Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What can we do when things go wrong?

The above MAKING IT RIGHT process is based on what Grade 4's came up with as a result of creating some dramatic scenes where something in a relationship might go wrong. This process can be used by students to help mediate incidents that they see. It develops skills of all actors in a relationship drama, including bystanders, to become more aware of what they do, their impact on others, and what might help to restore relationships. 

Underpinning this approach are the following values:

  • This is a school where we practice acting positively to others to build a friendly school. Even when things go wrong we want to use a process that is positive, where participants come out whole and feel a sense of integrity and growth. 
  • We treat meanness from a place of kindness.
  • We aim to restore relationships rather than use punishment.
  • We believe that everyone can learn and grow. We see any incidents as opportunities to develop social and emotional learning which we see as an important part of the curriculum.
  • Each of us has responsibility for each other, to look out for each other, to model the behaviours that we value.
  • By solving issues before they get into regular patterns we can prevent more damaging relationship dynamics such as bullying. 

1. Tuning In

Many times in situations we don't tune in. We don't notice what is happening. We don't notice when we feel uncomfortable about what we might have done, or seen, or had something done to us. So this is the PAUSE. This allows us to notice emotions, notice a sense of wrongness or rightness.  
"This doesn't feel right."
Everyone has an inner compass and a sense of what is right.  There is a wise self in you that can help bring you back to a centre which has integrity, kindness, awareness, hope. When incidents occur that churn up emotions it helps not to act immediately from that place of turmoil - otherwise we might react to meanness with meanness. Calming down, putting your hand over your heart and doing deep slow breathing can help. If you see someone who has done something wrong it helps to remember the nice things they do.

Sometimes it helps to think about why this doesn't feel right. This is a chance to remember what we value. We can check in with how other people are sensing this.  

We all make mistakes. We can all harm others, whether we mean to or not. Admitting a mistake to others means we can fix it, learn from it and move on. 
"That was mean what we did. I feel bad."

However, sometimes it is hard to admit acting mean. By bottling it up we can feel secretly ashamed and that can create even worse problems.  It is important to remember that we are not our mistake. It helps to remember the positive things we do.  It can be harder to admit to a mistake when someone points it out to us, especially if they are doing it in a blame and shame way. If you are pointing out a mistake to others do it from a kind place and consider reminding the person of positive things about them. 

"That isn't like you. Is something wrong to make you behave this way?"

2. Understand how others are feeling 

If you have harmed someone imagine how that person is feeling. What would it be like to experience that for yourself and how would you feel? How is this person different to you? How might this affect them in a different way to you? This helps to build up our empathy for others.  It helps us be more aware of what we do. Treat people the way you would like others to treat you.

"How do you think they feel?"

Although we might imagine how others feel, they in fact might be feeling something quite different. It is important to give everyone the chance to explain what they are feeling and to listen respectfully. People may surprise you. 

When  strong emotions well up in you they can give you lots of energy. They may make you want to run or fight. They may shut you down. They may make you feel sick and vibrating. They can send strong chemicals rushing around our bodies that take a while to settle down. It is not about suppressing them. Rather, how can you watch them flow through you. What can you do to help release them in a safe manner through shaking your body, flicking your arms. Acknowledge they are there. Emotions have messages to us - they tell us when things are not right. However, if we are feeling very emotional it may not be a good place to resolve issues from.  

Imagine the impact of the actions on the person harmed. What could happen further down the track? What could be the consequences to the person who has done the harm? 
"If you continue to do that, no one will like you, and you will have no friends."
"If you continue to do that, she might be so depressed that she will commit suicide." 

3. Make it right for everyone

Sometimes when we have done something wrong we just know what will make things right - we have been there before. After tuning into the situation and seeing the impact on another, we can act to make it right as soon as possible. And sometimes this is just enough and the other person forgives us and we get along together again. 

But sometimes it is more complicated...

What does the person who has been harmed hope for in terms of restoring a positive relationship? (e.g. apology, knowing it won't happen again, having item restored, can feel trust for the person again.) What does the person who has harmed hope for? (e.g. opportunity to make it right, not feel excluded for what they have done.)  What might bystanders hope for? (e.g. friendly school.) Is there a way that everyone can get what they hope for in resolving this issue? 

This is about reminding everyone that the end game is about having a positive relationship.

