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Friday, March 28, 2014

"Count to ten...."

"David Byttow, a founder of Secret, described the app as a 'masquerade ball,' where 'you know who is there and who is on the list, but no one can see faces.'"



Here's what I think is wrong with us--nine year olds and 59 year olds; 'tweens, teens, and middle agers--we don't count to ten. We don't put reflective time between an injustice and our reaction to it. We do not give ourselves a chance to breathe when we're mad. 

The ability to count to ten before reacting is particularly important when we are communicating with each other on line.

Some one slights us; treats us disrespectfully; intentionally or unintentionally hurts our feelings--whatever it may be, for the world is full of such acts--and we suck in our breath, we hold it and only allow ourselves to exhale as our fingers furiously tap, tap, tap iPads and Smart Phones.  It is with the final stab of the "Send" button that we feel vindicated; allow our breath to exhale.

Some of us "hold our breath" all day long when we receive some profane and awful message; let our breath stew and simmer and putrefy within us.  We wait until we get home, have a little dinner and after that dinner, sit down, exhale, and tap, tap, tap; stab, stab, stab our reactive ugliness onto a keyboard and out into the Wild West of online social connection.

"Ha!", we say to ourselves.  "You deserved it, you BITCH for calling me a BITCH! You fucking IDIOT for calling me a fucking IDIOT!  You FAGGOT!  You fat PIG!  You WHORE!   That's what you get, that's what you get, that's what you get! 

Take that!"

We may feel better for a second, we may pretend  that it's over.  But it is not over, for with our stabs of "Send" buttons, we wait for the inevitable awful response.  We know it will be ugly.  We know, we know, we know.

Ah, but "Secret" and "Yik Yak" and "Ask.fm" and "Whisper" allow us to be anonymous. We can snicker and giggle as we blast each other.  You will only suspect it's us. You don't know for sure and so at school or at work, you will sit in classrooms, offices, and cafeterias; walk through hallways and you will wonder: "Is it him? Her? Who?" 

You have heard about cyber-bullying and sexting. You think they're teenagers' maladies. You're maybe thinking that no way adults would behave that way ever!  Not on line or in person!  Oh, think again, and again, and again.  For those same putrefied feelings that fester and ooze in teens, fester and ooze in adults. A recent article in the New York Times about new social apps demonstrates that anonymity means the meekest and most polite adult can become a snarky, hate monger on line.

Here's what happened among adults working in Silicone Valley during the first six weeks of the existence of the anonymous app "Secret." According to the NY Times article (its link is provided here): "Secret...put the Valley in touch with its inner 10th grader and become a cyber-schoolyard for all manner of gossips and trolls inside the technology industry."

Where is hope, then--for all of us--of online civility? What is the "civil knife" that will cut through this thick anonymous mess of on line bullying, harassment, and abuse? Maybe it's an ability to count to ten and, instead of stabbing letters on a keyboard, learning to let go; "One...two...three...four...five...six...seven...eight...nine...and..."on ten" exhale. Now, take another breath.  Move on with our day.

10:23 am edt          Comments

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Farce Dance...

I wrote this last year.  My district's "Farce Dance" continues in ever more complicated steps.  The "Data Chat" step is particularly complicated...


The Farce Dance....
The tide is turning.  I think people are sick of being asked to participate in school districts' "farce dances."  I think we are all asking ourselves--I know I am--why are children in ever greater peril from bullying: both perpetrators and targets?  Why aren't policies working?  

Miami-Dade County Public Schools' "farce dance" is danced with a latin beat.  "Uno! Dos! Tres!", la "Prevención de Abuso Escolar" (Bullying) rueda (wheel)' participants/employees cry out as we practice our "Farce Dance"steps.  We spin and dip.  Female dancing employees are passed from male dancing employee to male dancing employee in a fast flurry of quick, exhilarating movements.  Our administrative "rueda leader" calls out the steps.  He gets irritated when one of us screws up.  La rueda must continue...no matter what.  Doesn't matter that we are exhausted.  Doesn't matter that we just keep going 'round and 'round in ever more complicated movements.  It only matters that we keep dancing and that our "rueda" looks good.

