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How Bullying Can Bite the Dust

Authored By: 
George Higgins, Headmaster

With the new school year beginning, students and their parents are once again concerned with issues of bullying in school.  As a headmaster, it’s not unusual for a parent (and sometimes even a student) to subtly ask about the level of bullying when interviewing at a new school.

I always answer with confidence: the degree of bullying at our school is almost non-existent.  Predictably, the look of calm relief that washes across the faces in the room is measurable.

Why is that?  Because, as most students will confess, the act is still widely practiced at most schools, despite all the attention that is given to anti-bullying.  And to be fair to the teachers and administrators, it’s usually off their radar.

Here are a few measures that I try to embrace to ensure that our school environment is safe and welcoming for everyone:

  1. Make sure you have a faculty that fully supports and consciously enforces a no-tolerance stance on any form of bullying, both in the classroom and around the school.
  2. Expect each faculty member to show a genuine interest in each student that he/she teaches. (Yes, this is much easier to expect in a school where the class size is small.)
  3. If there is an occurrence of bullying, show compassion to both parties.  Often the person doing the bullying is acting out for a reason, and this could be a muted cry for help.
  4. When you create opportunities for all of the staff and students to interact in a friendly, supportive manner you help facilitate a sincere sense of community.

 Any adult who has been the brunt of bullying (and most of us have) would be quick to encourage and maintain the strategies that aid a school in promoting an environment which fosters pleasant learning conditions.  Usually, all these people need is to be made aware of the issue and given a few simple tips on what they can do about it.

Most of us don’t experience any bullying as adults.  Why?  I think the biggest factor to contribute to this is maturity.  In one form or another, we’ve all learned the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

To help mitigate the results of bullying, I focus on several ingredients:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate!  Getting everyone together in a non-threatening location and allowing each person to speak will start to ease the tension.
  • If the situation warrants it, bring all of the parents to this meeting also.  They can be a great ally.
  • Keep your voice calm and comforting.  Do not allow for name-calling or inappropriate language.  Focus on the need for an open, honest dialogue where everyone’s voice can be heard.
  • Use common sense.  If you know how if feels to be bullied, why would you want to do that to somebody else?  How is bullying behavior helping anything?
  • If that angle isn’t working, try pointing out that most students know bullying is a “kid” thing; teenagers always want to be seen as grown-up, and well, grown-ups don’t act this way.  Point out that by taking the high road, a person is showing who is the stronger, more mature person.

Often, by skillfully managing the meeting you can influence the situation to get the results that you want.  We have practically eliminated bullying at Beekman.  Of course, acquiring the sensitivity to accurately perceive a situation and know intuitively what to do is probably only achieved one way:

Practice, practice, practice.

We are welcoming students to class this spring either via a hybrid in-person/online learning model in NYC (following our Spring Break), or via fully remote, synchronous online classes.  Learn more about our response to COVID-19 >