"What would make you happy?"  

Everyone in the process needs to feel that they have some control or power. Needing to have control is one of the reasons why people adopt bullying behaviours. So, rather than telling people what they should do to make it right, each person should be able to choose how they want to make it right after listening to how others are feeling. That way they are not reluctant or disrespectful, but sincere. People can do surprising things to make things right when given the chance. 

"What could you do to make it right?"
If we can understand what might trigger the situation, and work on solving this then we can help ensure that it doesn't happen again. Things could be happening at home, the person who is doing the harm may be lonely and trying to get noticed in an inappropriate way. 

"What is going on for you that you are behaving this way?"

There could be a history between the two people. In some situations the person harming may have been harmed by the other person and there is continuing dynamic that both people are caught into. Sometimes the best solution is when the people involved recognise they are trapped into an unhealthy relationship and agree to get help. They could agree to have circuit breakers once they recognise a situation is about to happen. 

Sometimes relationships are not easy things to keep friendly. Things happen to weaken relationships and it is easy to react, and then this can make things worse. So skill building might be in: 
  • better understanding of relationships, 
  • conflict resolution skills, 
  • understanding and dealing with personal emotions
  • developing mindfulness practice.
Sometimes we can't resolve it by ourselves. We need a caring adult to assist, like a parent, teacher or counsellor. Sometimes we need to have the support of classmates to help build a different environment and way of doing things. So we might need:
  • mediation - someone who helps two people to talk together using a clear process
  • counselling one-on-one - this helps you to identify the problem and build skills and strategies
  • method of shared concern - where classmates can agree to help support new behaviours.
Forgiving someone doesn't mean that you think what happened was OK. 

Forgiving someone might be easy or very difficult. When someone does something mean to you it might be hard to accept them back as before. You might not trust them as much. 

Many people who have done something wrong long to be seen as nice person - to get back to normal. The biggest help we can give them is to give them a chance.

"Are you lonely, do you need a friend? Come and play with us."

Sometimes working through disagreements can make relationships stronger. Sometimes it is just too difficult and you might need to agree to have a different sort of relationship. What is important is to find a way to relate where each person can be free to be safe and happy.

4. Get Feedback

How do we know that what we have done is working? How is each person involved feeling? Has the relationship or the behaviours improved? What else needs to happen? 

Even though a person who made a mistake might have made things right with the person that they harmed, they may have got a reputation with other people as a mean person. They will need support to help others understand that they now intend to operate from a friendly and kind place.

5. Reflect

What have I learnt from all of this? How am I different from who I was before? What interesting things do I now know about myself?


Friday, April 24, 2015

What can go wrong in relationships?

As part of the Primary School program we did an activity with Grade 4 students asking what could go wrong in a the following relationships: Friends, peers, teams, siblings, parent/child and student/teacher. Each group brainstormed on butchers paper and then moved around to the next topic noticing what was similar. 

Here is a list of what they said which I have sorted loosely into different categories, using their own words. Many of these are on lists that describe bullying. However, what is here is much more than that. Building good relationships is slightly different in these different contexts, but at the core is social and emotional intelligence.

What can go wrong between friends?
  • Misunderstandings, They can doubt you,  your friend thinks you stole it when you didn’t
  • Boring things
  • Running away
  • Saying mean things, when they swear at you, Laughing at them
  • Fights, slapping your friends
  • One person doesn’t like another, 
  • Jealousy
  • Your friend betraying you
  • You can brag too much, you try to be better than your friends
  • Cyberbullying

What can go wrong between peers?
  • People can be very mean, you get called names, get teased (especially when go to a new school), people can say “you are not my friend”, Get copied
  • Send a bad text message
  • People can hit
  • People can steal something – like a pencil
  • Feeling left out - You could get sick and the other person get left out, People having the same things as each other and you don’t – and you feel left out, Moving away to sit with other people
  • People talking about you
  • Someone can bully someone, get bullied so much you have to leave schools, committing suicide from bullying

What can go wrong with Brothers and Sisters?
  • Disagreements - Takes money, Computer time, Argues about video games
  • Swear at each other
  • Physical fights – biting, slapping, punching, pinching, hitting
  • Running away
  • Kill each other off in video games

