Shared Responsibility

Upward: Our Head of School's Blog
In my last blog post, I referenced a conversation I had with leaders of other local schools about bullying. Each of us felt a personal responsibility to ensure that we take any necessary steps to prevent bullying in our respective schools, which one would expect. What I also heard, but did not expect, was that each leader had heard concerns from parents and felt as if there was work that could be done at their school.

Signe Whitson, a nationally recognized expert in the field of bullying, spent three days at VMS educating students, faculty, staff, and parents about this topic. In advance of and following her visit, we’ve spent significant time planning and discussing the work that we did those three days. Among our takeaways were:
  • Rude and mean behavior is different than bullying and requires a different response.
  • Parents and schools must work in partnership to establish and reinforce behavioral expectations.
  • Students responding to unkind behavior can take the following steps: show strength, be confident and make eye contact when responding to aggression; tell an adult; use assertive language and a strong voice; and address problems immediately when they happen.
  • Bullying typically occurs when children are unsupervised. Adults need to be aware of the “blind spots” and make an effort to be present during these times and in these places.
  • Cyberbullying is the hardest for parents to see. Take an active role in supervising your children’s use of social media. Just like in the physical world, know where they go and who they are with.
  • A culture of kindness is the best prevention. It is the responsibility of each community member to disempower bullying by: not validating this behavior either actively or passively; by helping peers stand up for themselves in the face of bullying; and by setting the expectation that people should be kind to one another.
  • There are numerous programs that claim to have a silver bullet for mitigating and addressing bullying and social aggression in schools, and it’s tempting to indulge the belief that they work. However, we also heard clearly from Signe that these programs are often ineffective, and in their place, she suggested that an organic, home grown effort by a tight-knit community is the best way to prevent bullying. She also shared that what she sees in our community and in our homebase program is a perfect example of just that.
Rude and mean behavior is different than bullying and while neither has a place at VMS, we will respond appropriately but differently to each. Bullying–repeated, intentionally aggressive behavior with an imbalance of power–will be handled by our administration as a discipline issue with the help of our staff psychologist who is specifically trained in this area.

On the other hand, testing social bounds and learning to manage emotion is a normal part of growing up and learning to be a part of a community. Building character is a process and something that is at the core of a VMS education. This is the work of each member of our community, and we are well equipped to help children learn what behavior is appropriate and inappropriate. This, I believe, may be the most important preparation for life that we provide.