Using Strengths Based Approaches to Bullying 

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.

Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Day!

The Tompkins County Legislature on Monday designated October 7 to be “Bullying Prevention Day” throughout the county and encouraged schools, community organizations, government agencies, and others to strive for a “bully-free environment.”

proclamation

Martha Robertson, Legislature chair; Kate Shanks-Booth, director of the Tompkins County Youth Services Department; Bridgette Nugent, Task Force co-coordinator

Legislature Chair Martha Robertson issued a proclamation at the Legislature’s meeting that observes a Bullying Prevention Day for the first time in the county. Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Day falls on World Day of Bullying Prevention and within National Bullying Prevention Month in October.

The proclamation reads in part: “Every member of the Tompkins County community, government agencies, community organizations, school administrators, teachers, athletic coaches, parents, and students can play a part in creating a bully-free environment in our schools, athletics fields, public spaces, and online.”

The proclamation notes that more than two dozen government agencies, community organizations, parents, and representatives from the county’s six school districts formed the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force in March 2019. The Task Force’s mission is to facilitate comprehensive cooperation across the community in developing and promoting appropriate bullying prevention and response strategies in Tompkins County.

The Task Force is calling on Tompkins County schools to consider organizing special activities on October 7 in observance of Bullying Prevention Day. In a message sent to school districts, the Task Force suggests activities such as an all-school assembly featuring speakers, films, or skits; pledge-signing events; and walks/runs to raise awareness about bullying. The Task Force also asked teachers to consider classroom activities such as videos with follow-up discussions about tolerance and respect; and student presentations, creative writing assignments, or art projects on the bullying theme.

Click here to download the School Activities to Promote Bullying Prevention packet.

The Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC) and the Task Force are organizing a rally for 4:30 pm on October 7 at the Bernie Milton Pavilion in the Ithaca Commons to mark Bullying Prevention Day. Students will begin a march from GIAC to the Bernie Milton Pavilion at 4:15 pm for a peaceful gathering suitable for all ages. There will be performances by GIAC Jumpers, a proclamation, poster making, and a Task Force announcement about bullying prevention activities. Participants are encouraged to wear blue as the color symbolizing the fight against bullying.

“The Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force is pleased to celebrate Tompkins County’s first Bullying Prevention Day,” said Bridgette Nugent, Task Force co-coordinator. “The primary goal of the Task Force is to mobilize all stakeholders in the community to recognize the negative impacts of bullying and to support efforts for its intervention and prevention. We hope that by raising awareness and energizing the community to address bullying on this day, we can further energize students, families, and community members to put an end to bullying in our county.”

Kate Shanks-Booth, director of the Tompkins County Youth Services Department, said that Bullying Prevention Day offered an important step forward.

“The Tompkins County Youth Services Department deals with all the different municipalities and school districts that are encompassed within Tompkins County,” she said. “We hear from our partners at every level that bullying is a major area of concern, as the physical and emotional trauma experienced during these events lasts a lifetime. We are doing our part, working with Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force and other local partners to ensure that every youth in Tompkins County can thrive in life, work, and school without the negative impacts of all types of bullying.”

Celia Clement, a longtime school social worker and Task Force member, said: “The key to creating caring, kind, inclusive and safe school cultures is to empower students to be the agents of change.”

Clement said that the Task Force hopes that schools will initiate regular activities to increase awareness, facilitate discussions, and create opportunities for critical thinking and problem solving as part of an ongoing exploration and discussion between staff and students.

“Healthy school communities flourish and are sustainable when students are the driving force in creating kind and inclusive cultures,” said Clement. “We anticipate that providing these opportunities for education and dialogue will serve as a catalyst for students to take ownership in initiating Upstander leadership programs that will be responsive to the unique needs of their schools.”

TCBullyingPreventionDay-social

Download the Bullying Prevention Day Poster [DOWNLOAD]

TC Bullying Prevention Day Proclamation

Download the Tompkins County proclamation [DOWNLOAD]

For more information, go to:

https://thesophiefund.org/bullying/

 

Exploring Strategies to Stop Bullying

Surveying students about the prevalence of bullying. Training teachers, coaches, parents, and young people on how to respond. Encouraging youth to be upstanders. Holding annual Bullying Prevention Day activities to spread awareness. These were a few of the ideas discussed Saturday at a two-hour Community Forum sponsored by the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force.

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Celia Clement reviewing feedback on school bullying

The Task Force held the forum to introduce its work to the public and to solicit ideas from the community on strategies to address bullying. More than two dozen government agencies, community organizations, and representatives from the county’s six school districts formed the Task Force in March.

“A lot of these conversations and diving deep into these topics can become very personal and very painful, which we want to honor,” said Nigel Gannon, a Healthy Living Program Specialist for New York State 4-H Youth Development, who moderated the forum.

“We have to develop spaces where we can have those emotions in a positive way. Remember that we are all feeling the same [about bullying], in some way, as individuals, as loved ones, as community members. We are not happy to be here, I think we are hopeful to be here. We’re going to help the Task Force get the information they need to try to move this forward.”

Scott MacLeod of The Sophie Fund kicked off presentations by Task Force working groups by reviewing basic information about bullying in national, regional, and local contexts.

