Monday, October 5, 2015

Bullying? Are you sure?

The following post was written by Dr. Marcia McEvoy during the Spring of 2013.  After reading this post I immediately knew Dr. McEvoy "gets it."  Please read and see for yourself -

The word “bullying” has taken an interesting turn.   For the past 15 years, I have been working with staff, students, and parents all over Michigan and the Midwest to reduce student cruelty and to help students develop tolerance and empathy.  When I first started this work many years ago, I had to convince school personnel and parents that bullying was a problem. The response I so often received was, “This is a normal rite of passage.  It is kids being kids.  If we don’t let them fight their own battles, we will surely raise a generation of wimps.” 

Today, with the increasing media attention to violence in schools nation-wide, the responses to my question, “What is bullying?” have strikingly shifted.  I often hear from parents and students that a single push in the hall or getting called a name is “bullying.”  However, we would all be much better served if we stopped branding every aggressive behavior as bullying.  There are three groups of students who engage in hurtful behavior.  Only the last group truly meets the definition of bullying.

The first and largest of these three groups are students who are typically caring and have a conscience.  They engage in sporadic cruel behavior towards peers for a variety of reasons which usually involve getting a laugh, showing-off, attention-seeking, or attempting to fit into a group.  Students in this category aren’t even thinking about how their bad choices are impacting the targets.  The behavior of these students is relatively easy to modify with consistent consequences and serious discussions about the negative impacts of their behavior. 

The second group of students who engage in aggressive behavior are also good kids with a conscience, but struggle with impulse control, frustration tolerance, and anger management.  They are frequently “hot-headed” and will lash out at peers when they are mad, frustrated, or are not getting their needs met.  These students need a combination of consistent consequences for acts of aggression, and social skills training.  They respond well to positive behavior support practices, including positive precision feedback, positive notes and calls to parents for behavioral improvement, and mentoring.  Included in this second group are friends or classmates who have a disagreement or misunderstanding that occasionally escalates into cruel words or actions.  Teaching all students problem-solving skills and conflict resolution skills would go a long way toward reducing this type of aggression.

The third group of students who engage in aggressive behavior are those who not only lack a conscience or empathy, but seem to enjoy inflicting pain on others.  Their hurtful behavior gives them an adrenaline rush.  By many estimates, this is about 2 percent of the population of any school.  These kids engage in repetitive, intentional patterns of cruelty aimed at students with less power than them (physical, social, emotional).  These students engage in chronic, habitual bullying.  Modifying their behavior takes strenuous and sustained effort, but is critical in mitigating a potential life path as a narcissistic or sociopathic adult who may negatively impact hundreds of people during their lifespan. 

All three groups of students will be served by developing a consequence rubric for aggression that is fair, consistent and predictable.  At the same time, it is important to weave social skills training, conflict-resolution skills, empathy development, and tolerance for differences into the K-12 curriculum.  Adults must also build positive relationships with aggressive youth.  Students who have caring relationships with staff are much less likely to be cruel.  Instead of labeling every aggressive behavior as bullyingwe need to recognize that there are various types of mean behavior.  We can then create broad-based solutions to prevent cruelty of all kinds, whether it is simply an escalating disagreement among friends, an impulsive act, or true bullying. 

Marcia McEvoy, Ph.D.
McEvoy Consulting, LLC

My own thoughts are this, I'm a parent, the last thing I want is for my child to be hurt, targeted or picked on.  I want to protect my kids to the best of my ability.

What I have discovered is sometimes the people closest to my boys hurt them the most.  Does this make their friends bullies?  No.

My belief is EVERYONE has the potential to be mean, but not everyone is a bully.  We need to stop throwing the term bullying around so loosely and simply BE KIND.

My question for all of you, if you have noticed or heard of a student being mean, what have you done?

Have you talked with the other student's parents?
Have you been part of the solution and helped the student understand their behavior?
Have you taken the time to understand why the incident happened?
Did you talk to multiple people to see both sides of the situation?


Did you simply label the student as a bully?

Feel free to leave a comment, together we can make the world a better place.

Articles Worth Reading:

show your kids how to study @teachmama

Homework: Give it purpose or Give it death @Jeff_Zoul

As a parent, I wish you knew... @TechNinjaTodd

Videos Worth Watching:

Remarkable Friendship (4 min)

Ripple Effect (5 min)

Dream Big! (1 min)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

All About Test Scores?

"Take advantage of every opportunity to 
practice your communication skills
so that when important occasions arise,
you will have the gift,
the style,
the sharpness, 
the clarity, 
and the emotions 
to affect other people."
- Jim Rohn

Can you feel it?  The excitement is in the air.  So many of our families are preparing for the next school year.  Yes, we still have approximately forty days of school, but we also have kindergarten round-up and the window has opened for families to request for the 2015-2016 school year.

