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For School Admin: How to Identify & Address Cyberbullying

One of the most difficult aspects of cyberbullying from a school administrative perspective is simply that, by definition, it happens in a virtual world. Cyberbullying happens where bullies can often mask their crimes more easily and escape school-administered consequences by committing their offenses off-campus. As Katherine Cowan, communications director for the National Association of School Psychologists, explains for Scholastic,

One of the capacities of cyberbullying is that it goes from zero to 60 rapidly—it can go viral very quickly and can live permanently online … School administrators face the challenge of having to wrap their arms around a dynamic and incredibly complex social system with the students they serve. The Internet makes it that much more complicated.

However, there are some steps that school administrators can begin taking in order to better combat and prevent instances of cyberbullying.

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According to Emily Richmond’s Scholastic article, “Cyberbullying: What schools can do to stop it,” teachers and school administrators can…

“[1] Define cyberbullying clearly, and incorporate expectations into Internet and electronic communications for students and staff.

[2] Involve parents and the wider community as early as possible, whether it’s through a task force to review policy, or via workshops to help families understand and respond to how their children are using the Internet and electronic communications.

[3] Teach students to be cyber-savvy. In addition to understanding the risks involved in sharing personal information online, students need to understand how the ‘tone’ of their communications can be perceived much differently than they might have intended.

[4] Finally, report suspected cases of bullying to the supervisors, the parents of all involved students, and, when necessary, law enforcement. While the steps may seem simple, the reality is invariably complicated and changes from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.”

School administrators should also be careful not to conflate anti-cyberbullying efforts with simply more surveillance. Extra surveillance can not only fail to address the key issues at hand, but can also inadvertently punish students who haven’t done anything wrong. To avoid this conflation, your school can also try implementing hotlines or tip lines rather than more attempts at teacher surveillance of student technologies. As Sameer Hinduja of the Cyberbullying Research Center argues,

…every school should have a system in place that allows students who experience or observe bullying or cyberbullying (or any inappropriate behavior) to report it in as confidential a manner as possible. It seems obvious that we should be using mediums that youth already prefer [i.e. via text/phone]. In addition, being able to broach the subject without being forced to reveal one’s identity or do it face-to-face may prove valuable in alerting faculty and staff to harmful student experiences, and help promote an informed response to bring positive change.

What’s more, school administrators should also work to set a rigorous standard in regards to all student cyber activity on school grounds—a standard that draws the line at inappropriate behavior rather than inappropriate content. For example, if a student posts a “harmless” video on their blog of a teacher or other student simply walking down the hall, but does so without that teacher or student’s knowledge or permission, that student should be quickly and sharply reprimanded. For though the content may seem innocuous, it is the behavior of video-taping, publishing, and taking liberties with another person’s life and image that is inappropriate and therefore punishable.

By cutting students off at inappropriate behavior rather than waiting for the content itself to become inappropriate, we can begin to teach students that it isn’t simply a matter of blatantly offensive material that’s the core issue here; it’s the use of technologies to inappropriately invade and disrespect the space and reputation of others that’s at the heart of the problem.

These sorts of anti-cyberbullying behavior-centered policies can stretch from anything like having home-room teachers confiscate all cellphones at the beginning of classes and returning them at the end of the day to simply punishing students if they’re caught using a cellphone during class. The severity of the measures will inevitably vary from community to community as the individual school’s climate and state’s laws demand.

For more information and ideas, check out the following resources:

For Teachers: How to Identify Bullying

It is of the utmost importance that all teachers recognize that, in today’s classroom, there are two very distinct types of bullying: in-person bullying and cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can include everything from text messages to emails to Facebook to blogs to chatrooms. Understanding this difference as well as the ins-and-outs of bullying itself will better enable teachers to detect when bullying is taking place and who the perpetrators (and victims) are.

According to the National Education Association (NEA), bullying can be defined as the act of “systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt and/or psychological distress on another.” According to StopBullying.gov, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.

Operating under these understandings of bullying (as well as the knowledge that cyberbullying is distinctive from in-person bullying), how then can teachers take the next step to recognizing where and when bullying is happening?

StopBullying.gov provides a good list of starting places when it comes to identifying signs of bullying in students, including: students suffering from unexplained injuries, lost or damaged belongings, frequent illness or feelings of illness, sudden changes in appetite, sudden negative changes in grades and/or academic interests/rigor, sudden negative change in school relationships, and a variety of self-inflicted wounds such as cutting or running away from home.

