Friday, June 9, 2006
Ten questions on bullying for Steve Goodwin, principal of CPS
Carlisle Public School (CPS) Principal Steve Goodwin deals with incidents of student bullying and teasing as part of his job. He spoke with the Mosquito recently and answered the following questions:
Can you give some examples you've encountered? Verbal teasing about appearance; bullying about whether someone is academic, or not or athletic, or not; exclusion; friendship groups changing.
What are the gender differences between boys and girls on this? These are generalities, but boys tend to be more physical, while girls do more exclusion and verbal put-downs.
Are there ages that bullying peaks? It occurs at every grade level, though it tends to occur more in the middle school years. In middle school everyone wants to be like everyone else. If all the kids like a certain musical group, and someone doesn't, even that can be a cause. I sometimes say we have the world's smallest middle school. It's a confined area in the Wilkins and Grant buildings for 300 middle school kids.
How are teachers, aides and staff trained to help? I want to say that this is one of the areas where the CPS teachers really know their kids and do so much for them, including helping with their social and emotional needs. As part of professional development of new grade K-5 teachers they must take a 30-40-hour Open Circle course in the summer, offered by Wellesley College. Refresher courses are also available for teachers who want to take them, and training is offered to school aides.
The school psychologists also know the social dynamics of the kids and help them to work on things. Bus drivers are trained to keep kids safe and the school's policy on bullying is explained to the them. The drivers have a discipline report form to inform the principals of incidents that occur on the bus.
How frequently do you deal with it? Depending on whether it's bullying or teasing, at a minimum at least weekly I'm informed of it. Sometimes, it's almost a daily issue.
Is a quick response important? Ideally, a timely response is best to address something that happens that day. But sometimes issues do drag on.
Do you think it's under-reported? Kids want to be accepted by other kids. They don't want to get someone in trouble or be a tattle-teller. We want to empower bystanders, kids who witness bullying, to have courage and support the targeted person. They can be a friend to the person and talk to them about it.
Where does bullying come from? It can be modeled anywhere, in the media, and at home, with teasing and put-downs. The school happens to be the place where 800 kids and over 200 adults come each day. You will have social issues and dynamics with that many people.
Do you give support to the bully? I often have to call someone and say, "Your son or daughter is being a bully," and that's difficult to hear. I must address the incident and there has to be a consequence tied to it.
But I try to keep in mind that on most days, say 175 days out of 180 in the school year, the student is good. I try to find that student in a different setting, doing something good, and say, "You're doing a great job here. This is what I'm talking about. I know you're this kind of kid."
How will the new principals pick up on the school's policies? While the school's efforts to stop bullying are good, they can always improve. I expect the new principals next year will take a fresh look at the school's behavior expectations and the subject of bullying.
© 2006 The