In an infinitely connected world where one in three students report being bullied at school, it is unlikely that any teacher will encounter a class where no one is the target of physical, verbal, or emotional aggression. Chances are teachers will be expected (and should be willing) to speak to both targets and aggressors in an effort to make the school environment emotionally safe for everyone.
Here are some tips that may help with your goal of establishing a respectful, peaceful classroom.
1. Beginning with the first day of school conduct regular “check-ins” with your class. The social/emotional well-being of the students is equal in importance to their academic achievement. Ideally, establish a daily or weekly time for sharing feelings between class members. Indicate that you care about each of them as a person.
2. Along with your class, create a social contract for the way your classroom will operate. Ask the students what would make them feel emotionally safe in the classroom. They should come up with ideas such as valuing everyone’s opinion, not making assumptions about people, not judging, treating everyone with respect, maintaining confidentiality when students share personal thoughts or experiences, accepting everyone for who they are, and actively listening. Post the social contract in the classroom.
3. Hold a classroom discussion about bullying and the ramifications of it. Have the class develop strategies and consequences for dealing with people who engage in bullying. Enforce those consequences.
4. Talk about diversity with your class. Discuss how everyone contributes to making their school and community a vibrant place.
5. Talk about peer pressure. Be open to hearing about the many pressures kids feel to take a certain action, adopt certain values, or otherwise conform in order to be accepted by a particular group.
6. Make sure your students know you are available to talk with them about anything. Promise to keep their confidence. Unless they report child abuse, maintain that pledge of confidentiality.
7. Take what your students say seriously. Let them know you value them as individuals and want to help. Listen actively to their problems.
8. Brainstorm with them to come up with solutions to the problem. Tell them you are in this together.
9. Listen before doling out punishment. Try to get to the bottom of why the behavior is occurring. Discuss respect and empathy. Help everyone understand the long-term ramifications of bullying.
10. Tell those being bullied not to respond aggressively to the bullying, but don’t tell them to ignore it either. If the parties are willing to talk, try a peace circle to work things out. The staff at The Peace Center can help. If cyberbullying is occurring tell those being bullied to block the sender and turn off the computer.