IMG_2506While these symptoms may sound obvious enough, they can actually be kept well-hidden by students (and often are) due to feelings of immense shame, fear, depression, and/or isolation. In order to detect and identify these symptoms, it is of paramount importance that teachers strive to develop a healthy rapport with their students, their students’ parents, and their fellow teachers. Without these clear lines and opportunities for honest communication, we won’t be able to recognize what’s normal for any given child and thus won’t be able to recognize significant changes (aka possible warning signs) either.

Developing and maintaining this many relationships, however, is far too much for any one teacher to undertake successfully by themselves. Knowing this, consider the following possibilities for fostering and opening up wider lines of communication, empathy, and observation:

  • Hold regular (mandatory) meetings/lunches/get-togethers with other teachers in order to catch up on how each other’s students are doing
  • Try creating an anti-bullying task force composed of teachers, administrative staff, and students
  • Discuss and share the Anti-Bullying “Seating Chart” from Glennon Doyle Melton’s article, “One Teacher’s Brilliant Strategy to Stop Bullying”***
  • Hold regular meetings with parents to discuss their children’ s home life, internet usage, phone usage, and any issues that might be cropping up in the classroom
  • Work with school administrative staff to craft and implement anti-bullying policies for your school
  • Make sure that all students understand that, should they come to you with information or concerns, they will not be immediately judged or punished, but listened to, considered, and respected

Further reading:

Tips for Beating the Rainy Day Drag

Spring rains got you down? Lack of spring rains got you down? Don’t let it keep you there! Now is the time to start anew! Here are a few places and creative ideas to get you started, whether you’re a parent, student, or teacher:

Creative artists keeps a sketchbook where it is filled with sketches, rough works and unfinished art whenever inspiration strikes and they have new ideas. Writers have journals for very similar purposes where they write random drafts, pen down their thoughts and record events.

… So why shouldn’t scientists practice likewise?essay writing photo

  • Take a look at Educational Technology & Mobile Learning’s “20 Apps and Tips to Help Students Study Better” (Disclaimer: Tutoring 101 cannot speak from personal experience regarding all of the apps discussed here)
  • Whether you’re a student, parent, or teacher, try taking up a new hobby or discipline this year. Don’t get outdoors much? Take up gardening or a sport, or start walking neighbors’ dogs for extra pocket money. Like working with your hands? Try woodworking, drawing, book-making, or sculpture. Pay that guitar you never play some attention! Try listening to those Spanish tapes you never even opened! Give yoga or meditation a go! Taking up something entirely new is a great way to keep your creative juices flowing while making your down-time more productive and rewarding.
  • Start a blog of your own! Blogs are terrific for connecting with others, whether you’re a mom or dad looking for new parenting ideas, a teacher looking to freshen up a lesson plan, or a student in need of a poetry outlet – blogs can be a great resource as well as a great tool for exercising those writing, reading, and research muscles
  • A Special Note for Teachers of Online Courses: Give Errol Craig Sull’s “Student Engagement in the Online Classroom” from The Chronicle of Higher Education a read if you’re looking for tips on how to keep your students interested and participating in distance/online courses.
  • Drop us a line, of course! At Tutoring 101, we have plenty of tutors who are ready and excited to help you have the best school year possible
  • Get down to business on SAT/ACT prep—spring is definitely a key time in getting ready for summer-scheduled exams. For more ideas on this end, visit here

Talking About Race: Part Two

I know that the idea of talking about race with your kids – for many parents – can be about as scary and uncertain a territory as talking about where babies come from (if not more so). Many parents are concerned, and rightly so, that to talk about race with kids is to risk the unintended implanting or reinforcing of stereotypes and issues that they themselves carry. We discussed this in some part in our previous post, “Talking About Race: Part One.” Whatever the reason, there’s no way to escape the fact that – thanks to the current state of our country, laws, and systems – race is a significant part of our culture, and ignoring it or pretending it doesn’t exist won’t make things better; it’ll only leave our kids unprepared.

Recently, I went to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates – a writer, activist, and Atlantic senior editor – speak on “The Case for Reparations” at Loyola University in Baltimore. And while I learned many fascinating and deeply important things regarding the issue of reparations (you can read his article on this topic by clicking here), what I’d like to share with you is this (paraphrasing): If you want to consider yourself a part of a community or family – e.g. an American – then you can’t simply come out on holidays and celebrate everything the community’s done well. You have to embrace the burdens of your community, the problems and debts it owes, along with the benefits and victories.

