Tag Archives: anti-bullying

Great Classroom Activity


Which Words Rule Our Lives?

Words that Rule Our LivesIt’s important for us that we know the words that rule our lives. This is a great activity I learned from my own high school students, Taylor and Cody.  The assignment was for each of my students who aspired to be future teachers, to teach a lesson in front of their classmates.  At the time of this assignment the classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are had just been made into a movie and was being shown in theaters.  Taylor and Cody began their lesson by having the students watch the movie trailer.  In a very effective style the trailer pointed out that each of us has three words within us.  We all possess a little fear.  We all crave a little adventure.  And we all need a little hope.

movie trailerHow clever Taylor and Cody were to get Hollywood to create the hook for their lesson!  The movie trailer was quite effective and had every student’s attention.  The “teachers” then asked the class to focus on those three words:  fear, adventure and hope.

Decide which one of those words rules your life.

Think about it and then share it with your peers.

After a few minutes of thought they brought the class together into a cozy circle.

teens in a circle

Each student truthfully described which of these three words currently seemed to dominate their lives.  They were very honest and revealing.  (I believe students truly want to share what is on their minds.  I’ve seen it too many times to be wrong about this).  It is the challenge of an insightful teacher to find a vehicle that will encourage that sharing.

After everyone had shared their thoughts, the teaching partners posed a second question…

Are you satisfied with the word that seems to drive your life right now?

Once again the students took turns sharing their answers.  This kind of activity will only be successful if a teacher has previously created a safe, accepting environment in which all students feel free to share.  Once again the answers were candid and insightful.  This activity forced each of us to assess our lives.  It forced us to evaluate our motives, to really think about the choices we were making and whether those choices served us well.  It also built tremendous understanding and empathy among class members.  It deepened our sense of community.  As a side benefit it is important to recognize…bullies can’t thrive when you build a sense of acceptance within a classroom community.  How proud I was of my students for creating such an effective experience for our class.

dream big

Is there one word that seems to drive your life?  Fear?  Adventure? Hope?  Which one is it?  I always participate fully in any revealing activity like this in my classroom.  It bonds the teacher with the class.  It builds understanding across generations and defines the classroom as a safe place.  Even more important it shows the students the teacher is willing to talk about feelings.  It gives them the courage to approach the teacher when something really important is on their minds.  It puts a welcome mat in front of the door to your classroom and your heart.

Thank you Taylor and Cody, for creating this wonderful lesson for me to share with others!

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TEACH…To Change Lives

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Gifts from the Classroom


1770209_sWhat is the best holiday gift you have ever received? From my childhood I remember a much wished for and cherished bike that sat in front of the Christmas tree, the only new one I ever owned.  This was a stunning event in the household where I grew up, because we usually didn’t receive what we most wanted.  However the elves must have been extremely busy that year because they didn’t do a good job of assembling this bike and it never actually worked just right.  Oh, it looked very pretty, but sometimes when you turned the handle bars, the front wheel didn’t turn – not a reliable characteristic for a bike.  I probably jumped more miles on my on my beloved pogo stick than I ever rode on that bike.  Oh, could this gal pogo!  I bounced everywhere.  Yep, I’d have to say that my pogo stick was my all time favorite gift from childhood.

What I Admire About You

What I admire about youBut as we mature we come to realize the truth of that adage, “The best things in life aren’t  things.”  They truly aren’t.  The best thing in life is making others feel good about themselves.  We all long to feel valued and appreciated.   About two-thirds of the way through my teaching career I discovered an activity that helped accomplish this goal.  I always planned this activity for sometime during the holidays.

As my students entered the classroom they received a stack of blank index cards…one for each of their classmates and one for the teacher.  Silently I had them write the name of a classmate at the top of each card and then write one thing they admired about that student.  I encouraged them to be as specific as possible.  General statements like, “You are a great gal” are not as powerful as “I admire the way you always have something encouraging to say when someone in our class is down in the dumps.”  They were required to write one about me (the teacher) also.  Let me tell you high school teachers need their encouragement too.  There were a few cautions and guidelines I voiced ahead of time.  Absolutely no ‘put downs” would be tolerated, only positive comments were permitted.

A Confession

I admit that occasionally I had a group of students so at odds with one another before we began this activity, that I didn’t require that they write a compliment to every classmate.  I might limit it to 10 or 12 compliments written using time parameters as an excuse.  I wanted to make certain no one was ever hurt by this activity.  But when you set limits like these, you always risk the omission of someone being complimented.  I only used these limits a time or two.  Here’s the real beauty of the activity.  Each time I limited the number of compliments they had to provide, they always got half way through the activity and then THEY requested of ME that they be able to write something they admired about everyone in the class.  That is how great is the power of writing positive words about someone.

