Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A Parent Asks Questions About Bullying

bullyingA Christian education must include clear Biblical principles, including issues that deal with discipline. I asked a parent to ask some honest questions about bullying and how we should handle it at Heritage Christian School. I attempt to explain my elementary school intervention techniques, not with popular theory, but with methods that align with Scripture.

What would be considered “bullying” in our school?

In the elementary grades, bullying is a repeated intimidation of one or more students on one or more victims. It can take many forms and can include a variety of repeated unkind behaviour.

Is “exclusion” a form of bullying?

In itself, exclusion may just be an unkind action. When done repeatedly with other forms of intimidation, it could be considered part of the bullying tactics. While teachers and lunch hour supervisors react to any behaviour that falls short of “caring,” they report repeated incidents. I follow up on these cases where students seem to have repeated run-ins with each other. Often counseling sessions identify the problems children are having with each other, and usually methods of rectifying the situation are adopted by the students involved.

Some kids tend to “grab” others’ belongings such as hats, backpacks, or personal items and run away with them. Though many see this activity as “harmless play,” some children become upset. How does the school view this?

It is difficult to determine intent. Sometimes it is just one child teasing another in good fun. Other times it may be part of a series of attacks on another’s personal possessions. Whatever the situation, both children need to recognize at what point it needs to stop. The owner of the backpack must be able to let the teaser know when it is not fun anymore. The teaser must be able to recognize when the owner has had enough. Discipline and counseling is dependent on intent and continuation of these or other circumstances. In cases where there is an imbalance of power, it takes counseling of a different sort. Intimidators are often surprised that they have gone too far already in the early stages. They have to learn to see the signs earlier. At this point, some Scripture is important for them to see how they should be treating others. A retraining of the mind is in order for this child to respect and care for another. It touches on changing the heart, not just discipline for unwanted behaviour in the school system.
Victims must first let the intimidator know in no uncertain terms that they have had enough of the interchange. Often, they find themselves so rattled that they forget to verbalize their desire to quit the exchange. They must then reiterate their concerns for all around to hear. They now have witnesses and are attracting enough attention for the intimidator to see what it must look like. If the behaviour continues, it is a concerted choice to continue by the intimidator and the child should bring in a teacher or supervisor. It is then be very comforting for the victim to sit back and watch the system at work. The teacher will step in and the errant behaviour stops. The victim has been empowered. They have learned to follow some simple steps that bring about change.
Matthew 18:15-18 says:
"And if your brother does wrong to you, go, make clear to him his error between you and him in private: if he gives ear to you, you have got your brother back again. But if he will not give ear to you, take with you one or two more, that by the lips of two or three witnesses every word may be made certain. And if he will not give ear to them, let it come to the hearing of the church: and if he will not give ear to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-farmer. Truly I say to you, whatever things are fixed by you on earth will be fixed in heaven: and whatever you make free on earth will be made free in heaven."
Hopefully you see the parallel. If so, it would be one small indicator that our community is goverened by Christian principles.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Rethinking Technology

Have you been pressed to incorporate technology into your classroom more so than anything else in the last few years?  Are you feeling the pressure to stay ahead of the curve?  Before you feel too proud that you have put time and effort into a digitally enhanced curriculum, put yourself to the test and check to ensure you are headed in the right direction.

1) Rethink what you are Integrating
In the 80s, the Christian school movement took off because you could no longer be Christian in the public school.  Bible stories in readers were slowly replaced until the last Lord's Prayer was recited in classrooms.
In the 90s, Christian schools scrambled to find curriculum that would replace secular curriculum.  Christian teachers started to use expensive American curriculum to fill the void. 
By the 2000s, school started to learn how to use good secular resources by building a solid Christian objective into their overviews.  Administrators worked hard with teachers to learn how to meet these objectives while still meeting the requirement of the government learning outcomes.
About 2005ish, because the internet became so pervasive and influenced how teachers taught, the push for integration in the classroom moved from creating distinctly Christian themes to incorporating technology with the new technical tools.  Learning to teach with laptops, digital projectors, ipads and smart boards took more money and attention than anything else.
I was pleased when a primary teacher recently diligently worked through planning a Native unit and took the necessary steps to present the Christian worldview to her students.  Though a parent still chose to remove their child from the presentation, I believe the child missed a healthy Christian perspective and a carefully planned exposure to Native culture.
Are your administrators still working with you to encourage education from a Christian perspective?  Have you heard more about using the software recently purchased than ways to view the internet with Christian-coloured rose glasses?
It takes time and effort to integrate the latest technology into the classroom, but you get eternal value from the energy you put into educating from a Christian perspective.

