Lessons from the Business World for Otsego Schools Dealing with Bullying
When it comes to addressing bullying in our schools, whether it is ‘traditional’ or cyber, communication is critical to not only support victims of bullying, but also to prevent it. We’ve been following debates held by the Cooperstown PTA to discuss how to handle bullying and wanted to share our thoughts. Although bullying and cyberbullying are very tricky subjects, we feel that we can learn a lot about how schools handle these sensitive issues and share these insights with other businesses.
A Little Background
After a recent incident of bullying, the Cooperstown PTA organized a meeting to discuss the issue. Over 60 students and parents filled the school’s library seeking answers as to what the school administration’s plan was to ensure the safety of students. The answer was, unfortunately, “we’re not sure yet.”
Worse, when urged by parents to issue a “strong statement, so the kids know the grownups are protecting them”, the response of the administration was again, one of uncertainty.
The school administration did mention the process they have to address student behavior, known as their ‘Code of Conduct.’ This policy included an increasing level of punishments - starting from lunch detention and ultimately ending with expulsion - as well as additional factors which people were unaware of.
Herein lies the problem: when people don’t know what the rules are, it is more difficult to manage expectations and behaviors.
One of the most critical steps an organization of any kind can enact is to provide clear expectations of conduct. Schools typically have a code of conduct, outlining unacceptable behaviors and the consequences for them. At Directive, we provide team members with online access to our policies, which they can review at any time. We have team meetings where we discuss issues which may be causing concerns for team members, and we regularly update our culture statement to reflect any new standards of behavior.
Set Policy and Rules
While it isn’t technically part of a code of conduct, all organizations - schools and businesses alike - should create a modern and topical mission statement. A mission statement establishes the shared vision of the organization. It contains the organization’s motivations to strive toward its primary goal. A mission statement should be treated as a living document and not be set in stone. As the organization grows and new values come to the forefront, a mission statement may need to evolve. Finally, all team members - or in the case of Cooperstown, students, teachers, and parents - should be encouraged to participate in the policy and rule creation process.
Questions to ask when developing your mission statement:
- Does your mission statement specifically mention the issues you’re trying to address?
- Do your policies and conduct guidelines describe the positive behaviors expected from everyone they apply to?
- A school should consider if they have an updated Student Bill of Rights, while a business should be maintaining their employee handbook. Does yours?
Does Your Culture Support Your Mission Statement?
While having a mission statement is a great start, unless your culture integrates the rules and policies into itself, the mission statement is just words. A successful culture requires - in fact, it demands - that all involved are allowed to contribute to the development of that culture and are empowered to reinforce it. This means that any bullying that is present needs to be directly addressed.
When addressing school (or workplace) bullying, some tactics to consider are:
- Training staff on enforcing rules and policies
- Equipping them with the tools to respond to bullying
- Giving people a voice in creating their own environment of safety and security
- The principal can address the student body directly, as the CEO can meet with their staff.
Establish a Reporting System
One of the most difficult challenges schools have when it comes to addressing issues of bullying is that many students don’t speak about it, allowing it to remain undetected until it reaches critical levels. Furthermore, many young people have developed societal taboos against ‘snitching’ which creates an environment of silence, leaving students at the risk of their abusers.
Some things schools can do to make reporting easier include:
- People are more likely to report when it’s easy to do
- Collect and maintain records to show not only a pattern, but to support any actions deemed necessary
- Ensure students are confident that their reports will be taken seriously without fear of retaliation
Businesses could (and should) do similar things for their employees’ well-being in the workplace.
Communication is Key
While the pleasantries of business, such as “how was your day?” or “any plans for the weekend?'' can seem offered without real interest in the answer, when it comes to communicating with your student, they can be much more impactful. These questions - when asked correctly - can open the door for students to share any concerns they have.
Some questions to ask students (make sure the questions are open-ended) include:
- What was one good thing that happened today? Any bad things?
- What is lunchtime like at your school? Who do you sit with? What do you talk about?
- What is it like to ride the school bus?
- Do you ever see kids at your school being bullied by other kids? How does it make you feel?
- Have you ever tried to help someone who is being bullied? What happened? What would you do if it happens again?
While many of these questions don’t really apply to a business’ employees, the point still stands that communication is crucial to encouraging people to open up. Reaching out to others in an office setting and developing relationships with them can create the camaraderie that discourages bullying in the first place. One of the things we do at Directive is have Crock-Pot Thursdays, which develops that camaraderie.
Speaking of which...
Bullying, like most behavior which can damage an organization’s culture, survives and thrives when it is allowed to remain ‘under the radar’. Fortunately, when either schools or businesses take bullying seriously and develop steps to address it, bullying can be reduced and even prevented.
Don’t underestimate the amount of influence a parent or teacher (or even manager or supervisor) can have on students (or employees) by modeling how to treat others with compassion and respect, even others you may be in conflict with. Students learn from adults’ behavior, the same way a team may take cues of behavior from the boss. If the leader treats staff members without respect, chances are the rest of the team will quickly follow suit. Always strive to be your best and your students will follow.
Here are some helpful resources if you or someone you know is being bullied:
Next time we’ll discuss how to address cyberbullying.