He noted the federal government’s definition of bullying, and how it should be distinguished from other behaviors such as conflict, rudeness, and meanness:

“Bullying is any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.”

MacLeod explained how bullying has psychological, physical, and academic effects, and adversely affects youth who are bullied as well as those who engage in bullying. He said that youth who are perceived as different, especially LGBTQ children, are at greater risk. Persistent bullying, he added, can lead to or worsen feelings of isolation, rejection, exclusion, and despair, as well as depression and anxiety, which can contribute to suicidal behavior. MacLeod said that while there is no federal stature that expressly outlaws bullying, New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) came into force in 2012 to protect students from bullying, harassment, and discrimination.

Citing statistics, MacLeod’s report said 19 percent of American high school students are bullied, and 14.9 percent experience cyberbullying. He said that data for the 2017-2018 school year, most likely reflecting underreporting, showed that Tompkins County school districts had 109 incidents of discrimination, harassment, and bullying , and 20 incidents of cyberbullying.

Celia Clement, a retired school social worker and now an independent consultant, delivered a report on potential approaches for addressing bullying in schools. She identified five areas for attention:

  • Communication: Families are not always getting the information they need about bullying definition, prevention, intervention, education, district policies and the laws involved such as the Dignity for All Students Act.
  • Education: Families and school staff want help around recognizing signs that their youth are struggling with mental health challenges, social challenges, or bullying. Students need to be educated as well around what is bullying, recognizing the difference between peer conflict and bullying, knowing the warning signs when adults need to be informed, and ways to intervene effectively when they see bullying, harassment or cyber bullying, or suicide warning signs.
  • Prevention: The key to successful intervention models is to include students as the core drivers when building programs that promote positive school cultures. There are existing local programs that can serve as models: Friendship Assistance Brigade, Stars, Be the One, and Welcoming Allies and Mentors.
  • Intervention: There is a need to educate school teaching staff and administrators about best practice around intervention when situations of conflict, bullying, harassment and cyber bullying occur—such as restorative practices as a way to support the target and to help the aggressor make changes. There is a need to offer strategies and tools to work with families in a way that promotes outcomes where everyone feels good about the process of addressing conflict and bullying situations.
  • Assessment: Schools need to conduct surveys about bullying to inform decisions for addressing the problem.

MacLeod also delivered a working group report on potential approaches for addressing bullying outside school property. He cited numerous ideas including holding an annual community forum and student leadership summit, providing training and information workshops, and launching awareness projects such as an annual Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Day.

Beth Hogan, a member of the Task Force’s Family Advisory Group, delivered a working group report on the concerns of parents surveyed by the group. She said parents experienced a significant increase in stress over bullying, and felt that they themselves were effectively being bullied. The parents believed that bullying was causing heightened levels of anxiety and depression in children, she added.

Hogan said that schools were reactive rather than proactive, and that mental health services inside and outside schools were inadequate. Hogan’s report called for frequent communication about bullying, including about the Dignity Act, to staff, families, and students. She said youth and parent involvement in bullying prevention should be a priority, and that the work should begin in the elementary grades.

Sophie Callister, a former student in the Lansing Central School District and now a student at Ithaca College, is the coordinator of the Task Force’s Student Advisory Group. “The bullying task force is something that means a huge deal to me because from third grade all through my school career it was a huge problem,” she said. “I want kids to feel like there is somebody willing to listen and help them and that they feel safe every day. I never really felt safe in school.” She said that rather than school counselors or psychologists the only person she felt she could go to for support was a math teacher. Callister said a goal of the task force is “to get the community involved—parents, students, everybody. This is not a time to be quiet.”

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Community Forum on Bullying Prevention, Tompkins County Public Library

Forum participants provided feedback and engaged in discussion in breakout sessions. On school programs, participants argued that schools under report bullying incidents and do not create safe spaces for students. They noted that teachers and coaches themselves sometimes engage in bullying by humiliating students/athletes. Participants suggested strategies including peer mentors and giving students tools for confronting bullying.

For public action, participants proposed holding local public forums within the county’s six school districts to better encourage family participation in bullying prevention initiatives. Participants supported the idea of providing training and workshop opportunities to educate the community about bullying and prevention methods, and called for a centralized resource to provide information about the Dignity Act and how to file complaints about bullying incidents. The participants also endorsed exploring synergies with existing programs and activities, such as the “Be the One” campaign.

Participants who focused on family and student involvement emphasized the need for developing a common language to understand bullying, and the importance of student-led initiatives for success. They noted that it was essential to view those who bully as people also in need of support to address the underlying causes of their behavior.

Some participants called for greater attention to students who may be experiencing suicide ideation, noting that four young people from the Lansing community have died by suicide in just the past year. Participants highlighted opportunities for students to become involved by forming chapters of organizations such as Active Minds and Sources of Strength, and participating in activities such as Mental Health First Aid for Teens.

Click here to read Becky Mehorter’s Ithaca Voice article on the Community Forum, “Task force brings community together to address bullying in local schools.”

Click here to read Matt Steecker’s article in the Ithaca Journal on the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force, “Finding solutions to bullying: Task force to hold forum at library.”

Click here to visit The Sophie Fund’s website resource page on bullying prevention.