What can go wrong between parents and their children?
  • Not doing as you are told, Asking for something you aren’t allowed, Not cleaning up after self, Asking for stuff too many times so parent shouts, Not telling that you have broken something valuable, Spending too much money without asking
  • Fighting: Talking back, Shouting at each other, Arguing, Fighting over food (chocolate, icecream, drinks, cake) and the telly, Slapping on the butt, Saying you’ll kill them
  • Not being loving, Getting to anger over small things,  “Telling” not “explaining”
  • Having another child

What can go wrong in teams?
  • Being rude, Saying “you’re  a….”
  • Not co-operating, not helping, being silly, arguing, nobody listens, everyone disagrees
  • Not liking another, not talking to someone, ignoring them deliberately
  • Being selfish
  • Doing other things, People walk over to other teams

What can go wrong between teachers and students?
  • Bad behaviour, Inappropriate language, Pulling faces, Rudeness, Bullying other people, Violence, Bringing bad things to school, Wearing inappropriate clothing, Looking up inappropriate things on the computer, Talking when supposed to be working, Not following instructions, Bad work, Tricking the teacher, Back chatting to the teacher, Kicking the teacher
  • Teachers yelling at students, Teachers can get mad with the students and then then students could think that teachers don’t like them
  • Wrong impression

What do you think is interesting or surprising in this list? What might be the implications when working with parents?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What some Grade 6 girls said about the National Day of Action program

It is the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence. In the morning my Grade 4 students facilitated a session for Grade 5/6 class using scenarios of different types of bullying. Groups had to come up with an ending for one scenario and show it to the class.

One of the Grade 4 boys interviewed six grade 6 girls in pairs during lunch.  I have collated the answers together. They make for interesting reading. 

What do you notice?


How did you find the program?
  • It was good,
  • It was good and very entertaining, and it made me think about it
  • great program, really pleased when I saw you guys doing it
  • liked making up endings as it gave strategies we could use
  • very good, because it teaches kids what is the right thing to do if you are in that situation. I liked the play but it wasn’t just about what they did, it was how they said it.
  •  very good education -  tell a teacher if you have a problem and be confident

Would you want to do it?
  • Maybe (hesitantly) – It would be quite embarrassing in some parts because it is funny and you have to do funny stuff
  • Definitely, because it helps people be more positive and feel happiness
  • yes x 4
 What would you do if you saw someone being bullied?
  • Talk to him in a nice way and say “It is not cool what you are doing.” 
  • You have to make everyone happy.
  • Run in yelling
  • Stick up for them, or help them to find a way to stick up for each other.
  • Tell the teacher, try to make my friend happier, try to talk to the bully “If you keep doing this people will be scared of you, run away and you will be really lonely” (girl from group that redid their ending)
  • I would stand up for my friend, tell the bully what they are doing wrong and how they can fix it, and do all the things mentioned in the bully program.

What would you do if you were bullied?
  • I would ask someone who cared or who respected me, like a teacher, parent or friend. If I was injured I would go to a teacher or someone nearby and ask could you grab a teacher and say someone has just bullied me and I am injured. But if they just hurt you once that wouldn’t be bullying.
  • Wouldn’t let it happen
  • Strategise and think of a way that makes everyone happy. If you think of our school values then that is a good way to stop bullying.
  • I would tell a teacher, talk to the bully or talk to a friend who could help me stand up.
  • If they injured you and you went to hospital, that is serious, that is not a good thing, I don’t even know why people bully.

If you were a bully what would you do to not be a bully?
  • I would get help and reasons why I shouldn’t be a bully
  • I haven’t really thought about it. Talk to people and say “I need help because apparently I have been bullying.”

What would you do if you were a bully and everyone didn’t like you, but then you stopped?
  • I would change my ways and try to make up for it
  • I would want everyone to see I was no longer a bad person, because again it is the excluding thing.
  • I would try to talk to the teacher and ask them to help me and start to be nicer
  • I would tell everyone what was really going on, if I was being a bully, and how I was being stronger.  I would have to tell them I am sorry and explain to everyone what has happened.

What did you learn?
  • Need to be right for everyone
  • Right to be safe – no one should get hurt
  • How to deal with situations



What is pleasing?

