Anderson Cooper has a new Oprah-esque afternoon talk show, and this week bullying was one of the show’s topics. Not surprising, because bullying has received more attention from educators, politicians and the media in recent years than ever before.
Anderson (I call him by his first name because, like Oprah, that’s the title of his show) interviewed two girls — one 10, the other 14 — about being bullied and the effect that it has had on them. Both were clearly shaken just remembering their experiences, and they told horror stories about being constantly cornered, threatened and assaulted by other students. The older girl lives in a community in Massachusetts not far from Phoebe Prince — who tragically took her own life to escape the ridicule of her classmates — and had to be removed from school and hospitalized in order to escape a similar fate.
Dr. Dorothy Espelage, a professor at Indiana’s College of Education, who has studied bullying for more than two decades, was also a guest on the show. An audience member, who happened to be a public school teacher, stood to ask a question:
As teachers, what can we reasonably do? My largest class has 27 students and I have hallway duty mandated by administration. As my students file into the classroom, I am required to stand in the hallway as a safety precaution for other students passing through the halls. Given this and all of my other duties and obligations, what can I reasonably be expected to do in order to prevent or stop bullying?
Dr. Espelage gave a simple, straightforward answer:
Build relationships with your students.
Is it really that simple? Have we reached the point as a society where experts have to remind us to build relationships with children? With each other? I’m willing to accept that the answer to all of those questions is probably yes. The difficult part is living it every day.
So where do we start? Another simple answer: Start small. Anderson himself is beginning a campaign to bring back family dinners. Can you imagine? A campaign for family dinners. But maybe that’s where we lost ourselves.
We all need to focus more on relationship-building. After all, relationships are the foundation of our personal and professional lives. But no relationships are formed overnight. Building trust and rapport — whether it’s with friends, family, colleagues or communities — takes time and constant effort. But if we begin to make relationships a priority, like family dinners, hopefully we will better understand each other, thereby building a stronger community of trust in our districts and in our homes.