Stephen S. Leff, Ph.D. is a nationally-recognized expert and leader on bullying, peer aggression,and physical aggression prevention. I had the opportunity to join my SA colleagues and attend The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s “Evening with the Experts” event, and hear Dr. Leff’s talk. Before his presentation, Dr. Leff sat with me and my colleagues to break the ice and he quickly answered a question we’d been discussing for the past 20 minutes:
“How do you define bullying?”
Dr. Leff told us bullying was the continual verbal/physical aggression towards another individual. During his presentation, he provided more insight, and said bullying usually takes place during unstructured time. While Dr. Leff’s work is mostly with K-8 students, we know our college students face similar bouts with intimidation and are increasingly struggling with conflict resolution and general communication skills. We also know our college student spend a considerable amount of unstructured time outside of the classroom, programs, events, and athletics.
Dr. Leff suggested several solutions to help end the bullying crisis one day at a time:
1. Educate the bystanders: How many times have you walked up to an incident to be met with swarms of students who have nothing to do with the case? Dr. Leff says to increase the empathy and resourcefulness of potential bystanders. While we don’t know what students will end up at an incident of bullying, we can still work to teach students to care a little bit more about the victim. Dr. Leff spoke about painting a vase red on one side and blue on the other side. He would call students in to sit at a table and then put the vase in front of them. Then it was the audiences job to get to two students to agree on the color of the vase. When our students have the opportunity to gain another perspective, they are more likely to utilize said perspective to the benefit of others. Ideally, students could eventually view incidents of bullying as unfortunate and inappropriate rather than add fuel to the fire or feel paralyzed.
2. The power of play: Dr. Leff and team launched initiatives which added structure to recess. What he observed was an immediate decrease in incidents of fighting and bullying. This is not a far reach from the programming we do with our students. Sometimes it’s enough to have them moving, interacting, and engaging in a light-hearted and seemingly impromptu activity. We can kick this up a notch by being intentional about having our students engage in dialogues in which they will discover more about the beauty of their peer’s differences.
3. Practice what we preach: At one point in the presentation, Dr. Leff spoke about a resolved conflict between a middle school student and his teacher. The student had a history of disrupting the classroom. Once during one of Dr. Leff’s classroom workshops, an incident occurred and the teacher immediately blamed the student. The student called the teacher out during one of Dr. Leff’s classroom workshops, addressed his own behavior, and told the teacher how he felt about being wrongfully blamed. The teacher was apologetic and returned to the lesson. The work of ending bullying takes humility and understanding on all fronts. As professionals, we get burnt out from time to time, and need to remember to recharge so we can make fair and ethical actions towards our students. When we mess up, our next move should be sincerely apologizing and discovering how we can correct our behavior.
I left Dr. Leff’s presentation feeling more hopeful and with a sense of more responsibility. My focus was no longer solely on the victims of bullying or the bully, it was on the greater community as well. The imperative is for us to work together to chip away at the factors which cause hostile environments on our campus, and for us to do the best we can to educate others in the process.
How does your campus community come together to end bullying?