Then Comes the Magic


At the end of our time limit, we circled our desks and orally read one card at a time.  One student would read aloud to one other student a single comment while all others listened.  Then the next person in the circle would read a comment about someone else.  I encouraged them to keep changing the people who were being complimented.  “Try and choose someone no one has yet read about,” was my occasional  reminder.  When it was my turn to read I always started by complimenting someone I felt was considered just a little outside the inner circle…the kids not quickly accepted by their peers.  As we listened around and around that circle twenty or thirty revolutions, you could feel the climate of our classroom change. They smiled more easily, eyes moistened, shoulders relaxed, heads nodded as everyone agreed with a compliment being shared orally, and teens relaxed their armor.  Kindness settled softly over our circle like a cashmere blanket. Friends became closer and former adversaries demonstrated tolerance.  When others validate us, we are more likely to notice and appreciate positive traits in others.  The students in my classroom became a family.  There is no greater gift for a student who will be walking into your classroom every day for an entire school year.

Just before our time together ended, I instructed them to pass their cards out to one another.  By taking the time to distribute their compliments in written form, everyone could carry the compliments away and read them again whenever they might need a morale boost. As dozens of students stood to distribute their cards to others, I anticipated it to be quite a noisy time.  It never was.  Why?  The moment they received a card from someone, their eyes were magnetically drawn to the compliments written on those cards. They hungered for that validation from their peers.

Our class was always changed from that day forward.  We became a community working together, a unit.  As a side (but not unimportant) benefit, a bully has a hard time finding a foot hold in a community where everyone has your back.

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How to Stop a School Bully


When They Don’t Want to Go to School

bullyingTwenty-five years ago my oldest daughter was in junior high school.  I sensed something wasn’t just right because she didn’t want to go to school.  The school nurse also frequently called me telling me that my daughter was in the clinic claiming to be ill.  I’d turn my schedule upside down in my own classroom where I was teaching to go and pick her up only to realize with a mother’s instinct that she really wasn’t sick at all.  She just wanted to come home.

Finally one day, even though she tried to continue to mask her situation, her secrets exploded at home and the truth came out.  Some girls were targeting her at school.  On the day that she couldn’t take it anymore the bullies had gotten her locker combination out of the counselor’s file drawer where they worked as ‘aides’ to the counselors instead of being assigned to study hall.  They used the confidential combination to open my daughter’s locker, and then dumped all her books and belongings in the restroom sink.  Then they turned on the water and left them there for others to discover as the sink overflowed.  Someone came to find my daughter and asked her why all her belongings were being flooded in the girl’s restroom.  They assumed she caused the flood.  That’s when she broke down at home.  She was afraid she would get in trouble for the restroom flood.  She was afraid if she revealed who really did it, they would pick on her more.

She sobbed as she told me this story.  But at the very same time she pleaded harder for my silence and made me promise not to go to school and talk to anyone about it.  She swore that administrators and teachers loved these girls.  They had everyone fooled.  She was sure no one would believe her.  If I went to school and “told on them” they’d know my daughter had told someone their identity and that would only escalate what they would do to her. Unfortunately I knew that this was (at that time) probably true.

These tormentors were the original ‘mean girls.’ They preceded the internet by fifteen years.  Imagine the trouble they could cause cyber-bullying today.   Clearly they showed one personality to adults or they wouldn’t have had access to the counselor’s files. (Of course, this isn’t at all professional and they were probably sneaking to do this).   But their true identity was revealed to their peers, especially to those who felt powerless to stand up to them.  To the masses they were the ‘popular’ girls.

What Did I Do About It?

losing cleepThe first thing I did was toss and turn all night.  I lost quite a bit of sleep trying to figure out how to handle this situation.  She’d made me promise her I wouldn’t go to school or tell anyone.  If I did, would the situation escalate?  She was certain it would. Would my daughter ever trust me again if I broke my promise?  Would she be willing to share her problems with me in the future?

What did I do?  I went to school, of course.  To my credit I didn’t take a weapon.  As I tossed and turned I remembered that I had formerly taught with the assistant principal’s mother in another school district.  She and I were no longer in touch, but it was at least an opening.  I sneaked into that assistant principal’s office when I knew my daughter would be in class.  I told him I knew his mother and how I knew her.  (That shouldn’t have made any difference, but somehow it made me feel better). I then told him that my daughter had made me promise that I would not come to school and let anyone know what she was experiencing.  I demanded his promise that she would never find out I had come.  He said he would honor that request.