These indicate a high level of engagement and interest by those that participated. Some students are mirroring to us the key messages that were part of the presentation - it has to be right for everyone - it is important not to exclude the person who has done the harming

There were a couple of girls who were very articulate and show that they would be able to be engaged in deeper discussions of the nuances and take on leadership roles in this issue. 

What do the answers reveal about the complexity of the issues?

When I saw one student respond to "What would you do if your friend was bullied?"  with "Run in yelling," my initial thought was that she didn't get the restorative method. So we failed to construct her understanding of our key message that it needs to be right for everyone. 

Then I shifted into the perspective that the scenario session was a laboratory for collective wisdom and every response has an important part to tell in helping to develop deeper understanding of restorative processes that might be relevant for this age group.  I now wonder if she is expressing an immediate and very relevant emotional response of protectiveness and possibly retaliation. In developing a restorative process of dealing with bullying dynamics I think it would be important to acknowledge that these emotions might arise. The question is how do we deal with them? How do we shift them to a place where we can act from integrity? What might this look like? In the words of another girl:
Talk to him in a nice way and say “It is not cool what you are doing.” 
Also, some of the students didn't get the idea that you need to allow the person who has done something wrong to come up with their own way of making it right, otherwise they may still be reluctant and disrespectful, and seek control in other situations. 
I would tell the bully what they are doing wrong and how they can fix it.
Perhaps that is because it is regularly modelled when authoritative figures step in and "tell" the perpetrator what they have to do to make it right. "Give it back! Apologise!"  This requires considerable cultural shift in the way teachers and parents and siblings talk to each other.

The other answer that has "snags" on me was this:  
I would try to talk to the bully “If you keep doing this people will be scared of you, run away and you will be really lonely.”
This was also played out by several groups in response to the bullying scenario earlier that morning. There were some students that expressed it in an almost punitive way, whereas others in a more quiet way,  explaining likely consequences.  

I think it is  useful to help someone who is doing something wrong, not just to imagine how the other person is feeling, but also to imagine the impact on all those involved, including themselves. However, there is a sense that saying "no one will like you" is working at a transactional ethical development level where the person makes decisions based on own self-interest (I will scratch your back if you scratch mine) versus a place of doing what is right because it is fair (which is the next developmental level according to Kohlberg.) What I found interesting is that none of the students said "Stop this because you will get in trouble." Rather, they were stating the natural feedback that people will give when you behave this way. 

There are several key ideas that have emerged for me:

  • When running scenarios having time for people to discuss what they liked about a response but also the bits they are unsure of, and didn't seem right.
  • The development of  a restorative process  should acknowledge the importance of everyone in the drama checking in with their emotions, working through them and trying to find a place of integrity from which to act. 
  • The importance of helping the person who has done harm to find that place of integrity - it may come through people reminding them of who they are (as in the Indian practice where when someone does something wrong they stand in the centre of the villagers and each one comes forward and says something positive about them,) or work with a counsellor or teacher to resolve underlying causes and deepen self-awareness and self-regulation.
  • The importance of helping people to understand what it is everyone hopes for in creating a good resolution. 
  • Recognition that restoration to what was before may not be possible - it may be something different, including something stronger.
  • The need to listen to all the "answers" that come up in these sessions, otherwise you may be putting in place a too simple injunction that doesn't deal with the reality of what children might be experiencing.

I believe that more follow-up is needed - and this could be in several directions. There is a lot of opportunity for more social and emotional learning.

I think these students'  answers show that the scenario session made a good start in raising awareness. I would like my grade 4's to see these answers, make their own conclusions and have a deeper conversation about what might be next.

The Primary School's National Day of Action - Part 2

It is the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence. This continues the story of the Grade 4's running sessions for the other students in their primary school. This has been part of a 4 week project (see earlier blogs.)

11:15 am  - Sam's group work with the Preps

Sam, the Principal,  had split his group of Grade 4's into 3 groups of 4 students, with each group presenting to the preps, grade 1's and grade 2's during the day. I watched the group with the prep's. First, Sam introduced the session. He then showed a music video on making friends which the class enjoyed. Then a boy and a girl read from the book Crusher is coming, about a boy who comes to play with his friend but ends up helping his mother, playing with his baby sister, while his friend looks on frustrated.  

As the girl presented, the prep teacher exclaimed at her storytelling ability, the way she showed the pictures, pointed at each element and explained it.  I wondered whether older students had read to younger students like this before and what opportunities there were to develop their storytelling skills. 

