Mr. Aaron Bakke serves as RCLS's school counselor. You can reach him by email, which you can find in the staff directory.
Did you know that October is Bullying Prevention month?
It’s true, and maybe you’re like me and you had it on your calendar! Bullying Prevention month is a great time to reflect on the progress we have made as a community and to reflect on the efforts we have made in our schools to address bullying behaviors. However, October is also a time to address the sometimes harsh reality of how much further we still need to go in order to make all of our students feel safe, respected, and welcome. Bullying is constantly changing and, with that in mind, it is important we remain critical of ourselves and of the agencies that work with our students. We need to keep up with the pace at which bullying is changing.
So what is bullying? We seem to have fallen into a habit of labeling any negative behavior as bullying. To me, this doesn’t seem fair to those who are bullied and experience days, weeks, and sometimes years of pain. So that we might offer appropriate attention to the problem of bullying, I would advocate we not water down the word and make sure we are using it correctly. To be considered “bullying,” actions must:
● Occur over time rather than as a one-time incident,
● Be one-sided,
● Involve an imbalance of power (social, emotional, or physical power),
● Deliberately intend to hurt, defame, or abuse another individual.
Take for example a student who sits alone at lunch every day. When other students don’t sit with him because they prefer to sit with their group of friends instead, is that bullying? No. Is it rude and a different choice than we’d like our students to make? Yes.
Let’s say that same student sits alone every day because one group of students has told the rest of the class not to sit with him because he is “weird.” Other students avoid him for fear of being isolated themselves. Is this bullying? Absolutely. In this case, the hurtful actions occur over time and involve the behaviors of one group. In addition, the student sitting alone seems to have no social capital while the group holds control of the entire class. The act to isolate this student is deliberate.
We want to respect the victims of bullying, so it is important that we are careful how we use this word.
The most difficult piece with the situation described above is that it likely doesn’t end in the cafeteria or in the school itself. The Journal of Adolescent Health found that 23% of secondary students reported being bullied in some form (cyber, relational, physical, and verbal), 25.6% of which reported being bullied online. Because digital communication is a reality of life, students can no longer leave the pain, anger, and hate at school. Tragically, it follows them home on their phones, iPads, computers, and gaming devices. The student who feels alone at lunch must then feel alone at home.
It’s a trend that unfortunately won’t be disappearing any time soon.
But what about those who are doing the bullying? According to the American Psychological Association, bullies are often students who feel negatively about themselves, come from a family environment characterized by conflict, struggle academically, have difficulties with problem solving, and/or maybe have been bullied themselves. While this isn’t the case with every bully, it certainly provides some insights into the struggles of those who bully. It reminds us that as much as we want to show care and support for our victims, sometimes our bullies need just as much care and support. If we handle bullies strictly from a punitive perspective and ignore the social/emotional needs of the student, we only continue the cycle of violence.
Bullying may be one-sided, but the solution to the problem certainly is not.
While RCLS tries to be proactive in this fight, bullying will happen in every school. No matter how preventative we try to be and no matter how much we want to believe our students will always treat each other with respect, bullying will happen. We are working with people, and there is no absolute zero when it comes to people, especially when working with teenagers. That said, we have a responsibility as educators, as a school, as parents, and as a community to do everything we can to make sure our kids feel safe, included, and happy. The educational community persistently asks itself, how can we best prevent bullying and help our students feel safe? As RCLS and parents work together to raise healthy kids and offer a safe learning environment, I encourage you to ask yourselves, as well, how can you as parents or you as a community member support our efforts?
For more information about bullying, see:
As a school, we are rooted in a Biblical understanding of human nature: we are all sinners in need of the grace of Christ. That understanding, along with knowledge of the developmental realities of our student population, informs our approach to bullying here at school. Parents, please know that when we are aware of bullying, we act upon it immediately. It is our firm conviction that both the victim and the perpetrator of bullying need support, and we try to offer that support in partnership with parents. In Mrs. Lagerwaard’s words, we seek to “fix what has been broken” in relationships between students. That requires that our students have a sense of responsibility––and that they experience the love and forgiveness of Christ.
Over the course of this school year, a School-wide Expectations Team will meet to construct a plan that will include our students in developing a common language and behavior expectations. Team members are consulting texts such as How to Bullyproof Your Classroom and Responsive School Discipline to inform their approaches. All of this, of course, is underwritten by the truth of Scripture, wherein we learn that we are to “encourage one another and build each other up” (I Thess. 5:11). We want always to be a community of friends and encouragers. To that end, we plan to include our students in facilitating a culture of encouragement. We will seek their input about how they should interact with one another. What does it mean to be kind? What language best identifies how we want to behave? The outcome of this work will be a tool that will help us maintain a climate of grace and goodness: a set of expectations and language that will be common across all grades.
This is one strategy that the school has for fostering healthy relationships at RCLS, but we invite you, our parents, to partner with us in our efforts to offer a socially safe environment. When there is a bullying concern, we want to address it, but what we don’t know, we can’t address. Parents, please talk to your teachers or to Mrs. Lagerwaard if you have concerns about what is going on between students. “Bullying is not necessarily commonplace at RCLS, but it does happen, and when it does, we want to resolve it,” Mrs. Lagerwaard explains. “Too often, parents think bullying can’t be fixed. Sometimes they don’t even want us to do anything about because they fear it will get worse for their child. But parents should know, it can be fixed. We want to fix it.”
Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Cor. 13:11)