Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Glass Houses. Rock throwing. Wildfires and Forgiveness.
5:37 am edt
asked if they'd heard about glass houses and rock throwing. I asked if any of them were perfect people. I admitted
to imperfection too. We all agreed that with others' good aim, we'd all be standing in the shattered remains of our
fragile houses. We'd be standing there--cut and bleeding from the broken glass--still holding un-thrown rocks."
A seventh grade girl, Maribel,
recently came to me, a school counselor, in tears. She'd gotten off her school bus at our school's front door and been
confronted by a group of girls and one boy. She ran. She was crying, frightened, and hidden in a bathroom's stall.
"GET OUT OF THERE!",she reported a group of female students screaming at her.
Those students and many others, when I spoke with them, accused Maribel
of spreading a rumor. Here's how the report from the confronting students went. "Jack told us to text Fran
that Maribel had said that Annette had broken up with Jack because he'd kissed Laura. It was all over Facebook! She
shouldn't have done that, Ms. Werner. We just wanted to know why she did that."
"Because we all do stupid things sometimes," I said.
Maribel admitted to doing a
stupid thing. Should have been over and done; that "coming clean"; should have been enough.
But it's not in cyberspace.
With the click of the post button, that "we" of whom the students
spoke went from five to potentially hundreds of kids. That "we" can spread from middle schools to high schools and
enrage hundreds of other kids who then want to "defend." It's no wonder Maribel felt scared.
"We weren't going to fight
her.......we just wanted to know why she did it."
I worked really hard at unraveling the complicated story. I wanted this
story to end. I needed these justice seeking kids' help. Outraged students defending honor become cyber bullies on line.
That is very dangerous for everybody.
Anything goes on Facebook and Instagram and Vine and Spillit and "Ask Me Anything." Click, click, click. Kids
alone on computers and iPhones and iPads. Parents knocking on bedroom doors and yelling out, "Everything ok? Got your
home work done? Do you want your dinner in there?"
Cyber abuse is a reality. We adults are clueless to the enormity of the abuse.
Maribel had identified four
girls and one boy as the students who confronted her upon her arrival at school. Defensive and outraged, they wanted their
side of the story told. They really didn't have a side to that story. They had nothing more than their outrage.
They were holding on.
where I went with that outrage. I asked if they'd heard about glass houses and rock throwing. I asked if any of
them were perfect people. I admitted to imperfection too. We all agreed that with others' good aim, we'd all be
standing in the shattered remains of our fragile houses. We'd be standing there--cut and bleeding from the broken glass--still
holding un-thrown rocks.
We, I think,
at least for Maribel, kept the wild fire from spreading.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
"Let there be Peace on Earth."
5:50 am edt
"Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with me."
I must help you, school district. I must help you because that's
the only way I can be peaceful on the issue of bullying prevention.
Here, then, is how to make your own policy work; here, then, are concrete steps
to assist you:
an assistant principal or a dean of discipline as your "Bullying Investigator." Counselors should not be that.
Counselors should be the employees leading your prevention efforts. Why must your "Bullying Investigator"
be an administrator? Because administrators are the only employees authorized to declare events "founded/unfounded"
bullying. They must be a part of all investigations. The key, though, is to not have to investigate bullying events.
The key is to prevent them from happening.
Require the five lessons be delivered through your Social Studies classes. You must require that Social Studies teachers
facilitate the bullying prevention lessons twice monthly. You will need to review the lessons to assure you have all materials
for each lesson. I can help you with that. Counselors, then, become facilitators of the lessons' implementation.
3. Form a "Bullying Prevention
Team." The principal, an assistant principal, representatives from all departments, a counselor, a social worker,
a security monitor, perhaps a bus driver, a parent and, ideally, a few students, must participate in weekly or bi-weekly meetings
around the issue of the effectiveness of your bullying prevention efforts. You must tell them you require this, otherwise,
principals and assistant principals will find other things to do.
4. You must engage the student population in your efforts through contests
and the like. There are plenty of resources out there. I can help you with that too.
5. You must train all staff, including bus drivers, cafeteria servers,
and, importantly, security monitors. You will then empower your employees to intervene effectively when they see bullying
events. You will also be creating, little by little, a respectful place.
I think you just don't know what you are doing and not doing around this
pernicious issue of bullying, I think you need some help. I think, maybe, those of you at the tippy top of the
school district: you, Mr. Superintendent and you, Mr. and Ms. School Board Members, don't have a clue. You just don't.
And then, maybe, you scratch your heads and say to yourselves, "Yeah, but we gave principals the movie, "Bully!":
we put together a district team to address this, how come kids are so freaking out of control?"
It's because you are not assuring you are doing the things you say you
are doing. You are only saying you are doing it.
this helps you. I know it's helped me. Whew! I feel--at least a little--peaceful now.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
7:00 am edt
"Ms. Bazelon described a more
nuanced world in which Ms. Prince was a both victim and aggressor, a popular
girl but a troubled teenager
with a history of depression and cutting herself who had gone off her medications months before. It was a messier story, but
it was closer to the tragic truth of these very human situations."
