Celia Clement, a retired Ithaca City School District social worker, says that bullying and cyberbullying, as well as unkind behaviors, are less likely to occur in school communities that are kind and inclusive. And when they do happen, she adds, students from healthy school cultures are more likely to respond in a kind and helpful way by standing up to the hurtful behaviors either online or in the schoolyard.
Celia Clement, Jeff P. Godowski, and Savannah Storm speak at the 2022 United in Kindness Symposium
Clement was a featured speaker at the 2022 United in Kindness Symposium, “What to Do About Cyberbullying,” sponsored by the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force on January 27, 2022.
In a presentation for a panel discussion on “Strengths Based Intervention & Prevention Approaches,” Clement outlined a path whereby students look out for one another and take care of the younger and more socially vulnerable community members.
“Students who feel that they have a role to play as helpful upstanders at school can carry on this attitude on social media,” said Clement. “Ultimately it requires that students need to trust adults.” Unfortunately, she noted, nationwide data shows that only 19 percent of students report bullying and only 11 percent report cyberbullying.
Clement described how she developed two school programs that partner with students to lay a foundation of kindness and inclusiveness in a school community.
One was called the Friendship Assistance Brigade, or FAB, for 5th and 6th graders. FAB developed and performed skits for classmates, in three variations—one illustrating unkind behavior, another showing unkind actions interrupted by an upstander, and a third variation depicting kindness.
FAB met once a week during recess to read and discuss books about bullying, upstanders, and kindness, Clement explained. “We spent time problem solving and learned how to resolve conflicts and students developed compassion and empathy,” she added.
Clement developed Welcoming Allies and Mentors, or WAM, for middle and high school students. WAM matched upper classmen with incoming 6th graders and other new arrivals to the school. Then, these mentors provided an orientation day and were individually paired with the new students for the whole school year, she said.
Clement said she actively recruited students for diversity.
“I had one student sign up who was known to the community as being unkind,” she said. “I reminded him that in signing up he would have to be a good role model and that he didn’t exactly have that reputation. He assured me that he was ready and eager to turn a new leaf. He ended up being one of the most effective leaders and a terrific role model.”
Clement recalled recruiting a loner who reluctantly joined WAM yet became one of the group’s most popular mentors. “Students absolutely adored him, and he came out of his shell and relished in the discovery that he had something to offer others,” she said.
WATCH: “Strengths Based Intervention & Prevention Approaches”
In her presentation, Savannah Storm, a conflict mediation specialist in the Elmira City School District, reported that a lot of bullying takes place on school property and that students “take it home with them” via online platforms.
For example, she said that students post stories on Snapchat, “and then it just becomes this whole viral thing.” By the time the next school day begins, she said, “students are like, ‘Yo, did you see that? Yo, did you see this person?’ It’s just a huge problem that we’re coming into.”
Storm described the problem with challenges promoted on TikTok. In one case, she said, students were driven to violence.
“It encouraged the students to become violent with the staff members, either hitting them or kicking them, or throwing a desk at them,” she said. “We had some students participate. That was like really, really sad, and it was kind of scary, too. You could really see how much social media can drive some of these students and really make them do things so they can feel like they can fit in.”
Storm described herself as a millennial who is on social media herself. “Some things that I see on there, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I completely see why these kids are doing this or why they feel like they have to participate and do this to fit in, to be cool, to have friends, or to just not be bullied.”
Storm devised a collaborative project to get students to place their cell phones in a box during school hours, as some were using them to promote mischief. For example, she explained, a fight would take place and students would use their phone cameras to film it and then share the video on social media.
Storm promotes the use of a restorative practice called the circle, which can be used proactively to develop connections and build a sense of community, or to respond to wrongdoing, conflicts and problems. According to the model, circles give people an opportunity to speak and listen to one another in an atmosphere of safety, decorum and equality.
She said that teachers will call her first thing in the morning to facilitate a circle “to really create that great safe space and atmosphere,” she explained. “Like, ‘Hey, you know home might have been rough last night. What do we need to do or what can I do to help you leave that at the door so we can have a good day here in the school?’”
Storm said that she believe one of the most important things for school personnel is to build relationships with students.
“If you’re not building them correctly, you’re not going to get anywhere with these kids,” she explained. “They’re either going to stonewall, shut down, or you’re going to lose them through the cracks, especially in the educational system. I see that a lot.”
“I walk down the hallway and some of them, I haven’t even met, they’re like, ‘Yo, you got a problem, go talk to Miss Storm, she’ll help you out or she’ll listen, she won’t judge.’ It’s really cool, just taking that time and really understanding what these students need, what’s going to help, how can we help to the best of our ability. I’ve noticed too with restoring harm and holding that space for these students, it’s really changed the whole entire atmosphere of the school.”
Jeff P. Godowski, a house assistant dean at Cornell University, says that he has noticed more interpersonal conflict over the past two years during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I’ve also noticed a lot more resistance to working through, or managing, or engaging with conflict, engaging with mediation, or even talking about it with another person,” he said in a presentation on restorative practices.
He described a form of cyberbullying that he called “cyber venting,” where students complain about others on social media platforms such as Reddit or Facebook, “putting these more private or interpersonal thoughts in a wider space instead of navigating or sitting in with that conflict.”
Godowski is an advocate for restorative practices, which he described as “an emerging social science that’s rooted in indigenous practices, which aims to proactively build community, maintain right relationship, and then repair harm through reintegrative processes that happen with others rather than to or for them or not at all.”
“There’s a spectrum of informal types of interactions like effective statements or questions where we can share empathy with each other or share how we’re feeling to formal practices and formal conferences using the restorative justice framework from a criminal justice lens,” he explained.
Godowski said that a restorative practice called family group conferencing in which offenders and harmed parties voluntarily agree to participate could be used to address cyberbullying cases.
With supporters of both parties engaged in the process, the offender will share their story of what happened, and the harmed party will describe their reaction. The offender brainstorms ways that they can repair the harm, feeling supported and not ostracized.
For the victim, Godowski said, “this gives them an opportunity to share with their bully how things impacted them, get some answers as to why this thing happened. It allows them to hear an apology. It fosters voluntary forgiveness.” He said that research showed the model gave victims a sense of closure, a sense of fairness, and an overall sort of satisfaction.”
Godowski facilitates Restorative Practices Community Open Space twice a month at the Tompkins County Public Library.
The 2022 United in Kindness Symposium was made possible in part through grants from the Tompkins County Youth Services Department and The Sophie Fund.
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