2) Rethink your Classroom Free Time
What's the difference between what your students do on a school computer and a home computer during their free time?  Do you believe the games should be the same?  Should the school have a different set of plans for the technology tools they invest in at school from the ones students own at home?
I strongly advocate for computers that are set up for a specific grade.  There are a number of games that students could be playing on in their free time that are educational and would build math or language skills with out them thinking about it.  I also believe that if you control what a student can do on a school computer during free time, it will be a valuable growth tool.  Too many games are senseless and even detrimental to students. 
When I taught a class of Grade three and fours, I chose and loaded shortcuts and games on each computer that dictated what a student could do with their free time.  I worked hard at building folders for games that would be educational or Christian.  When I came to Heritage, I went to every computer and made my own folder for my primary students.  We did visit the internet for certain things, but they messed around with a rotation of games that I provided for them.  Since then I have moved into administration.  As teachers began to complain about the dated speeds of these doctored computers, out they went, and with them the collections of games that I had spent so much time assembling.  The other day, I went into the lab during a free time block and watched a student's screen as he dropped a handgun and picked up an uzzi to mow down the guards to free a prisoner.  My heart dropped.  So much time to play and learn, so little time in the schedule for good direction and supervision.
Our Learning Commons has invested a lot of money into ipads, netbooks and blueray TVs.  All the students have ever done on these is play flash games.
Computers in an educational setting should be tools for education, including free time. 

3) Rethink your Educational Videos
Can you find videos with Christian worldviews?  Can you find inspirational songs on websites that share your values?  Do your students know where you go to find these videos?  How about the videos you are producing in your classes - do they have a distinct Christian flavour?
This is your opportunity to influence student's work and thought into what they produce and how they influence others.  Instead of just doing a Flat Stanley adventure, why not have him preach a little, see a miracle or stand up for a righteous decision? 
When you host the video, how about hosting it on a site that links keywords with similar ideas on a faith-based video site?  I showed a class-made video to a crowd of students called "the Emperor's New Hair."  Even though it was on a private channel, the links on the side showed everything related to "emperors" and "no clothes."  Next time I will either ask to have it hosted on a better site, or have the video saved apart from Youtube.

4) Rethink your Communications
Do you know the school policy for electronic devices in the classroom?  You may plan to have a school or classroom policy on devices that are used in the classroom for educational purposes only.  Cyberbaiting is where a student pulls out an electronic device like a Nintendo gameboy or an Ipod with a video camera, and some other students try to get a teacher angry.  Presto - juicy Youtube material before anyone knows what just happenend.
What  do you think about Cyberbullying - it it a school's responsibility to monitor it?  Is it the RCMPs job to monitor threat and verbal abuse?  Does the parent figure into the discipline here?
When you "friend" students on Facebook, are you aware that they can see posts and pictures that others may put on your wall?  Teachers are held to a higher standard because they are so influencial in the lives of children.  Tread carefully here.
How is your email manner?  Have you ever sent a curt email or received one?  Do you have control enough to only include non-emotive responses?  I responded to a whimsical comment by a family member of mine in a public forum.  One of the contributers corrected some spelling on the site.  I suspect it was googled from the Chicago Manual of Style.  When I joked that the authors of this manual probably didn't intend it to govern Canadian spelling rules, I jested she still may have an ethnocentric American sentiment.  My comment was so offensive to the contributer that I had to apologize for what I said.  There was no intention to patronize him, but print doesn't always translate the laugh and tease intended. 
The use of Pen pals and print may be better than unseen (to you) emails to and from other cultures.

In Ephesians, Paul writes practical advice for a flourishing church.  I love the fact that they are challenged to move from the darkness to the light.  He claims that everything exposed by the light becomes visible. (Eph 5:14)  When we rethink worldly influences on a quickly moving educational field, we still need to stand out as light.  Our influences on our students should stand apart from a secular education.

In this light, you can now answer the question, "Have you successfully integrated what matters into your classroom?"