by Barbara Gruener
It’s been three, no four years since we had this conversation, but I can still see him sitting in the office and hear his little voice in my head:
Me: And are you being a flower or a weed today?
Student: A weed.
Me: And what do weeds do?
Student: They choke out the flowers.
Me: And what happens to weeds?
Student: They get sent to the Principal’s office.
And so it went with my sweet student as the Assistant Principal and I tried to teach him how best to bloom and grow in his first-grade classroom. Now imagine another conversation, this time with a much different specimen:
Me: Are you being a flower or a weed today?
Broadleaf: Both, actually.
Me: What do you mean by that?
Broadleaf: It’s complicated.
Me: Try me.
Broadleaf: I’m actually a weed disguised as a flower.
Me: So, which are you, a flower or a weed?
Broadleaf: Just think of me as a flowering weed.
I’d rather have a conversation with students like the former than the latter, because the latter confuse me. The broadleaf weed that hurricane Ike blew in two years ago blends in to the grass that you hardly even notice it, until it makes these pretty little white flowers, at which point it has spread like wildfire through the grass.
And so it is with students who bully. Their bullying behaviors spread like weeds. But it’s tricky, because sometimes the students who bully often present as pretty good kids or flowers to adults. It’s behind the scenes, covertly, that they’re causing so much damage.
So how do we combat broadleaf, I mean bullying? First, we have to identify it. Because of the gravity of the issue, we use R-I-P to define it. Aggressive, mean acts are called bullying behaviors when they’re:
R Repeated over time
I Intentional, on purpose
P Power imbalance created
Once bullying has been identified, we work with the bully to help shape and change the behavior. We also work with the victim to undo any damage that the aggressive behavior has caused and help him or her feel safe. We have to pull the broadleaf so the grass can be healthy and grow!
But there’s another group that we’ve been working with, just as diligently, and that’s the bystander. Data suggests that kids know that they should do something about bullying, they just aren’t sure what. So in our K-3 classes, we’re teaching our kids to be upstanders instead of bystanders. The powerful new book by Debbie Fox and Allan L. Beane, “Good Bye Bully Machine” calls them “allies.” If students see or hear bullying behaviors, allies go over in a group of three or four and scoop the victim out of the situation to a safer place. If the aggressor follows them, they head toward an adult for some assistance. We’ve been practicing this in guidance this week to equip and empower our littlest leaders to help combat bullying in our school.
And the broadleaf? Well, we’re scooping that out of our yard, too, one flower at a time.
Barbara Gruener is the guidance counselor at Westwood Elementary in Friendswood, TX, a 2009 National School of Character. Barbara speaks across the country, sharing practical strategies to infuse character integrally into the fabric of a school.