--John Schwartz in his
review of "Sticks and Stones" by Emily Bazelon
I recently read what Emily Bazelon's wrote about the Phoebe Prince case: http://img.slate.com/media/31/100721_Bull-E_final_3.pdf
. I am appalled at her seemingly finding Phoebe partly responsible for her own death. That's what she appears to do as she
looks at all the "nuances" of the case. Ms. Bazelon, for instance, wrote of a student who did not intervene in the
incessant name calling of Phoebe ("bitch," "whore," "slut," "cunt") because the student
stated: “I didn’t take what Kayla said that seriously because girls in my school get in ‘bitch fights’
all the time..." WHAT!? That makes it all understandable?!
And just what was the school and school district doing to address the prevalence
of the "bitch fights!?" I think we've all gotten so used to "bitch fights," and derisive words and name
calling and all the rest that we, the adults in schools, do little about it. As an aside, I recently had a female parent
in my office with a T-shirt that said "It's (her name) Bitch...", so there you go.
OK-so Phoebe was a "cutter." Ok-so Phoebe was cute
and talked to guys. Ok-so a bunch of girls got jealous. And ok, so maybe those kids did not know of Phoebe's vulnerabiity....or
maybe they did...and that made it all the worse for Phoebe.
How can we put that kind of living hell in "context?" I call
that blaming the victim.
still, I get that the bullying kids are suffering and that their lives are changed. And Phoebe--"bitch slapped",
dad missing, cutting, medicated Phoebe--is dead.
say it again and again and again....the only hope we have to change all of this is to daily demonstrate and require respectful
behavior. The only hope we have is to ALL THE TIME talk about respect and have fun with kids. Be present. Have clubs
and partnerships; tours for new kids. And have groups where kids can talk about relationships and jealousies and grades
and EVERYTHING, safely....
not happening now. Resources are limited. FCAT and EOC above all else. Kids are in intensive math and Language
Arts and so can't be pulled from classes anyway. Counselors are becoming mini-administrators. Creativity is not
celebrated. Even the things (classroom presentations) that are required are not happening in many schools.
In the end, the circumstances
DO NOT MATTER. Phoebe was called horrible names. We all agree on that. Phoebe was vulnerable. We all agree
on that as well. And she killed herself. There's no denying that.....
I think I am going to write a book, too. I live all the stuff of
Phoebe's life all the time. I live the stuff of Sean, Kayla, and Flannery's lives as well. All of us working in schools
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
5:35 am edt
still suffer. I still, three years later, feel the effects of workplace bullying.
I am tired of suffering.
to forgive. I need to pray. I need to step away and understand that it isn't important that others-superintendents,
directors, other principals, and union leaders--admit what they know about my former abusive boss. It doesn't matter
that they "come clean" on the years of his abuse of his employees and their support of him and his actions. It only
matters, now, what all the lies and the cover-ups do to me. I suffer. Still suffer...
Yesterday I attended a retirement party for my principal. She's been
"in the system" for forty years, so that is, indeed, something to celebrate. Mayors, and school district superintendents
and directors lauded her. A principal friend of hers called her the best principal with whom she'd ever worked.
None of that is my experience of her. I think she's ok. I also think she's a
controlling individual who doesn't allow many creative initiatives to happen. I think she "rains on parades"
instead of "sun shining" on them. I think she's scared.
I know she doesn't
She certainly doesn't get an invitation to my "Yeah-and-ers"--as
in; "Yeah! And how can I help make that happen?"--club. She is a member of the well populated: "Yeah-but-ers"--as
in: "Yeah...but that costs money; yeah but you are not allowed to do that. Yeah, but I forbid you to talk to that
I also know that nothing I think, say, feel, or do makes any difference, except
to me....and, as I wrote earlier, I suffer.
I suffered at the retirement luncheon when I saw my
principal sitting between two of her female friends. All three of these women; my principal, a counselor, and a district
superintendent (second only to my superintendent) are friends with my former principal.
counselor is the person who, on behalf of that principal, submitted fraudulent evidence in a lawsuit. That evidence
stated that bullying prevention work--much using my name--had been done on Sundays. Didn't matter that I told
investigators I hadn't done the work at all and especially not on Sundays.
that I had firm evidence of altered documents.
Didn't matter, didn't matter, didn't matter.
Suffering, however, matters.
The district superintendent is the woman who supported
my former principal in his actions against many good and fine educators at that school. She's the woman who probably
would have taken action against good and fine me if I'd continued to work there.
doesn't matter, doesn't matter. Forgiveness matters.
So, I will pray. I will pray for
a forgiving heart. I will pray that it is enough for me that they know I tell the truth. I will pray that one
day they, like other school districts from across the nation, and national educational leaders like the NEA and AFT, will
admit that abusive and bullying leadership in schools creates abusive and bullying school cultures.
will pray for the children and the educators in those unsafe schools.
I will pray--fervently--
that that is enough for me.
Click here for my district's bullying and harassment policy. You will see I have made comments....