Then the girl led a discussion for the class about what was it that Crusher did that was nice, calmly accepting answers. She introduced the next video about "filling your bucket" which was what you could do for others that were kind and which could make you happy. Then another girl facilitated a discussion about what would you put in the bucket, pointing to students with hands up, sometimes repeating what they said. Finally another girl concluded the session, saying that at lunch time there would be Grade 4 students to help the preps write their stickies for the Say Something Positive Wall and the session ended. 

After the session the teacher said to me she would follow up the "filling your bucket with positives" idea with the class during the next week.  She said that she would get the older "buddies" that were coming in the next session to help the preps write their stickie notes to go on the "Say Something Positive Wall." I was really pleased because Sam and I had not prepared the teachers much for what was happening and it was great to see a flow on effect.
The Grade 4's trooped out of the class and Sam knelt down and looked each one in the eye and said something positive about what they had done. "I really liked the way...."  It seemed that the students stood taller.  It was great acknowledgement. 

Should I have done something like that with my students and been more overt and specific? Instead I had done a rather adult-like debriefing where everyone had the opportunity to appreciate what we did, drawing from the feedback/participation of the audience. This one moment gave me pause about the notion of student agency, and the role of teachers in building self-efficacy through teacher praise in combination with self  and peer praise. I wondered about giving Sam's students the chance to reflect on what they liked to compliment his own compliments. Here is the video with some surprising answers....

I asked Sam how he had prepared the students and he said they had practised being facilitators taking answers from the audience.  
What do you do if the answer is stupid, or repeats, or you can't hear it, or they forget what they were going to say? 
He told them this is what teachers are thinking and now you will know why teachers do what they do when taking suggestions from the class. I thought this was a terrific way of demystifying the facilitator role and creating a meta-awareness.  I wondered if it would help these students to be better students in class discussions.   Because of the rehearsals with my students acting as the audience as well as the scenario actors, the narrators had got some experience by osmosis in dealing with audience answers - mainly just nodding and saying yes/OK, and moving to the next one. However, I wonder whether unpacking this further might have helped them deal with the nuance better. 

The Say Something Positive Wall

I had been watching students throughout lunch and recess approach the Say Something Positive Wall. Some students were pulling out "CHIPS" - a word or a statement, like POSITIVE  - and then imagining what they could do to be more positive. Some little kids told me that this was their fourth time and every time they would think of someone else in their class and do something  for them that the CHIP suggested. They loved the lucky dip notion of pulling something out. I had to keep stapling the cardboard containers back to the wall, they were getting so much use.

Other students were writing on stickie notes about what they appreciated by another and then putting that up. The girls in my class had already taken the grade 5/6 classes stickies and put them up. Students were looking through the notes, reading each one, and seeing what they said. 

The wall was beginning to grow. It had enormous value as a central point of awareness. It enabled interactivity and playfulness.

Engaging the teachers

When Sam and I developed the program for the Grade 4's we did so tentatively and privately with little engagement of the other teachers. There was always a danger in not getting teacher buy-in and awareness, but in the last week we had been more overt in organising the sessions and explaining what was happening. 

During recess and lunch I went into the staff room engaging teachers in conversation about what we were doing and giving some of the backstory and how some of the misbehaviours and cheeky moments of the students were important in shaping the program. We discussed some of the nuances of bullying and how the three statements had come up - That isn't right, how are they feeling, what could you do to make it right? The Grade 5/6 teacher said she would put these on the wall of her classroom. She was also going to get her class to answer letters of concern written by the grade 4 students that afternoon. 

Being present with other teachers in this way was very important and it would be good to follow-up and discuss where they might take it further - how to integrate a positive approach in what they are already doing and how to build students'  skills around dealing with conflict.

1:30 pm - The media interviews the principal and films the scenarios

A key aspiration of this project was building community awareness of the National Day of Action. Suz Pennicott-Jones, Department of Education arranged a media release about what was happening at the school. We had no idea whether anyone would turn up from the media. 

There was a surreal moment at 1:30pm when the school secretary came into the staff room and said "I have WIN TV, Southern Cross TV and the Mercury Newspaper in the foyer. Does anyone know where the principal is?" I had a moment of feeling I had shifted into a parallel universe. 

