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bullying empathy

How one teacher combats bullying by “Standing up for Pink”

An elementary teacher shares her method for preventing bullying through understanding, self-reflection, and communication.

Bullying has, unfortunately, become a common term in today’s education world. All students get into the occasional squabble or call another student a name—but bullying is different.

Bullying is defined by negative actions, which are intentional, repeated, negative, and show an imbalance of power between the students. We’ve come a long way in the past few decades in acknowledging bullying and confronting it as a real problem in our schools. At some point, we decided this wasn’t just a normal part of school; it was something that was deeply hurting the development of our students, and we didn’t have to accept it.

As a teacher, it is my responsibility to teach my students compassion, empathy, and respect at a young age. These things become fundamental values to them as adults.

Standing Up for Pink

This is my fourth year teaching, and I have yet to have a serious issue with bullying in any of my classrooms, but that doesn’t mean I am not on the lookout for any behavior that could develop into bullying later. For example, one time there were a couple of boys in my kindergarten class who repeatedly made fun of any student for liking the color pink.

I took this very seriously, since if this behavior continued, it could turn into gender-based bullying in adolescence, which can be a huge problem. I created a PowerPoint called Stand Up for Pink. In it, I defined bullying and included images of cool-looking men (dads, football players, musicians, etc.) wearing pink. After I presented the PowerPoint, I handed out a pledge that everyone signed to agree to end making fun of the color pink.

Many of the students were happy I addressed this. During our class discussion, I had a kindergarten boy share that he loved pink and it was his favorite color. Many of the girls shared that when the boys made fun of pink because it was a “girl” color, they were in turn making fun of girls.

After this day, I never heard another student make fun of pink for the rest of the year. I even noted that some of the boys who initially made fun of the color were using it in their drawings.

(Next page: Combating bullying through reflection, inclusion)

Making Time to Reflect

Another way to prevent bullying is to teach kids self-reflection.

In my class we self-reflect at the end of each day. Students acknowledge each other for positive behaviors like sharing or saying thank you, and they’re also able to point out their own positive behaviors during this time.

I use an app called Bloomz to reward the behaviors we point out. This has been a very important part of socializing and building self-esteem and friendship in our class. As a group, we continuously acknowledge our behaviors, and build a supportive community where accountability is the norm. When classmates know each other well and recognize what gifts each individual brings to the group, students honor each other’s differences and bullying is less likely to occur.

When a conflict between students does arise, communication should happen immediately between the parent and teacher. When everyone is aware of the circumstance, they can begin to address it.

This can be tough. No one wants to receive a blunt message stating that his or her child is in trouble. Teachers need to be thoughtful in their approach to contacting parents about behavior situations.

Whenever I am in this situation, I try to communicate that I wish to work with the parent to support their child’s growth and success in having positive relationships with their peers. I want the parent to know that I am not here to scold them, but I am here to work with them to support their child.

Sometimes there is painful information to share regarding words or physical actions that the child has engaged in, but I am not here to be judgmental. I simply relay the information and let the parent know that I am here to partner with them to solve the problem.

Modeling a Culture of Inclusion

As teachers, we have a responsibility to all our students; whether they are the bully or the victim. After all, students don’t know how to properly treat people; it is our job to teach them. Since bullies are using their power over another person, it leads me to believe that they are making up for feelings of powerlessness in another social or family dynamic.

We need to address the root cause of this behavior, while still providing a safe space to the student being bullied. It can be a challenging balance.

Luckily, teachers aren’t alone in this. They can enlist a support system of administrators, counselors, parents, behavior therapists, and their principal. Then, everyone can work together to figure out next steps that will support all students involved.

In our world today, you don’t have to look very far to see examples of hatred and intolerance, but working with my students proves to me every day that people aren’t born with hate.

Lower elementary students are open-minded, tolerant, and accepting of all people. In one classroom last year, I had a student with misophonia (sound sensitivities), another on the autism spectrum, one with OCD, and another with Tourette Syndrome. One student’s tick was another student’s trigger. This created many opportunities for us to discuss diversity and inclusiveness within our classroom. When I saw their patience and how they came up with creative solutions to work together and create a safe space where everyone could feel comfortable and learn, I had hope for the future.

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