A Cure for the Common Bully

By Laurie Evans

We see it in the headlines almost every week, children being bullied at school, on the web, in their neighborhoods.

Although it’s a hot topic for parents, it is an even hotter topic for teachers and school administrators.

Lexington Family spoke with administrators and counselors at three local private schools — Sayre School, The Lexington School and Montessori Middle School of Kentucky — about their strategies for handling bullying at their school.

Although each school approaches the issue differently, all three emphasize that education is key for students, teachers, administrators and parents.

Blythe Jamieson, a counselor at Sayre School for nine years, says that the community-building focus of their classrooms helps to prevent bullying.

Students start each day with a group meeting, greeting each other and sharing joys and concerns.

This is all part of the Responsive Classroom concept that Sayre embraces.

“We emphasize social and emotional learning,” Jamieson said. “We embed our expectations in how the teachers teach every day.”

Vivian Langefeld, Education Director at Montessori Middle School of Kentucky, agrees that it is important to give students the correct tools to deal with each other without bullying.

“The victim and the bully are one and the same,” she said. “Both of them have not had their needs met.”

It is important to develop self-esteem and self-discipline in all children, she said.

MMSK uses a curriculum called Grace and Courtesy that focuses on peace education.

“We teach children to respect and love themselves and that everyone has contributions to make,” she said.

Marijo Foster, Head of the Lower School at The Lexington School, embraces the strategies promoted by Izzy Kalman, author of “Bullies to Buddies.”

“Bullies do what they do to get that reaction, whether its tears or running to a friend for sympathy,” she said.

“It’s important to help a child learn to shut that bully down by not giving them that reaction.”

Foster believes that it is more beneficial to give students the skills to diffuse a bullying situation on their own rather than always swooping in to rescue them.

These educators agree that just teaching self-esteem and respect isn’t always enough to prevent incidents of bullying.

At Sayre, Jamieson and the teachers teach Community Matters life skills programs. The programs address the influence of the media, gender issues and stress management, and teach cooperation and respect.

MMSK is unique in that it’s a “land based” school. Students work on the land surrounding the school to complete different projects.

How does this help combat bullying?

“The students work together on projects, such as building a bridge across a stream,” says Langefeld.

“They learn to appreciate each other’s different talents and skills.”

One student may be good at drawing the design of the bridge while another may excel at the actual construction.

“We give students a way to shine in different areas,” she said.

Students who respect each other may bully less.

All schools, no matter how well they prepare their students, will have one student bully another. Having plans in place to deal with such incidents is crucial.

For Foster at TLS, these policies are clearly explained to the parents through newsletters she routinely sends to the school’s families.

“We don’t jump in feet first and make a big deal of it,” says Foster, sometimes to the dismay of parents.

“We understand that students often need time to sit down and work this out for themselves.”

This is a critical skill that her students will need as adults as well, she adds.

Langefeld at MMSK has a policy of not forcing an apology from a child who has bullied or offended another child.

“A forced apology doesn’t fix anything,” she says. “We tell the students, ‘You have to make this right,’ and ‘How can you make sure this doesn’t happen again?’”

Jamieson at Sayre emphasizes that if there is an incident at school there must be consequences and not just for the offender.

“We use it as a learning experience,” she said. “We work with not just the offender, but the bystanders who did nothing.”

The ultimate goal is to educate children to treat others with respect and to stand up for their convictions.

Said Langefeld: “We hope students will be a little more willing to stand up and speak out because of their early education.”