Here's one of the dance steps with which we are having some difficulty: the "Cinco Lecciones" step.  The "Cinco Lecciones" step is causing us some stress.  It's really complicated and because many of us are just plain worn out from learning the "La Respuesta a Intervencion (RtI)" step, we want to stop. Regroup.  Maybe consider a simple line dance step. "Que sigan!", cries our rueda leader.  "Uno!  Dos!  Tres!" And so we dizzily dip and heartily stomp so that those who have faltered; those who have maybe said, "Cinco lecciones!  Por favor!  I can't even get one done!", get the message that getting the "cinco lecciones" done is NOT IMPORTANT!  The  important thing is that WE KEEP DANCING!  Even more important is having the dueño of the studio SEE US DANCING!

"Sí, Sí!, we exclaim, "We love to dance!  "Cinco Lecciones" is a particular favorite!"

"UNA BRULLA!", we holler in unison.  "Uno!  Dos!  Tres!"

"Uno.  Dos.  Tres."

"uno, dos, tres..."

We all fall down.

11:31 am edt          Comments

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Letter written to two friends; both are influential children's advocates.

K and D,

I believe the information contained in this email exchange (see below) might be beneficial for the Anti-Bullying Task Force Meeting.  This is an email exchange I had with my administrators last year.  You will see that following my administrators' having received the district's bullying and harassment policy, it was forwarded to the counselors.  It clearly addresses "administrative codes."  The "other appropriate student case management codes" refer to the counseling services bullied targets and bullying students receive. Those currently include things like, "Individual counseling" and "Referred to Social Worker."  Those codes DO NOT refer to any bullying PREVENTION efforts.  There are no codes for bullying prevention. 

Of course there are no codes for traumatized bystanders either--kids who see this awful stuff and want to do something but don't know how to help and are too scared anyway... And you know the bystanders are the key to preventing bullying.  That's where the commitment to bullying prevention comes in.....

Recently I worked with a child who was traumatized by others.  Really unkind stuff.  I had a moment of clarity as I referred him for "services" from our social worker.  He would not have needed those services if we had been doing our job by preventing bullying.  Had we been working hard at comprehensively preventing bullying--and that takes commitment to get started--he probably would have been safe.

It came to me that I had a lot in common with this boy. I too was not kept safe.  Had my district been doing its job of preventing bullying by its administrators, I would not have needed "services" and been without salary for four months.

This is important, I think. Our district must decide who will investigate bullying for all bullied targets in schools (with the exception of reports of bullying principals of course: that has to be addresed at the regional level) I think, like Broward County, it must be administrators.  They will then enter the bullying "founded" and "unfounded" codes for children and then refer to student services for counseling.  That need for counseling of bullied students will be less and less as bullying prevention programs are effectively implemented.

The district must decide how to comprehensively address reports of bullying adults.  

Counselors' true job should--and with the district's all out support--be coordinating schools in implementing prevention programs. We should not, in my opinion, be like police officers gathering evidence.....

My thoughts this morning. 

Kim Werner, Creator
A Piece Full World
Workplace Bullying Prevention Trainer
Olweus Bullying Prevention Program Trainer

 From: Me
 Sent: Thu 1/19/2012 11:33 AM
 To: (my principal)
 Subject: FW: ALL PRINCIPALS/APs: District Policy Against Bullying and Harassment Compliance

 Ms. B, 

 This is your question:

 Have we met these district requirements?  If we are still in the process, where are we?

 1. Posters are displayed.  I also have three "Bully Free It Starts With Me" posters. I just need to laminate the last one.  Students and staff have signed.  You will need to decide where you would like to display them.  

 2. Officer K has offered lessons for 7th grade.  

 3. I have completed (with a few missed periods) 6th grade-two lessons each.

 4. Last week I presented to eighth grade students and I am continuing this week.

 I do not believe staff, students or parents have been trained.
 I also forward thoughts I had upon initial receipt of your request. I have discussed with the district the impossibility of having one or two people complete 5 lessons for every child in a school--and to do so effectively.  I write this because I truly believe this to be the secret to positive school community--ongoing weekly discussions--schoolwide!-- on kindness, respect and the like. That's bullying prevention.

 For example, if you were to say to me, "Kim, do the bullying lessons," and if you gave me time to do nothing but these lessons, I would need to schedule M-F every period for more than five months.  

