During National Catholic Schools Week, Let’s Stop Bickering Over the Term ‘Bullying’, and Make Positive Action A Priority

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Frank A. DiLallo

National Catholic Schools Week has been an annual celebration of Catholic education in the U. S. for the last 45 years. The theme for Catholic Schools Week from January 27 to February 2, 2019 is; “Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.”

There are few greater threats to all schools than bullying. There is absolutely no school immune to peer mistreatment and the insidious impact it has on learning and the overall school climate. In every way, peer mistreatment is the antithesis to learning, serving, leading and succeeding.

The good news is that a myriad of successful strategies is available for positive and hopeful response. We can literally turn this problem into an opportunity for FORMATION and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT!

With formation and character development in mind, it is imperative that we put things into perspective. The term “Bullying” is highly ambiguous and consensus about how, exactly, to characterize bullying behavior is extremely elusive. Every person who learns of an incident wears a subjective lens based on their own previous experiences (personal and professional). Often, administrators, teachers, and parents get hung up on the conundrum; “Is this or is this not bullying?”, at the expense of a quick intervention and resolution. As research proves that asking this question, “Is this really bullying?”, is bound to cause a great deal of consternation and confusion between school and home – with plenty of room for disagreements I feel the term “peer mistreatment” is more accurate, and reduces confusion and the likelihood that adults will label, or make assumptions about a child’s character or intentions.

Most likely, trying to get to the bottom of whether a situation is bullying or is not bullying is well intended, however the energy expended to make such a determination is exhausting and can be highly erroneous. By viewing all behaviors as “bullying” we can run amuck; the risk of unwittingly under responding to a volatile situation, such as physical assault, or over responding to a less serious situation, such as eye rolling.

We should by all means take every incident seriously, however after investigating, our efforts should focus on tailoring a unique response based on the developmental age of the child(ren) and the severity of the situation. We are not responding to “bullying”, we are sensitively responding to misguided actions. Please remember; “This child made a mistake, he/she is not a mistake.”

The #1 top priority for adults at school and parents at home should always include two key questions:

  1. Did the action(s) cause or does the action(s) have the potential to cause physical or emotional harm?
  2. Did the action(s) interfere with or does the action(s) have the potential to interfere with student learning?

It is important for us to create a paradigm shift from problem-centric bullying language, to more effectively align our responses with positive solution-centric approaches that embody compassion. Being Solution-Centric means that we are proactively engaging students in opportunities to learn and grow. Proactive means promoting skill-based learning, whereas anti as in “Anti-bullying” is reactive. It is much more effective and efficient to promote the behaviors we do want in students rather than efforts to eliminate or move student’s away from behaviors we don’t want.

There are many evidenced-based frameworks and programs to promote Pro-Social Skills. Religious and Public Schools adopt approaches that work for their environments. For Catholic and other Christian schools, a Christ-centered focus on the Gospel Guidelines is essential. For public schools Character-Based Education and Social Emotional Learning are key. In both cases, an effective anonymous reporting system such as STOPit should be an integral part of both Christian and public schools to effectively mitigate and respond to students in distress.

With this “new view” in mind; ALL incidents of peer mistreatment are taken seriously and every effort is made to guide misguided actions toward meaningful opportunities to learn, serve, lead and succeed, in educating and promoting pro-social skills for the formation of the whole child.

Helpful Resources
STOPit Solutions
Peace Be With You Christ Centered Bullying Redirect
National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA)
Social Emotional Learning
Character Education

Guest author, Frank A. DiLallo, is a Professional Counselor and certified Prevention Specialist who works in the Office of Child & Youth Protection for the Diocese of Toledo. He frequently consults with principals, teachers and parents for preK-12 in the Diocese, as well as Catholic schools across the country.

DiLallo is also the author of several books and articles that address bullying and its impact, including: Peace Be With You Christ-Centered Bullying Solution, Peace2U Three Phase Bullying Solution, Peace Be With You Christ Centered Bullying Redirect, Bullying Redirect: New Strategies for Christian Educators and Bullying Redirect: New Strategies for Christian Parents.

Learn more about how the STOPit anonymous reporting solution is helping Catholic Schools build safer, more supportive school communities.

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