They were here to film the afternoon sessions. My students sat quietly watching two glamorous women holding large furry microphones interview the principal with large cameras behind. 

We ended up having an article in the Mercury the next day, short segments of about 30 seconds on both TV news that night, a short article on the Department of Education's Facebook page (with 14,800 views), which was shared on the Facebook page of the National Day of Action. 

The interview with the principal was recorded by my student who has discovered journalistic tendencies but not how to keep a camera still.

1:35 pm  - Running the session for the Grade 3/4/5's

My students, without blinking about the media presence, put on their show for the Grade 3/4/5's. The students worked seamlessly together, helping each other with the props, sitting quietly waiting, or taking pictures or filming. I stood in the background, eventually sitting in the back of the audience with the other teachers.

The Mercury took out 3 students to get a photograph on the wall before the session began. Unfortunately one of the words was spelt incorrectly and they had to take the students out again, just when we were about to play the last scenario. However, 3 of my boys stepped up and started explaining the program and what they had done to get here. This was extraordinary and an indicator of their confidence, meaning-making and ownership. 

They helped facilitate the groups a lot better the second time around, although the noise was just as loud. A boy on the autistic spectrum surprised his teacher when he said it was hard to devise a response to the "bully" when he didn't know what he was thinking. "Why did he do it?" Another group failed to create a response because they had two opposing solutions that they couldn't agree on. The grade 3/4/5's seemed a little more creative and softer in the options they devised compared to the Grade 6's. For example, one person said the "bully" - "Do you need a friend? Would you like to play with us?"

It was interesting seeing that when I stepped away how another boy took my role as prompt. When the narrator forgot to ask the audience what they thought about the audience devised scenario endings, he hissed to the narrator "Ask the question!" The narrator then said to the audience "What do you think? Hands up if you think this was right for everyone?" The narrator forgot a second time, and the audience called out "Ask the question" while everyone laughed. There was a keenness to see what everyone else thought was a good solution or not. This, I think, was an important part of the rhythm/ritual/learning. I imagine seeing a range of solutions and having to judge them helps to build discernment.

After my students played their preferred ending I stood up again and explained the deeper aspects as before. What had changed for me, was seeing Sam stand up and be an integral part of his group's performance. In the morning session I felt I needed to intervene when I hadn't expected to and was worried I had impinged on what I had seen as totally student-owned and executed performance. This afternoon I had a better sense of the important role of the teacher in framing and deepening learning in partnership with the students. So there is a balance and a mutual respect between each other and what our different roles can bring and when to step in and when to step out. Also, I realised how my explanation in the morning had helped my own students create a patter that they could use when they filled in the gap when the Mercury took out the three students (including the narrator!)  

The students were pumped at the end, all helping to clear up and helping me take things out to the car. They said how much they wanted me back to take "science" with them next term. I was exhausted and in hindsight would have liked to have taken a moment to thank each one individually and say something that I appreciated. Perhaps smiling and laughing went a long way! I know how important it is to savour these culminating performance moments and to follow-up. 

What next?

With Sam away the weeks following the National Day, we haven't done any follow-up. I am keen to see how after the holidays any of this might have stuck with our Grade 4's - not just their understanding of bullying, or showing more positive behaviours,  or ability to  deal with conflict but who they are now as people - their sense of self, their confidence and leadership. Already their teachers have said they have noticed a difference and I would like to unpack this more. I would also like to help the students  to get feedback from others in the school to examine how their intervention might have changed attitudes and behaviour - so doing a bit of human science. 

Then, do we have the energy to work with parents, engaging our grade 4's in the process? PHEW. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Primary School's National Day of Action - Part 1

Today is the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence and even if we are not ready we are going to give it a red hot go....

This continues the story of a 4 week project where Sam, the principal, and I have been working with the Grade 4 cohort to create a campaign in the school for the National Day of Action.  This includes the Grade 4 class running lessons for other students as part of being leaders in the school.

8:30am morning

I arrive just as one of my Grade 4 students arrives and he smiles at me and asks what I am doing. I smile back and ask him if he would like to help me put up posters in the hall, where we will be running the activities. He is the boy who wrote in his letter of concern: 
"I think I annoy people too much, that is why they don't like me and won't play with me. Help me on how to make friends." 

