from-bullying-to-climateFocusing On Bullying Misses The Point: Moving The Conversation From Bullying To Climate

See parts 1-3 in this series, PD Sucks. Is Edcamp the Solution?Pairing Teachers for Better Professional Development and Hacking Your Classroom

by Dawn Casey-Rowe, Social Studies Teacher & Learnist Evangelist

I don’t love the word “bully.”

I sometimes feel it’s become an educational buzzword, losing much of its power in the same way as the word (phrase?) “X-treme.” X-treme used to mean something. It was created for the X-Games, which had alternative athletes doing insane things. “X-treme” meant I got to watch street luges careen down Providence’s College Hill into bales of hay at a million miles an hour before San Francisco stole the games away. But when “x-treme” started describing tubes of toothpaste, it lost its charm for me.

And for me, the word “bullying” is kind of heading the same way.

I prefer to use the words “creating a positive climate.” Our choice of words matters. When we focus on negativity, we key in on negative behaviors, such as bullying and inappropriateness. Flipping our conceptualization from “anti-bullying,” to “creating a positive climate” puts us in the right mindset to recognize those doing the right thing who often get overlooked.

Sometimes schools do everything they can to create a positive climate, and there are still people who bring others down. We talk about “bullying” quite often in schools. True bullying is about power brokering and self-esteem. There are many types of bullying about which you might not be aware. We always think of the kid who steals lunch money, but bullying can be subtle, manipulative.

I used to teach anti-bullying as part of my martial arts program. First I’d ask kids if they were bullies. They’d say no. Then, I’d ask them if they ever threw a fit in the store because they didn’t get what they want, knowing this would manipulate their embarrassed parent into buying it. Many said yes. This is bullying–and this is not creating a positive climate in the home.

Often, adults bully other adults as well. Seth Godin wrote recently that this causes time to be lost, good people to leave, and employees, who often feel powerless, to dislike work. Godin called it “theft,” suggesting that stealing time or productivity was no different than stealing an object.

Because many people are unaware of the nuances of this issue, and how much of a challenge it can be to create a positive climate, professional development can help. It can helps us to identify areas of negativity and to realize how we can be assertive ourselves in refusing to accept less than professional and perfect behavior at school and work so we can be agents of positivity.

Creating a positive climate allows an organization to thrive and reach its full potential. PD can help. By having open and honest conversations, we can bring “positive” to the top of our “must-do” list and in so doing, the rest of the things we want to achieve will come along for the ride.

This week’s Learnist feature looks for ways we can use Professional Development to change the climate at your school, to look for the positive, create a more cohesive school family, and follow up to ensure that it stays that way. Please click the link to join the conversation or offer your suggestions directly on Learnist, comment here, or join the conversation on Twitter by following @LearnistTweets or @TeachThought.

Better Professional Development: 5 Ways To Improve Your School Climate

1. Use Positive Behavior Intervention & Supports

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports is a data-driven way to encourage positive behavior by creating positive targets and reinforcing them with rewards. You’ll need to dedicate continual PD to PBIS, because it is sometimes seen as simply giving rewards to students, and nothing can be further from the truth. It is not a system of Scooby snacks, it is an organizational change.

Any organization that thinks “creating a positive climate” is about adults giving rewards to students may benefit from some PD on PBIS. Creating a positive climate takes hard work, showing that showing respect and being positive create a cycle, not a top-down initiative. Eventually, the cycle self-perpetuates.

If you dedicate some PD to PBIS and commit to analyze the data, you’ll see great things in your school.

2. Include Everyone

Schools can feel like feudal hierarchies whereby the educational leadership are the lords, teachers are the vassals and support staff and students are the serfs. Change this immediately! Have PD, school activities and school mixers and meals where all members of the school family meet on an equal playing field and interact.

It could be as simple as changing some “faculty meetings” to “staff meetings,” inviting all school personnel to discuss school improvement and opportunities, and making sure that there’s something on the agenda for every group to address. PD could include meetings with students on the subject of school policies or curricula. Maintenance staff might agree to do a PD session on “Green Schools,” and help with a recycling initiative.

There are so many ways to “mix it up” and create areas for everyone to benefit from each other. This will go a long way to accomplishing the goal of creating a positive school.

3. Create Down Time

Don’t just have a holiday party, have a series of events where people grab a beverage and interact off the clock. Again, make sure to include everyone from the boss to the support staff. When we leave groups out, we create stratification. This is the opposite of what we’re trying to accomplish creating schools that run like clockwork.

4. Do Good

Social philanthropy brings people together. Try to pick causes that connect to the things that the school values and are helpful at the same time. Make sure to really make all members of the school family know that their pulling together has helped in some significant way.

5. Follow Up

From time to time, have some sort of PD brush up that involves the inner circle of people directing climate-building initiatives, and with the staff or school as a whole, outlining the progress the school has made. This is important because the best PD is never a one-shot deal. It is continual, and reaches a little bit higher every time, like walking up a mountain one step at a time. Without that constant follow up and touching base on these issues, the initiatives don’t seem important and they fade into the sunset. School climate is too important to let that happen. The best of relationships need constant input and work from people on all sides.

This week’s Learnist feature is about creating a positive climate in schools and creating the PD framework to do so, so that hopefully, you don’t have to hear the “b” word (bullying) much more.

Moving The Conversation From Bullying To Climate; image attribution flickr user nasagoddardphotoandvideo