In other words, part of being an American now is understanding what America has done well as well as what crimes it’s committed/committing. Being thoughtful, critical, and honest about our country as it is and as it has been isn’t being unpatriotic or un-American – it’s being constructive; it’s being useful; it’s being the voice of real love in the family when the family’s in trouble. We can’t sweep race and its many related issues under our collective rug. We can’t come out on MLK Day and celebrate Dr. King’s legacy only to then dishonor and stomp all over it by pretending that the struggles are over and done with.

I know that race is a contentious topic for many people, but that’s why it’s so vital that we continue to educate ourselves and talk with our kids about it. In addition to the tips we mentioned in Part One, here are a few other ideas to consider:

  • Make it clear that the celebration and importance of learning about Black History doesn’t end on March 1st. Learning about new cultures and peoples different from ourselves—no matter our race, religion, gender, or background—is important all year round.
  • Experiment with reading new voices (both alone and with your kids) like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison, and Clarissa Pinkola Estés
  • Try talking with your kids’ teachers to see how the school is handling (or not handling) the subject of race
  • Try blog-surfing with your kids to find and read works from other young people (and maybe even kids their own age) related to the subject of race (make sure the blogs are critical and thoughtful, though, and not just spouting negative, prejudicial nonsense). This can show your kids that they can be a part of the conversation as well, that they can have some power and speak up for what’s right. As a starting place, try out the Nerds of Color blog:

We are a community of fans who love superheroes, sci-fi, fantasy and video games but are not afraid to look at nerd/geek fandom with a culturally critical eye.

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Helping Your Kids Handle the Boogeyman: Anxiety

When I was a kid in middle school, I got some of my first experiences with the monsters Anxiety and Depression—and I got them close-up and personal, as my younger brother began showing symptoms of the latter. Anxiety and depression can often be difficult things to recognize (many kids go without necessary medications because of lack of medical care/diagnosis while others become over-medicated and over-diagnosed), as they are often disguised by or confused for things like anger, defiance, lack of confidence, mischief, and shyness. As Holly Robinson explains for Parents Magazine,

Unfortunately, many parents and teachers perceive symptoms of anxiety—like refusing to go to school or use a public restroom—as defiance. Anxiety may also be mistaken for (or even mask) other developmental disorders, such as ADHD, depression, or learning disabilities, so it’s important to identify anxiety early and help your child learn to manage it.

I know that, for my brother, his depression often reared its head in anger, in bursts of fathomless aggravation, temper, and self-loathing. —Things his teachers often misunderstood, things that often left him feeling isolated from others kids at school, things that I rarely understood myself as a kid; and all of these only worked to exacerbate his fears and symptoms. Fortunately for us, our mother was proactive, able to do her research, get us out of schools with willfully ignorant teachers, and get us all the help we needed.

In Jane E. Brody’s “Helping Children Gain Control Over an Anxiety Disorder” (New York Times), she references Dr. Golda S. Ginsburg, a Johns Hopkins University expert in childhood anxiety, saying, “childhood anxiety disorders typically result from an interaction between biology and environment. For some … there is [also] a strong hereditary component” (qtd. in Brody). What’s more, parenting styles and behavior can also have an impact, perhaps especially in cases of “parents who are overprotective or overly controlling, who constantly identify dangers in the child’s world” (Ginsburg in Brody).

Similarly, psychotherapist Tamar E. Chansky suggests that, for parents trying to help their children deal with anxiety issues, the goal should not be “to put down children’s fears but to help them see that their fears are unwarranted and that they can overcome them” (qtd. in Brody). Brody outlines some of Chanksy’s “‘master plan’” for helping kids deal with anxiety:

The key takeaway? Don’t blame your child or yourself for their anxiety and/or depression. These are boogeymen that feed on things like blame, stress, and insecurities. Be sure to talk with your children openly, your doctor, as well as your partner and friends—you can’t help your children handle their anxieties, depression, and so forth if you aren’t getting the help you need to handle it all as well.

Further Readings:

The Changing Face of Higher Ed

Recently, The Atlantic published Derek Newton’s “Higher Education Is Not a Mixtape,” in which he argues that – contrary to many popular arguments and articles – higher education is not going the way of the music industry (i.e. people won’t begin shopping for individual professors instead of for universities the way they now shop for individual songs instead of for entire albums). Along the way, Newton makes some compelling points:

Though many universities have not done a great job of keeping up with technological advancements or at keeping costs down, many of the people making arguments for the tech future of higher ed are also personally and financially invested in the companies and technologies necessary to make this future possible. Moreover, the arguments for increased technology and the “unbundling” of higher ed also seem to be missing a basic truth: Unlike music – which listeners buy because of the artist, not the artist’s record label – students “shop for schools, not professors” knowing that their future career success is often tied, at least initially and in part, to the reputation of their university.

