Bully-Free strategies discussed by Colorado teachers

bully1A large gathering of teachers from communities across Colorado had no trouble agreeing that bullying keeps students from putting forth their best efforts in school.

“As educators, our overall goal is to make sure our students are thriving and succeeding with their academics.  And we know that when there are barriers to learning, such as bullying, then success drops very dramatically and other risk factors increase,” said Jennifer Baker, a middle school counselor in Jefferson County.

“Bullying drastically impacts a student’s ability to learn,” said Theresa Kunis, a special education teacher in Loveland.  “When you’re emotionally upset or distraught about something, you’re not learning.”

But there’s less agreement in education circles about how to stop bullying from happening, or how to address bullying when it does happen.

“I’m really interested in learning a lot more about bullying,” said Kunis.  “I have a lot of playground duties and I’m really at a loss sometimes on how to reconcile these differences” between students.

Jake Schwab listens to issues at a table discusion

Jake Schwab listens to issues at a table discusion

“I think a lot of teachers see bullying happen, but they don’t really know how to go about stopping it,” said Jake Schwab, a middle school teacher in Commerce City.  “Conversations are happening now with people wanting to make a difference.”

Schwab, Kunis and Baker had hard conversations about student safety and respect in discussions facilitated by the National Education Associations’s Bullying and Sexual Harassment Intervention and Prevention Cadre.  The trainers held a two-day workshop for about 50 teachers at the Colorado Education Association in Denver.

“Students can’t learn if the environment doesn’t feel safe to them, and so their absentee rate goes up, their academic performance goes down,” said Diane Dradinski, a teacher from Gilbert, Ariz., who joined the cadre to help other teachers recognize the negative impact of bullying and sexual harassment in schools, and help them implement prevention programs.

“We find it’s not just the target, but that bystanders, a bigger, encompassing group, also are impacted by bullying behavior,” added Dradinski.  “They see this and they get intimidated by it.” 

bully2Dradinski said she makes the training personal around NEA’s campaign promise, ‘Bully-Free – It Starts With Me’.  After an opening day of exploring information through group activities, she challenged her class on the second day to develop action plans for their schools.

“What are you going to commit to?  Are you going to commit to talking with your faculty?  Are you going to commit to taking a look at some policies?” Dradinski listed as possible action steps educators can take.  “We want them to make a personal commitment based on, ‘How are they going to impact the sites that they’re at to lessen the incidents of bullying and sexual harassment?”

bully4Kunis said the challenges presented by the training opened her eyes to many issues, such as the rise of bullying and sexual harassment done through cell phones and computers.

“I’d like to be better informed about what my district’s policies are, what the board’s policies are,” said Kunis.  “I know in fifth grade a lot of kids have cell phones.  I’ve really never considered what that means and what my school policy is in handling this.”

Schwab said he was looking forward to going back into his classroom with techniques to create a better learning environment where everybody feels safe.

“I want to raise the expectation of the school to where students know being a bully isn’t an acceptable behavior.”

Jennifer Baker listens to class discussion

Jennifer Baker listens to class discussion

Baker added she is “extremely grateful” that bullying has been brought to the forefront of concerns for Colorado educators.

“It’s no longer just about us teaching math and science in school, but about teaching character skills and character development in school as well so that kids can thrive academically.”

At the end of the training, the teacher’s took NEA’s Bully-Free Pledge.  Dradinski presents the pledge on a poster for teachers to hang in their classrooms “so it’s not just something I say, but I’m reminded of this commitment that I made.”

“It drives home the point that bullying is not just something happening in our building, or our district, or even just this state,” said Schwab.  “The fact that we’re bringing people in from out-of-state to help us with this is huge.”

CEA will assist the worshop participants as they present overviews of law, policies, and strategies in their schools to further prevent incidents of bullying and sexual harassment.

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