My first impressions of him at the beginning of the program was someone who was very silly, often resulting in distracting the class. I didn't think to give him a reading/facilitation part in the script (beyond his acting roles) but his friend insisted and said he would help him learn it. I watched his friend patiently coach him in the rehearsal the previous day from stumbling over his reading into greater confidence. It reminded me not to pigeon-hole kids and restrict them through a lack of my own imagination, care or trust.

Since then I have given the boy different roles and a camera and something has changed. He is not silly today, but quite dedicated in setting things up and soon he is joined by others from my group and there is a sense of purposefulness as we set up the prop table, demarcate the "stage area" with small traffic cones and do a quick rehearsal for the assembly. It is about to start.

9:00am assembly in the hall

Two girls are on the microphone with a power point introducing the day. One girl has spent hours writing the script for this. They then hand over to my students: 

Narrator: Today is the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence
All together: We take a stand together for FriendCHIPS 
Narrator: We want to change meanness to FriendCHIPS

Skit: Two boys then play out a drama where one kicks and punches another when he has fallen down trying to kick a soccer ball. The audience gasps.The narrator PAUSES the action and says "That's not right! REWIND." And the boys rewind the action to where they started. The audience laughs as they watch the boys do everything backwards. She says "PLAY" and they do a version where one helps the other.

The principal then explains how the day will work - Grade 4's will be coming into classes and taking lessons and how we want people to write positive statements about others on the SAY SOMETHING POSITIVE BOARD.

Excitement is in the air.

9:15 The Grade 5/6 lesson in the hall

Introduction: The grade 5/6 class are now sitting down around the area we have set up for the stage. Three of my students come out the front and read out the definition of bullying. Then  the key narrator says:
"Things can go wrong. We have times when we are worried. We can help each other make it right before it gets really bad. Today we will be looking at some scenarios and working out how we can make it right for everyone."
Scenario 1: The girls then act out a skit. Daisy comes up to group of 3 girls and asks to play, they move away, saying mean things. The narrator says "PAUSE. That isn't right." He then asks the audience "How do you think Daisy feels?" and hands go up "Sad," "Lonely," "Upset". "What would you do to make it right?" "Rewind," "Make it up," "Play with her." 

The narrator then says "Let's see. Press PLAY." And the girls come back in saying that was a mean thing to do and they feel bad and want to make it up. And then they play ball together. "What do you think?" asks the narrator and the audience nod and then clap. 


Scenario 2: In the next skit a boy is sitting in a chair while a girl reads out what he is thinking (one of the letters of concern.) Other students walk by in friendship groups completely ignoring him, engaged with each other. 
I am concerned that I am being left out and people are excluding me. I just wish everyone could care about people who are getting left out like me. No one cares for me. I wonder if they think something is wrong with me. All I want is a friend to trust.
The narrator repeats a similar rhythm to the first scenario, inviting audience response. The audience suggest that someone makes friends with him.  The actors then play out an ending where someone comes and sits next to the boy, introduces himself and they find a computer game in common and talk and talk and talk, (with hand movements and explosions)  until they have to be moved off the stage, which the audience finds quite funny.

Scenario 3:  This skit requires the audience to create a suitable ending.
The skit involves 3 bystanders eating lunch while a boy takes the lunch off another boy. The narrator asks the participants in the skit how they feel - The "bully" - powerful, the "victim" scared and the bystanders horrified, sad, disturbed. 

Then the narrator asks the audience what they would do to make it right - "Make him give back the lunch box." He then gets the actors to play out an ending where they say "Bully, bully, bully," and "Give it back to him!", and the bully throws down the lunch box saying "I hate you."

The narrator says. "That is not right either. It has to be right for everyone." Then he says that we are going to put them in groups and each group has to come up with a solution that is right for everyone, and then act it out. 

One of the girls read out the instructions and another passes around cards to the audience with a number on it and soon there are groups around the room and the noise level increases. Each group has one facilitator or two from my students. Later I realise I have not prepared them for this role and some are finding it hard knowing their role. One boy acts as a director, script writer with starring role, while another rolls his eyes at me seemingly disconnected from what is going on in his group. 

