Banishing bullying; tackling the negatives with positive reinforcement
October 12, 2011 —
Teasing, while unpleasant, is the sort of activity that stops when the perpetrator realizes that the target is hurt. Bullying is something else altogether—done deliberately to hurt another’s feelings—and is very damaging.
The distinction between the two is one of the things that the Eldred Central School District (ECS) has been working to raise awareness of through ongoing efforts to reduce bullying and encourage positive behaviors instead. At the least, bullying behavior causes pain and suffering, hurts self esteem and more. In extreme circumstances, it can lead to death when the target chooses suicide as a desperate response to escaping the torment.
According to ECS principal Scott Krebs, efforts to encourage more positive behaviors at the high school have been underway for several years. One recent measure to continue educating students on the issue was a presentation on bullying from Sullivan County District Attorney Jim Farrell (see sidebar on TRR’s website for more). Another measure involved bringing bullying expert and author Barbara Coloroso to ECS recently for a presentation to students, staff and parents.
Changing behaviors isn’t an immediate process. “It’s an ongoing learning experience for the kids,” said Krebs. “Their behaviors change in relation to the environment they’re in. If you’re in a family that yells a lot, you just think that’s normal. If you’re exposed to a lot of profanity, you’ll be more inclined to use profanity. It takes time to change behavior.”
An important aspect of the ECS strategy is to target behavioral change from its youngest students on up. To do so, the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program was established several years ago. The program stresses three key points—being safe, responsible and respectful—and encourages students to think about the impacts of their behavior.
PBIS chairperson Mary Gordon heads up a team of staff members responsible for implementing the program and others within the overall PBIS umbrella, including Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS), which teaches kids a variety of skills and coping techniques that encourage them to solve problems responsibly and with compassion for the feelings of others.
“PBIS teaches the children the rules for the school in a positive way,” said Gordon. “The committee has set up matrixes of rules that apply to specific areas of the school, such as hallways, where they walk in single file using appropriate voice levels. It’s done with positive phrasing, to encourage good behavior.”