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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

School Districts: It's Time to Dare Mighty Things

I work in one of the nation's largest school districts with one of its most diverse populations. You might think that my district's bullying and harassment policy team would know what it is doing in regards to bullying prevention. It does not. In fact, the leader of that team has been removed from her position. She was removed for reasons I do not know, so I can't comment on that. It appears, though, that the bullying and harassment policy team is, now, in a bit of chaos. This, of course, is happening when the spotlight of the desperate need for bullying prevention is piercing our parents' hearts and minds. Parents want to know from their school districts just how those districts are going to keep their children safe from bullying. It's going to be very, very difficult to keep children safe in the current environment of bullying administration.

My school district is a good example. My school district's downtown leadership is like defensive backs on professional football teams. They don't let offensive players get through the line. And I am an offensive player. I am, it seems, on the "other" team. I'm kind of like the skinny and enthusiastic field goal kicker; the kid who comes in to save the day; the kid at whom you groan at just how skinny he is as he runs in from the sideline. For how in the world is he going to get those three points from the 50 yard line to take "us home?"

I've not yet gotten the three points to "take us home." I've gotten real close. I've gotten "hands-to-the- throat-oh-my-God-hold-your-breath the-ball"s-twirling-in-slooowww-motion-close." But not yet through the goal posts. Fallen short.

My comprehensive bullying prevention efforts: grant writing and being offered funds; community events, feeder pattern trainings, all met with warnings and blocks. Met with fear and intimidation. "You do not represent the district. Watch yourself", district leaders have told me. Others, not as high on the hierarchical food chain, have been intimidated into sending intimidating emails to me. It's felt, at times, like the Packers' defensive line breaking through and sacking that skinny enthusiastic kicker: piling up on him/me. District leadership must have coached the defensive players well in the downtown district huddle....."Get him/her!" was their chant.

My district does not seem to want me on its team. I write that in some kind of clear and clean--simple really-- moment of recognition of just how ugly it is in my school district. I must write it again so that I myself see these words on paper:

My district and its leaders do not welcome me to their team. Do not welcome my work. Instead of saying, "Thanks, Kim, for your contribution and your hard work," they appear to want to "get me."

Instead of celebrating my exuberance, willingness to work hard, and training I've received "outside the district"; instead of embracing that and using the expertise of a district employee who happens to an Olweus Bullying Prevention Program and a Workplace Bullying Prevention trainer, I am perceived as a threat; perceived as the opposition. My district apparently does not want "me to win." That means , really, that others don't "win" either: other employees who are waiting to see what happens to me to decide if they will move forward with their own enthusiastic contributions; for they too have warned me to "be careful." That also means that employees who gave up years ago and joined the district's team and play the district's game, are also waiting to see what happens to me. They are waiting to sigh or to gloat and say to me, " We told you so..." They're not "winning" either.

Children most especially are not winning. They are not emotionally safe from bullying; far, far from it.

The lack of leadership of my district's bullying and harassment policy is a clear example of just how awful it can get. That's the point of the failure of districts' efforts to keep children safe. For how can districts even begin to assure children's emotional safety when its leaders at all levels fail to keep its employees safe? How can children be safe when district leaders push employees around like "kill the other team" chanting and burly linebackers at scrimmage lines?

There is an epidemic of bullying administrators in our nation's schools at all levels. The National Education Association--the organization that started the "Bully Free, It Starts With Me" campaign--put an article out called "Bullying of Teachers Pervasive in Many Schools." Here's the link: http://neatoday.org/2012/05/16/bullying-of-teachers-pervasive-in-many-schools/. That article has more than 450 responses to date. To put that number in perspective, the next most popular NEA article--and it too is indirectly about teachers being bullied--has 25 responses. I copy just one of the responses to the "Bullying of Teachers Pervasive in Many Schools" article here. I copy it for you because it reflects the hurt of thousands of teachers from any one of our 50 states:

"I have been bullied for 5+ years now. I have gone home crying, hurt and very scared at times. I have contacted the Administration, and school board members and nothing has been done.. They say, oh yes we know and this is against the law… then nothing again.. It became worse for me when I started reporting the situations. I have had to stay quiet and take it over and over and over again. Other teachers on our campus are encourage making fun of me and the administrator laughs and enjoys it. Other teachers have been told to not be around me or the principal would take it out on them. I am not the only one that this is happening to which is sad. I had one teacher come up to me and say.. “How do you take it over and over again” I said I ask for God’s help each and every day. He has a plan for me.” You may ask why I don’t leave. I am committed to my families and children in the community, and also I have years of experience and schools don’t want to hire experience, they want the cheapest teacher. I have called for legal help, and I have been told that nothing can be done unless I am physically touched. It is hard to prove bullying and other areas of concern. It is so sad, because I have been blessed with a very special gift to teach. I love to teach from the bottom of my heart. I have a long waiting list of students for my classroom each year. I am loved and supported by the parents. I believe in working with each family throughout their child’s education. I ensure in my classroom that no child is bullied and I put a stop to it right away.. They make a big issue that this is NO BULLY ZONE at our school and district.. haha on paper only. Nothing is done for the students at all unless the parents fight for it. So when I see a NO BULLY ZONE sign posted in our district. I want to cry. Thank you so much for this article. I felt so alone for so long, this helped me to realize I am not alone. (One day I went to lunch and a teacher told the person going with me that “they would get the mange if they ate lunch with me”. I felt like I needed to pass out flea collars for anyone that wanted to eat lunch with me. I have forgiven that person, but you know words cannot be forgotten. So becareful what you say to someone or do to someone. Thank you again for the article. . If this got out that I wrote this.. OH MY goodness.."

Maybe now that the leadership of my district's bullying prevention efforts is changed, I and others will be invited to be on my district's team. Maybe our willingness to speak up, work hard, and contribute will be seen as a gift instead of a threat.

Maybe the teacher who wrote the above will be cheered by her administrators instead of ridiculed and taunted.

Maybe districts' around the nation will put together teams who want to "win" for the right reasons.

God bless all of my fellow good hearted teachers, counselors and administrators. Let's have a great school year. Let's all be on the same team.

5:49 am edt          Comments

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Click here for my district's bullying and harassment policy. You will see I have made comments....