 Here's how I calculated that:  55 Social Studies classes x 5 lessons= 275 classes.  275 classes divided by 3 periods each day=90 days.  90 days divided by 5 days/per week=18 weeks.  18 weeks divided by 4 weeks/month=4-5 months.  Now holidays and the like must be factored in.  Epeps, FCATS. articulation etc., etc. etc. And of course we have the sexting and dating violence curriculum requirements now as well.  It gets crazy to contemplate.

 So, for a school to truly and effectively implement the preventative lessons the only way is to get teachers on board with weekly discussions on character--i.e. bullying, dating violence and sexting prevention !!!!  

 I want you to know Ms. B, I am on board with prevention efforts.  I am trained in implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.  Reacting to bullying events is not prevention.  We are all, frankly, equally trained to do that.

 Thank you for all of your support. 

 Kim Werner, M.S.
 Olweus Bullying Prevention Program trainer
Workplace Bullying Prevention trainer 
10:08 am edt          Comments

Saturday, March 8, 2014

"What if...?"

Amanda Todd:

What if, instead of ridiculing, taunting, and harassing a twelve year old girl who made a mistake, thousands of other twelve year old girls had said,"Hey. We all make mistakes. It could have been any one of us. Come be my friend."

What if we, as an online community, had wrapped our electronic love around Amanda when, in her silence, she flashed the "I need a friend" card?

What if, Amanda herself had defiantly declared "YES! Those are my breasts and aren't they beautiful!"?

"What if?"

Janice, Wilfredo and Frank (names changed; from my school):

What if, when Janice removed her sweatshirt in class because she was feeling warm, Wilfredo hadn't turned to Frank and said something like "flat as a pancake?" and what if the two of them hadn't snickered and laughed derisively?

What if Janice herself had said something like," Yeah, I got small breasts. They're beautiful. Get over it."

"What if, what if, what if?"

What if thirteen year old boys didn't taunt other boys with threats of rape: of each other and of each other's mother? What if fourteen year old eighth grade girls didn't deride twelve year old sixth grade girls with "Hunny Boo-Boo" comments and film the girls' dismay?

What if I didn't routinely and often have crying children in my office? "Slut," "whore," and its derivative "hoe" are common insults loudly hurled at girls or whispered about girls behind cupped hands.

What if those same children knew each others' names? What if they greeted each other by those names?

What if children were quiet and attentive in classrooms? Well rested? Prepared with homework done? Pencils sharpened?

What if teachers greeted children--arriving BEFORE the bell rang--at classroom doors? What if all the teachers were smiling? What if teachers were not at their computers? What if their focus truly was children and not the data surrounding those children?

What if Instagram accounts targeting teachers and students with racially and sexually shocking content were just not created because we as a school community--WE AS A SCHOOL COMMUNITY--were kind to each other?

"What if?"

What if, when we make mistakes, we sincerely say "I'm sorry." What if, for example, when Wilfredo and Frank saw Janice's tears, they'd said, "We're sorry."

What if, when our feelings are hurt, we respectfully and honestly communicate that hurt? What if Janice had been courageous enough to say: "Ouch! That hurts my feelings! That wasn't nice!" ?

What if all school teachers were true role models of integrity, patience, and tolerance?

What if all school administrators were kind, fair, innovative women and men? Respected by and respectful of every person in their schools?

What if I, myself, own up to my shortcomings? What if I apologize right now to my daughter for my yelling yesterday at her? Her room was messy. But it wasn't the mess that had me yelling, really. It was Wilfredo's and Frank's unkindness. It was Janice's tears. It was my daily frustrations of just how mean we've all collectively become.

What if, instead of shrugging my "solo" shoulders and giving up, I keep going and going and going? Writing and writing and writing? Live the "one person can change the world" adage? What if we all lived it?

"What if....?"

8:09 am est          Comments

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Typical vs. Troubled...

My school district is focusing on mental health in schools.  That's not a bad thing. It's focusing on "typical" vs. "troubled" behaviors and I contend that many typical children are vulnerable in our schools because so little prevention work is being done and they, then, become troubled.  Need counseling.

Damn.  I am so tired of "oh-my-God-call-her/his-parents" reactions to our public school children's bullying and meanness and sexually explicit predatory behaviors.  I, a public middle school counselor, am sick of soothing targets' tears when they are in my office; exhausted with parents having no clue as to their children's on line activities; filled with trepidation when parents enter my office with printed pages of Facebook and Kik messages.  Many of those messages are so sexual and disturbing that I want to hide under my desk.

