Many schools lack a non-blaming mirroring of the actual language that students use with one another. Anti-gay language, racial slurs, derogatory and hurtful comments about intelligence and size pervade student social discourse, often without educational intervention from the adults on campus. Students’ prevalent complaint is that “no one responds” to the language they endure. When adults respond, it is often with punishing consequences and little or no chance to change behavior or role. Fear of retaliation, exacerbated anger, fear and frustration often result in this dynamic from target, bully-engaged student and student witnesses.
School staff who have been trained by No Bully to lead Solution Teams® do things differently. They bring together teams of students involved in bullying, including the bully, the bully-followers and positive leaders from the peer group of the student who is being bullied. Solution Team leaders mirror the language of the target, describing to Solution Team students the actual words and actions as the target experiences them. Solution Team students upon hearing the actual experience in a blame-free, label-free setting are able to access their empathy for the target without being defensive or protective about themselves as individuals. In such a stance, Solution Team students can own the behavior and language they have used. From the adult lens, we know this language is race-based, or anti-gay language, or derogatory of size, learning differences and other aspects of our diverse school community. Solution Team students know, when they hear it, that the intended purpose of the language was painfully effective, and now they are being given the opportunity to “own”, self-check, self-boundary their behavior with new choices.
Student solutions often fall into two categories—
1. What can they cease to do; and
2. What can they do differently.
Often the behaviors that are ceased are the very bullying described by the target and often these go unspoken in the Solution Team discussion process. What are most often discussed are the replacement behaviors.
Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the solution sets students create.
Simplicity is elegant and it works! Here are some” Before” and “After” comparisons or some Target experience and Solutions that resulted in success for all Team members ( including the target):
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL Before: “Gay boy”, “Whitie”, “Four Eyes”, pushed into bushes
Solution: Say hello in the morning, include in a game at recess, ask him to work with me in class, say nice things, help him when people say mean things Results: Target feels included, reports no more name calling
Before: “Calls my clothes gay”, calls me sissy, I get in fights all the time
Solution: Compliment his work in class, don’t whisper about him, share the ball, don’t fight about rules for four square and football, stop name calling, defend him
Results : Reports being happier and calmer, doesn’t have to defend himself with fights, gets along with friends better, easier time working in class.
Reflections on equity
In school systems, “Equity” refers to the intentional educational practice of providing whatever services, instruction supports and teaching and learning strategies are necessary to create academic success for students based upon the different strengths they bring from their cultural, racial, ethnic, family composition and ability profile. If, and we do, need to and are talking about “Equity” by default we are acknowledging that there are “inequities” in our educational systems. Indeed, when, as educators we examine the social conditions at school that influence, support or impede students success we begin to talk about how invisibility or biased perceptions or institutional systems empower our students differently based upon race, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, family configuration and learning differences, to name just a few. These categories are often described as our “diversity”; an educational “catch-22” as it in and of itself reflects the societal bias as to who is defined in the norm and who in the diversity from that norm.
Solution Team adds a new set of positive reinforcement to a disciplinary system that can unwittingly sabotage itself and reinforce the very bullying it seeks to end. Current school systems have evolved disciplinary processes that are by and large based upon punitive measures and punishment and often lack the opportunity for students to be educated with replacement behaviors. Solution Team/Solution Coaching reintegrates a positive, strength-based student-empowering process to disciplinary processes in school. Teams of both pro-social and bullying-engaged students are convened in 3 short meetings to address the needs of a student targeted by bullying. In my experience as a Solution team facilitator, the hate-based and derogatory content of bullying mirrors student language about sexual orientation (anti-gay), race, size, intelligence, gender expression. I have witnessed success in teams ending the negative experience of the target in every case I have worked on.
Lynn Bravewomon is a Safe and Inclusive Schools Specialist and Coordinator of the Hayward Unified School District’s Safe and Inclusive Schools Program. She is a certified Solution Team and Solution Coach Trainer and has run over 40 Solution Teams in the last two school years.