Recently at our Parent Information Meeting I was stopped by a few parents.  The couple was very pleasant and inquisitive.  They introduced themselves and then asked me which elementary building in the Western District was the best.  I chuckled, told them that was a loaded question and then proceeded to explain that all three elementary schools are truly fantastic.  I shared our district top teacher numbers, our common programs and the tremendous partnership that we have between buildings and in the community.  

And then they asked it...

The couple then asked the question that opened a Pandora's box!  They asked where they could go online and compare the schools' test data.

(Here was my opportunity, and I was going to take it!)

I respectfully began with a bit of information and shared our district website.  I then spoke to them as a parent and an educator.  I let them know that standardized test data is an extremely small piece of information.  Testing typically lasts just a few days.  Then I shared a handful of points that parents could/should look at when looking at schools.  

1)  Location.  Is the school in a safe area?  Will transportation be manageable for your family?  Schools and Real Estate are different, but in both Location does matter.  The hope is that you are close enough to be involved in activities that take place at your child's school.  Ultimately, you want the school to be safe and secure.

2)  Focus on your child.  Does your child have specific needs?  Does your child need extra support?  I often get asked about accelerated programs and about programs designed for the individual.  The best advice I can give is for families to take a tour and check out the school with their own eyes.  Talk to teachers and administrators about learning programs and philosophies.  

3)  Communication.  Parents should look at the schools website.  Has the site been updated?  Is it easy to navigate?  Parents should also inquire about a School Facebook page, School Twitter account, Professional Blogs for parents to read, frequency of parent/teacher conferences and ways that teachers communicate with parents.  

4)  Approach to Learning.  In the year 2015 it is time for schools to not only tell, but also show parents ways students are learning.  Are schools using technology?  Is the curriculum a canned product?  Do teachers provide choice in daily learning?  Do students learn by play, by doing and through experiences?  Learning looks different than it did ten or twenty years ago.  Has the school moved forward over time?  These are important questions for parents to ask.

5)  Facilities.  In this day and age is wireless access provided?  Do you consider the school to be clean?  Upon entering, what is the procedure for entering the school?  Over the years I have discovered that some parents care a great deal about facilities and to others it is secondary.  I have had parents comment on the playground and gym and others focus more on the library.  It's always an eye opener to hear the multitude of questions parents may ask.

6)  Culture.  Have you talked to other parents that have children attending the school?  What do they have to say about the school?  The staff?  The intangibles?  Does the school have extracurricular activities?  Clubs?  Sports?  Student-Led programs?  How does the school "feel" when you enter? Does the school feel student-centered?  When talking to the teachers or principal, can they share student-centered projects or activities?  

To be fair, I shared these points quickly with the parents.  I didn't monopolize their time, but I did want to make sure they understood that a school is much more than a test score.  As we began to finish up, the same parents asked for a packet of homework to work on with their incoming kindergarten student.  I smiled and told them to focus on three things:  1)  Does your child know their phone number and address?  2)  Read to your child and practice the ABC's.  3)  Be Present!  Give your child experiences.  Take them fishing.  Go for a bike ride. Plan a zoo trip.  Your child will benefit greatly by participating in as many experiences as possible.

I share this story for a specific reason.  

Be Ready!

Be ready to have conversations with parents.  Be ready to share what makes your school special.  

Never miss the opportunity to share something great about your school.  You never know what the impact may be.

This Week's Big Question:  What would you add or subtract from my above list?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Would you welcome a Home Visit?

Do you trust your child's school?  Do you feel a partnership between family and school?

Ultimately I hope your answer is, yes.  But, I would be surprised if everyone felt this way.  Several years ago when I began in education I noticed a significant trend.  As a teacher I felt much more successful with students if I, "connected" with the family.  It really speaks to the relationship aspect.

Years ago I had a young man in class.  He was all boy!  If I could connect the lesson to something sports related or video games he perked up.  If I didn't, he was completely lost.  After the first four or five weeks I started to really gel with the young man.  He was trying hard and his grades were solid. Most importantly he was a happy young man.  Fall conferences came around and his mom attended. She shared that this was his most successful year since kindergarten.  I was glad he turned things around...but I failed to get into any particulars.

Unfortunately the young man started a downward spiral in December.  I thought it was simply Holiday-itis, but I was vastly wrong.  The new year didn't make things better, in fact it was quite the contrary.  He basically gave up and shut me out.  I called home and had long conversations with mom.  I thought we were on the same page.  Then in March I called after he got into with a younger student in the bathroom.  The mom absolutely lit into me.  She blamed me for the collapse, the depression and his hating school.  She then said, this is his worst year ever!  I was dumbfounded. How did I lose her trust?  Her support?  Where did I fail?