Somehow after about 10 mins it all comes together. Groups are ready to present their endings and the audience settles back into position. My students re-enact the beginning. The narrator calls up the first group. Again there is a rhythm - asking the audience what do they think - "Is it right for everyone?" encouraging hands up if they think it is. Not all endings are right for everyone and it becomes obvious to most people. 

Students come up with:

  • supporting the person who has been harmed  
  • "How do you think he feels? You should give it back and apologise!" In which case the bully reluctantly and disrespectfully gave it back.
  • asking what the bully would do to make it right
  • getting a teacher to intervene
  • putting the bully in the position of the person who was bullied
  • the person who is the victim pushes his icecream into the face of the bully
  • saying "Nobody will be friends with you if you do this."  

One group finds their bully does not respond to any of their interventions and have a bit of a meltdown and the narrator suggests they go and work out how to fix it. It highlights that sometimes it is quite difficult and strategies you hope might work may not. 

At the end my students act out their ending where they say to the bully "That isn't right." "How do you think they are feeling?" "What can you do to make it right?" The narrator asks again what people think and someone speaks up about the experience of being bullied and that it is hard to stop it. At this stage I realise that the nuances of this might be beyond our narrator and decide to step in. Up to now I have been sitting on the side acting as a prompt when needed.

What are important key messages: 
"These scenarios are focussing on how to prevent people from turning into bullies who do it again and again. It is about helping people who do something wrong to make it right. As part of our work-shopping of these scenarios our narrator came up with these three key things that can help the person who does wrong:
  • realising it isn't right, 
  • imagining how someone else feels, and 
  • then being able to make it right. 
It is important NOT to tell the person who has done something wrong HOW to make it right, but give them the choice. Part of the reason people turn into bullies it to get control, so the solution needs to allow them some control. Now if there is a bullying dynamic that is happening again and again then that is where it is important to get help - from a parent or teacher. It is too hard usually to solve by yourself and you need other people helping." 

Saying something positive

One of the girls reads out the instructions for writing on a sticky note something you appreciate about another person to go onto the wall. The audience write...


What have you learnt? 

Then the boy (who used to be silly) and now was prop manager and archive videoer and actor and helper stood up in front of the class, after practicing and practicing, and said in a confident voice, with no hesitation or stuttering over the words - "Thankyou. We hope you have learnt something. What is something that you have learnt?"  And then took answers calmly and confidently:
  • make sure everyone is happy
  • it is not nice to be mean
  • make sure you help everyone to make sure everyone is happy
  • don't be mean to the person who has bullied or they will be too
  • bullying won't get you anywhere
  • make sure the bully gives back what they have taken and are nice
  • maybe bring your own lunch

What will you do to build better friendCHIPS?

Be nice.

And with that my students grab the CHIP cards and hold them out "We stand together for friendCHIPS" and take a bow. 


My group reflects

The Grade 5/6 class leave and we put everything in order again for the next session. I call my students together for a tribe circle and ask them to share something positive, letting them know that they will then have the opportunity to talk about something that might not have worked as well and discuss how they could improve it.

They were hyped up and the first speakers found something good to say - but as soon as we got round to the boy who has critiqued my teaching in the past, he couldn't hold it in - "The groups! How can we do better with the groups!" This is when I had a deju vu moment of sitting after a major learning event with Fire-fighter trainers who could not stay on the question what have we valued from today, but straight away went into what didn't work so well and problem solving. And from then on these 9/10 year olds seemed no different from these very experienced 50+ year olds in the way they took apart what they had done and talked about how they would do it better. 

I realised how critical this moment was. There was a point of ownership. The opportunity to do it again was a critical part of this learning. It is not enough to have a culminating event - the unpacking of it and the opportunity to better it is also important. This was such a strong indicator of their sense of pride, ownership, sense of responsibility. Following this they interviewed each other about how they thought it had gone, and practised their elements again. 

Getting Feedback

At lunch time, the boy (who is no longer silly) asks students from the Grade 5/6 class if he can interview them about the program. He talks to 3 pairs of girls,  asking terrific questions that he has made up. This gives an interesting window into how these students have made sense of the scenarios. It seems to have made a telling impact, with the opportunity to act out being memorable. The boy tells me later he has missed his lunch, but not to worry.

"I thought the program was very good, because it teaches kids what is the right thing to do when you are in that situation. I liked the play but it wasn't just about what they did but how they said it."
You can read the collated answers for the interviews here.