I am also a mom. I send to a public school a typical ninth grade girl; a child. She's fun and caring. She'a a Scout; loves to be outside and camp and fish. She sleeps in tents and hikes the Appalachian Trail. 

She's a good friend. Puts others first. I'm working on that with her.  I'm telling her that she can't help anyone if she isn't herself "good to go."

Now  I, a typical mom, am troubled because my daughter is also vulnerable to the bad stuff at this big bad high school and I know, know, know, that there is hardly anything happening consistently there about prevention of all of that bad stuff. I used to work there and so I know what the counseling staff does. They do what almost all counselors do everywhere in my district.  They do paperwork.  They attend meetings.  They count and type and schedule.  

"Come see us if you need anything," counselors say to typical children who are troubled. But here's the thing:  It's not whom kids can "go to..."  it's "who goes to the kids" that makes the difference....

And counselors do not go to children. Regular classroom meetings on topics of bullying, dating violence and cyber-safety are not being done.

Here's what my school district's leaders say: that my daughter's and every other child's public high and middle school counseling staff present at least five anti-bullying lessons to every child at those schools; that all state requirements of dating violence prevention are being met.

Ha!  A big, fat, juicy "in-your-face" ha!  No flipping way!  Hear the ripping sound of butts glued to office seats trying to break loose and get out of those airless offices.  Ain't happening. They stay glued and wait for referrals.  Call parents when an "oh-my-God" situation arises..and offer children counseling services.  Anger management.  Coping skills.

I do not feel that my daughter is emotionally safe at her school.  I send a typical fun loving, homework hating kid to school. She's a delightful and exuberant "life liver."

She's also vulnerable.  Needs other adults--school counselors and teachers and administrators--to talk and talk and talk and talk some more to her and her classmates about how to prevent bullying and about respect.  Although she does not have a boyfriend, she needs to know about recognizing and standing up to abusive relationships.  Sexual coercion is big time happening.

Recently I visited my daughter's friend's "Ask.fm" account. Here are some of the comments/questions: "Your lips look like dick sucking lips:" "Do you like to suck dick or eat pussy?"

Lana's friend's mother had no clue as to what "Instagram" and "Ask me Anything" are. I told her. It was a difficult conversation. I am not my daughter's friend's favorite person now.

But here's the thing: If I hadn't stepped up--if I'd let it go as my daughter and her friend begged me to do--a fourteen year old girl would have been left to figure this all out--this being sexually pursued--by herself. Well, not alone really.  She would have/does have my daughter's help.

My daughter's mad that I said anything.  Says I made it all worse for her friend.  Also confided in me that there's a picture out there that "looks like Carmen but it's not" and that that picture is a real problem for Carmen. I suspect it is a picture of Carmen and I fear it's a semi-sexually explicit picture and that lots and lots of students have seen it.  

And if that's true, my daughter will stand by her friend no matter what.  She's that kind of person. Even if it's dangerous to her.  Even if she's ridiculed.  Even if she's targeted herself.

Typical and troubled.  Oh, you know I'm a typical mom.  I will protect my daughter the best I can.  I am troubled that sending my daughter to school feels dangerous.  

I am troubled that counselors are so buried under data and subject selection sheets and pouring over seniors' "traces (cumulations of credits earned)" that butts remained "in the glued position (my apologies; retired flight attendant)."

I am troubled that my daughter, it seems, is her friend's primary defender; that she is left to protect her "stupid-and-dangerous-thing-doing" fourteen year old friend almost alone.

I am troubled that the adults in their school may have waited too long.

"Come see me if you need anything," counselors say. Well, I need something.  I need you in classrooms every week developing rapport with students.  I need you talking about the dangers of online behaviors before they become abusive.  I need you bonding with my daughter in her classrooms with all of her friends there and present as you open up discussions of difficult topics. I need you to demonstrate your caring.  I need you out in hallways smiling at my daughter and her friends.  I need you remembering her name and asking, for instance, about her latest project in her English class because she struggles with that class and her latest project was really good and wouldn't it be nice if you said to her,"Hey, heard about the hard work.  Good job."

And guess what?  My daughter needs you to do it too.
8:23 am est          Comments

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