Then I described what was happening.  I told him I couldn’t figure out how to handle it.  If I called these girls’ parents, would that make it worse?  Probably.  The girls would deny all of it to their parents.  I’ve known of parents who do this, but it never felt comfortable to me.  I told him I saw it as a school problem and I asked him what he was going to do to solve it without my daughter knowing I had come in.  But I let him know in no uncertain terms that I expected it to be solved quickly and discreetly.

Guess What?

We brainstormed together.  I wanted to make sure he wasn’t going to do something that would put my daughter in a more uncomfortable situation.  He came up with a wonderful idea which became the perfect solution.

What did he do?  He sought my daughter out in the cafeteria.  He told her one of her teachers had told him what a great gal she was.  He asked her if she could help him with a project.  In his role as assistant principal in this school he also served as athletic director. That put him in charge of all athletic functions.  He immediately put her in charge of a concession stand.  She was surprised to be sought out and valued by the assistant principal.  He would talk to her frequently in the halls and the cafeteria just being friendly.  She began going to all the games and functions.  She had a talent for this and wanted to live up to his confidence in her.  Soon she took on more and more responsibilities.  He had other students report to her putting her in a leadership role.

What happened to the bullies?  They saw the assistant principal talking to her frequently.  He was well liked by the students.  When they saw that he valued her, they stopped making her a target.  It was a subtle but perfect solution.  She stopped hating school.  She felt accepted and valued at school both during the day and at after school functions.

Did she ever find out that I went to school?  Eventually.  But let me tell you how it happened.  When my daughter (yes, the same one) had her own preteen daughter attending the same junior high school, she talked to me on the phone one day.  This is what she said.  “The school nurse is always calling me telling me that my daughter is sick.  I know she has been having headaches, but I think something else is going on.  I just don’t think she feels comfortable in this junior high setting.  Every morning she pretends to be sick and tries to stay home from school.  I just don’t know what to do about it.”

I paused a long time and then I said, “Do you want to know what I did about it when I had that same problem?”  There was a long silence on the phone.  She didn’t know what I was talking about.  I reminded her of the situation she encountered in junior high and confessed to the promise I had broken.  She was astonished, but by then, of course, not annoyed at all.  The next day she marched right into that junior high, asked to see a guidance counselor and said, “My daughter doesn’t want to come to school.  She just can’t seem to find a place to fit in here.  How can you and I help her?  Before she left the school, the guidance counselor had promised to seek her out and make her a photographer for the year book committee.

My granddaughter called me that night.  She was all excited about this new responsibility.  We bought her a digital camera and she was off to all the games and school functions.  This time there wasn’t a specific bully that we knew of.  I think we solved the problem more proactively before she became the target her mom had become.

When kids feel connected and valued, it goes a long way toward taking the power away from a bully.  I’m glad for all today’s bully hot lines. and the anti-bullying workshops and strategies taught currently.  These are long overdue.

But I am still continually amazed at the power of one teacher, one peer, one administrator, or one role model.  When I approached that administrator he knew exactly what to do.  He had the sensitivity and the influence to turn it all around very quickly.  Adults within our schools have a lot more influence than they would ever believe.  I’ve built wonderful friendships with students in the schools where I’ve taught who were never assigned to my class.  You can build positive relationships with kids in the hallways, standing duty, at athletic functions or walking through the cafeteria.

you can do it

I challenge every teacher to pick at least a dozen kids in the school building that you don’t have in class and focus positive attention on them.  Don’t seek out a ‘star.’  Choose a kid who appears to be on the sidelines. Choose someone who looks like they need a friend.  Choose someone dressed differently.  Smile and speak to them consistently.  Can you imagine what a positive difference we would make in our buildings if we all committed to this strategy?  Why not try it?  What do we have to lose?  A bully? 


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Take a Closer Look at Schools


Taking a Closer Look at Schools

Do You See What I See?

My grandson was pitching for batting practice this week.  He was hit in the eye with a line drive ball which broke five bones around his eye.  His eye was blood-shot,  swollen almost shut and he has temporarily (we hope) lost all depth perception.  In the emergency room, he couldn’t even get a straw into his mouth to take a drink without putting his hand on the straw first to guide it to his mouth.  He has to wear protective glasses at all times to keep everyone and everything from inadvertently jarring his eye until these fractures heal.

During this same week I was visiting schools to meet newly placed student teachers.  These are college seniors who are doing their final practice teaching before hopefully finding teaching positions in their own classrooms next year.  The professional teachers who are sharing their classrooms with these novices are called mentor teachers.  It took me eight days to visit 20 students in thirteen schools located in four different school districts.

