In the face of recent tragic suicides of children from New York to Nevada, at least one educator is urging social innovation to transform current approaches to anti-bullying strategies.
For starters, a new Indiana law requires schools to form safety committees and take other measures to protect children. For the first time, HEA 1423 addresses cyber threats even in cases which occur outside of school. This legislation called for starting these initiatives by mid-October.
To learn an expert’s views, I talked with Denise C. Koebcke, a Valparaiso Community Schools educator, student leadership consultant and Society of Innovators member. She and colleague Tammy Hofer launched what was initially an anti-bullying initiative nearly a dozen years ago.
Her program, Team LEAD, has been transformed into an amazing system involving nearly 10 percent of Valparaiso High School students engaged in a mentoring program for middle school and elementary students. All sixth- and seventh-graders at Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin schools are mentored by a team of nearly 200 trained VHS students, added Valparaiso School Board member Paul Knauff.
Today, this has evolved into a nationally acclaimed system that goes beyond bullying by empowering leadership, building resilience and providing connections among students. In fact, this initiative is described as an “exemplary intervention” in a new book published this month called the “Youth Voice Project” by Stan Davis and Charisse Nixon.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of Team LEAD is by involving older students in mentoring other students, it calls youths to a “higher purpose.” Hence, it promotes a “growth mindset” that encourages creativity and risk-taking, as opposed to the “fixed mindset” promoted by labeling youth victims or bullies.
Here are three key points Denise shared:
- The emphasis on labeling and defining bullies and “bullying” has been shown to be counter-productive in building resilience and creating safer climates for kids. Labeling a child a victim or bully can stunt emotional growth.
- Safer climates and pro-social behaviors among kids cannot be created with any packaged anti-bullying curriculum. It’s not about programs, she said; it’s about building relationships with and among kids through a system of student empowerment and authentic opportunities for service.
- There are no evil super-predator “bullies” roaming the hallways; they are children whom she describes as “navigating normal developmental issues.” The key is to allow students to learn pro-social behaviors without being slapped with the label of “bully” or “victim.” Hurtful behaviors are not ignored, avoiding labels allows us to respond logically rather than react emotionally.
In today’s digital world, the stakes are higher. Denise explained: “Teaching kids pro-social skills creates a more civilized climate both online and in person; altruistic kids are less likely to hurt others.”