A few days went by and I asked to meet her.  She was still angry, but agreed.  I went with a colleague to her house.  We sat in the living room, for an hour we listened to her story.  We heard about his father walking out.  We heard about the financial struggles.  We saw first hand what life was like.  It was the end of March and I was truly connecting with mom.  I finally saw my student for who he is. I realized school was not a priority and the reasons why were clear.  I realized the lack of a father figure was hurting him.  He needed someone to take the burden off...not put it on.

That was my first home visit.  Years later I still see the mom and she talks to me like a friend.  I believe my willingness to meet her where she was made a major impact.  She knew I was invested.  I just wish I hadn't waited until March.

As I share that story I think of how many of our teachers don't truly understand what their students are going through.  I don't blame the teachers, but knowledge is power.  Just look at this data on parent involvement:

Regardless of family income or background, students with involved parents are more likely to:

- earn higher grades and achieve higher test scores
- have higher attendance rates
- have better social skills
- show improved behavior
- graduate and go on to higher education

What's important for schools to understand is that ALL people bring a history or background to the table.  Educators understand the importance of building relationships and often times one key event can create a bond.  That event could possibly be a Home Visit.

I understand that for many the home is a private place.  Home is where we kick off our shoes and relax.  The last thing we want is to feel forced to tidy up and put on a show.  But speaking from the heart, it isn't about a show.  It's about real life and helping to better understand.  

When I visited my students home in late March I thought it was too late.  What I came to understand was, it's never too late.  The student ended the year on a positive note, but more importantly I was able to take some of the burden off.  I was able to understand, relate and care for him.  I was also able to communicate with his future teachers.  Doing my first Home Visit was nerve wracking and challenging, but I'm glad I did it.

I ask you, would a Home Visit strengthen your relationship with your child's school?

Articles Worth Reading:

Teachers use home visits to connect with students' families

Spotlight on Parental Involvement

Panthers Podcast 12 - Coach DeBacker

Each of Us Holds Value

Videos Worth Watching:

American Kids try different breakfast foods (4 min)

Opening Doors and Hearts (6 min)

Friday, January 23, 2015

What do I expect?

Have you ever made a New Year's Resolution?

I'll admit, I'm not really the Resolution type.  If I want to change something I just set my mind to it.

BUT, that doesn't work for everyone...especially my two boys.  

The story begins on a typical Monday morning in November.  When the school year began my boys were waking up, getting around and we were leaving for school with ample time.  At no point did I feel rushed, anxious or irritable.  Then as the year went on we began leaving a minute or two later each week.  Then November arrived!  The dreaded time change.  On this particular morning I remember getting the boys up in plenty of time.  But it was Monday and they were moving REALLY slow.  To make a long story short voices were raised and some tears shed.

I remember driving to school and lecturing the boys about responsibility.  Telling them they are getting older and that they needed to be more independent.  It was my typical lecture that, of course, went on a bit too long.  

Then it hit me.  I was part of the problem.  What was my goal?  Ultimately I wanted my boys to start the day on a positive note.  By lecturing and showing my frustration, I was far from the goal.  That day I felt horrible, I had to wait over six hours before I could see my oldest son and begin to make things right.  

As the day was winding down my son walked into my office.  He sat where he usually does, but he didn't say a word.  I spent the next several minutes trying to figure out some things he did during his day.  His answers were short.  

Then I spoke to him and told him I loved him, then I apologized for my frustration in the morning. At that moment he and I talked about ways to make the mornings better.  We discussed what he wanted to do and what I was truly hoping for.  I gained valuable insight into what he wants to do in the morning and he heard what I expected from him.  The key to moving forward was communication.

I wish I could say that since then things have been perfect, but we're human beings...nothing is perfect.  Most mornings are pretty good.  Every so often we have to re-visit our goals and open up those lines of communication.

I say all this because we are now at the mid-point of the year.  Are there things you wish were different?  Homework routines?  Bedtime routines?  The morning rush?  Eating habits? 

Now is the time to sit down and talk to your kids.  Instead of making the mistake I did and simply getting frustrated to the point of anger...I encourage you to make the change.  

If we continue to do the same thing over and over and expect a change we are kidding ourselves.

Here's to a new year and a fresh start at keeping the joy in your home.

Articles Worth Reading:

Videos Worth Watching:

One More Game...

Malala's Nobel Peace speech. The power of doing what is right!