attention to it, it would just make the problem worse. In retrospect, I could not have been more wrong. My revelation came when I read an article in our local paper on bullying in our County schools. Our local newspaper allows readers to respond/post their feedback. One of the posts was made by one of my parents that just ripped me and how my school handles bullying. It all centered on discipline her son had received after she claimed he was being bullied (she left out the fact that her son started it by calling another boy some names then punched the boy when he returned the name calling).
That article and that parent’s perception changed how I approached bullying. I decided that my school needed to go on the offense. I created an Anti-Bullying Committee (ABC) made up of staff and parents. We also organized a student ABC. We created an Anti-Bullying Contract that all students sign. We put up posters and banners throughout the school, dedicated time during half-days to discuss various types of bullying, discussed positive behavior and, possibly the biggest difference maker, we made sure that our parents and community knew everything we were doing. We really made a big deal of it: Cable TV, newspapers, posters in local businesses, anything and everything we could do to get the word out that our school does not tolerate bullying. But to be truly honest, the way we handle bullying hasn’t changed. We are still very consistent; we still contact parents with our number one goal of getting the bullying to stop (with a close second of educating our students so it doesn’t happen again).
Like so many things that we deal with, odds are that bullying is not going to go away. It’s important that students and parents understand that just because it has always happened, doesn’t make it right or acceptable. Our biggest weapon in combating this problem is education and communication. If you haven’t already, move bullying to the top of your to-do list and go on the offensive. It’ll pay huge dividends in the long run.