How Are These Two Events Connected?

taking a closer look at schools

I see a significant parallel.  And I don’t think it was just because I was emotionally experiencing both of these events simultaneously.

It seems that everything you hear through the media about schools and our educational system these days is bad news.

And yet when I walk in schools’ hallways I see wonderful things happening.  It appears to this career teacher that the reporters and politicians who are being constantly quoted about the bad state of our American educational system, have no depth perception.  They are seeing out of only one eye.  Or are they even in our schools’ hallways.

I used both eyes and both ears as I walked the schools’ hallways and talked with the staff.

This is what I saw and heard about teaching.

I saw teachers sitting with students before school hours having breakfast together.  This free breakfast was served to everyone, every day to ensure that all students were getting a nutritional start to their day of learning without singling out anyone.

When I asked student teachers to describe their mentor teachers, they used these words:

committed, caring, kind, patient, hard-working, she comes in early and stays late, he answers all my questions and explains everything he is doing for me, helpful, fair, consistent, he has a wonderful rapport with his students, well-organized, enthusiastic, even the students who claim they don’t like English still like this teacher who is teaching English.  S/he is exactly the kind of teacher I want to become.

One student teacher was describing the principal in the building where she is assigned.  “She had all the student teachers over to her house for a meal.  She wanted to get to know us individually.  The teachers in the building tell me she offers to babysit their own children.  She is always asking the question, ‘What can I do to help you?'”

I saw classrooms decorated and organized with so much care, that the rooms made you want to spend days there learning.   I know how much (or more accurately) how little money a teacher is given to set up a classroom.  These teachers reach deep into their own pockets to make a comfortable environment conducive to learning. Their classrooms were charming, and exciting places to learn.

I saw so much evidence of beginning-of-the-school-year activities planned specifically to build a positive classroom community.  Anti-bullying themes were apparent everywhere.  One teacher photographed her students’ feet (shoes, socks and all) on the first day of school and placed these foot photos on their lockers.  Each student then wrote a paragraph about what they would do this year to put their best foot forward.

Secondary students were gathered in a circle discussing ways we can make isolated peers feel included.

I had one-on-one interviews with all the student teachers and asked them why they wanted to teach and what they wanted to teach.  More than one had tears in their eyes as they explained their passion for the profession.  Their enthusiasm was uplifting.  It made me feel optimistic all over again about this profession I love so much. One of my student teachers appears to be in his forties.  He left the insurance industry to become a teacher because of the way he recognized that teachers can change the lives of young people.

About three weeks ago I had dinner with a couple of former students who are now in the teaching profession.  One of them is in a district where her salary has been frozen for five years because the school tax levy was not passed by voters.  In addition to her rent and car payment she pays  $700.00 a month toward her college loan for her education.  She had applied at surrounding school districts trying to increase her pay and relieve some of her financial stress.  One of those districts called her for a job interview ten days before the beginning of this school year.  She thought it would be unfair to leave her current school district and students so close to the beginning of the school year, so she didn’t go after the job.  And yet in the media we only read about the seeming selfishness of teachers who strike for wages.  Does the teacher I just described sound selfish to you?  Will we read about her?  Only here.

Yesterday I was surfing the internet reading stories about teaching.  One article had a link to the Huffington Post.  I had never been there before.  What did I see?   Dozens of negative articles about teachers.  There was only ONE positive one.  And that article was written by a celebrity, Tony Danza.  Thank you Tony!  But once again, it was driven home to me that only negative or celebrity-written articles about teaching seem worthy of publication.

I’d start a personal campaign to get every parent and teacher I know to write a positive story about teaching and flood the media with them; but I know they wouldn’t get printed.  In the media there is a popular expression they use to determine what gets heard.  “If it bleeds, it leads.”  In other words bad stories, ugly stories attract viewers and readers.

All I can do is stage my own personal campaign on my blog site here or write a book about the positive side of teaching… which I have.  If you are new to my site, scroll back through the past couple of months and check out many true and inspiring stories about teaching.  Also read, TEACH…To Change Lives.

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One Final Word About Our Schools

If the parents and grandparents of our country could have walked the halls of our schools with me this past ten days, they would have felt so good  and been so impressed with the commitment the teachers show to your children.  I heard it and saw it and felt it everywhere I went.   Take a deep breath and feel good about our schools.  This doesn’t seem to be popular right now, but it is the truth.

My grandson goes back to the eye specialist tomorrow.  It will be his third visit this week.  We know he has five fractures (one of them pretty serious) and a depth perception problem and we are watching it closely.  As for the media…I have only one piece of advice.

Taking a Closer Look at Schools

You Need Glasses!!