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Bully Prevention Month: Reasons, Responsibility and Resources

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Reasons

When a cause or concern is “awarded” a month it can highlight its significance, or contribute to the sense that a single, simple week, or day, is all that is needed to address a complex problem.  This is certainly the case with October being named Bully Prevention Month.  It is good that a month into the school year, we remind ourselves how important it is to have our schools and communities serve as places of safety and growth for our students.  It is a good start to convene assemblies, hold movie viewings, offer lessons and parent programs, and learn more about the issues and the solutions.

There is much research and information to inform our efforts, this month and beyond.  Large scale studies are confirming the importance of school and community wide efforts that focus, not on punishment of bullies, but on the creation of social responsibility in all students and adults.  Teaching bystanding students and faculty to take positive actions before and during bullying continues to prove the most impactful method to decrease bullying. 

Responsibility

The notion of responsible social citizenship and intolerance for the abuse of others are integral to Jewish thought and practice, and a natural curricular element for Jewish day schools.  We are all familiar with well known Torah examples, and they can be taught not only as texts to learn reading, and interpretation skills, but lessons in social caring.  Jewish history, replete with ancient heroes and modern voices fighting for equity, equality, and responsibility to uphold the rights and value of all human beings.

At this week’s faculty meeting at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, Dean Schnall offered an inspiring D’var Torah regarding the fate of the cruel inhabitants of Sodom. Avraham, a model of social responsibility and care for others negotiated with Hashem to spare Sodom if there were found 50 righteous men b’ toch ha’ir, in the midst of the city.  Even though Avraham was able, through persistent bargaining, to reduce the requirement to only a minyan of righteous men, 10 such men could not be found b’ toch ha’ir, and Sodom was destroyed. The Dean suggested the inclusion and repetition of the phrase b’toch ha’ir focuses us on how useless righteousness is, if it is aloof, separate or removed from the world.  As Jewish educators, he argued, we have the opportunity to live and work b’toch ha’ir, and as such, we can and should model, and teach chesed and social responsibility.

Resources

There are numerous things we can do, this month and beyond, to take responsibility for the social climate of our schools and communities.  The front page of the New York Times on Friday, October 4, 2013 reported on research demonstrating that reading literary fiction can increase empathy.  More so than popular fiction with a focus on plot, such literature engages readers in understanding characters and forces a consideration of their thoughts, feelings and motives.  In Jewish day schools, we can look at all elements of our curriculum as potential tools to develop empathy and build social skills.  Whether teaching literature or Tanach, history, math or science, we can find the lessons, characters and stories that help our students develop social understandings and social responsibility.

In a recent ELI talk, I discussed the need for us to value, live and teach the social skills we want to see in our students.  The talk can be accessed at the link below, and I hope it serves to begin conversations in schools and homes about what we are doing, and what more we can do.  

ELI Talk link: http://elitalks.org/social-intelligence-foundation-jewish-living

With the support of the YUSP, I developed a guide for parents about bullying which is accessible at:

 http://yuschoolpartnership.org/about-us/publications/158-parent-guides/1433-bully-prevention-guide

With these, and the numerous other resources available, we can mark Bully Prevention Month, and continue our efforts throughout the year.

 

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