However, a simple (and obvious) response to many of Newton’s arguments is: Yes…for now.

As a more recent graduate of an MA program, I well remember just what “distance learning” and “online learning” courses can look like – and it wasn’t pretty. This gets back to Newton’s concession that many schools and degree programs haven’t done a great job of keeping up with the technological times, so that if they do offer online courses and learning opportunities, many of them aren’t yet all that they could be (which means that many students either elect not to use them or view them as a last resort). But this isn’t something that’s likely to last for much longer, and improved distance learning tech could very well lead to an “unbundling” of universities, to a marketplace for professors and courses over entire schools.

Given the constraints of rising tuition rates coupled with the increased number of non-traditional students (e.g. middle-aged and older adults coming back to school for degrees, training, certifications, and so forth), online learning opportunities and distance courses are likely to only increase in number and quality over the next few years. These increases will undoubtedly change the way people view online opportunities and, in turn, how they shop within the industry of higher education generally.

What’s more, many institutions, like Ft. Worth’s TCU for example, now offer comparatively cheap, non-degree opportunities (both online and in-person) to students (traditional and non-traditional alike) who are interested in auditing particular courses rather than in pursuing a full degree. This trend may be evidence that certain demographics are in fact interested in shopping for higher ed opportunities on a professor or course-basis rather than on a university-basis, similar to the trend of buying a $0.99 song rather than a full album.

In my opinion, Newton throws his best possible argument for the traditional college experience under the bus by only barely mentioning it in his final paragraph:

In the current system, it may not be efficient to maintain fine-arts programs, but most people think it’s important to have them. It has long been part of colleges’ mission to expose students to new ideas and disciplines. On campus, even business students, for example, are typically required to study literature and other topics in the humanities. Some may call that inefficient; others call it essential.

As a liberal arts student myself with three degrees, including English and American Studies, I appreciate better than most the difficulties and benefits of pursuing an education that doesn’t directly lead to an obvious, lucrative career path. And there certainly are difficulties – jokes bashing the putative usefulness or wisdom of liberal arts degrees are classic and many professors within these fields do an amazingly poor job of discussing with students just how many career opportunities are (or will be, could be) available to them. Thus, many students either prematurely cross liberal arts programs off their list or graduate from them without a full appreciation of just how flexible and useful they can truly be.

To me, the bashing or general rejection of liberal arts degrees only shows a lack of creativity on part of all involved. A degree in English, after all, doesn’t limit a person to Writer, Teacher, or Unemployed. As Walt Whitman once wrote, “I am Large. I contain Multitudes.” There is more to a student than their degree just as there is more to a degree than its acronym. Education, like life, will – in large part – be what you make of it. Similarly, there are more jobs out there, more possibilities and opportunities than you can ever account for, because they – like the higher ed industry itself – are always changing. And that’s part of what a liberal arts degree is great for: teaching students how to think (for more on this particular point, see David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech) and how to grow with changing times.

Ultimately, I think the future of higher ed falls somewhere in the middle here, in a combination of distance/online and in-person learning, of professor-shopping and university-shopping. As our student bodies change and grow more diverse, so must our learning opportunities. This isn’t a time to throw away all we’ve built in higher ed, but neither is it a time to try stalling change and growth.

*For those who’re interested, here’s the audio of Wallace’s speech:

Further & Related Readings:

News Update: Sexism in the Classroom

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This past February, Danielle Kurtzleben’s article, “Grade-school teachers can push girls away from math, with huge consequences,” appeared in Vox, speaking to some very important and, tragically, very widespread misconceptions regarding the gender “math gap” in education. According to Kurtzleben:

“A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that something else might be at work here shaping the supposed ‘choices’ girls and women make. It shows that young girls’ teachers have biases that push girls away from math and science early on, which could be influencing where they go later in life.

Economists Victor Lavy from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom and Edith Sand from Israel’s Tel Aviv University looked at Tel Aviv sixth graders’ test scores both on standardized tests and internal tests in Hebrew, English, and math.”

In this research, Lavy and Sand tested to see if there was any difference in test scores if the ones responsible for grading the tests knew or did not know the test-takers’ gender. Their results clearly suggest the existence of a “systematic bias against girls in the marking of math exams.” And as Lavy and Sand followed their sixth-graders through the eighth grade and high school, they found that “those early teacher biases led to significant improvements on the later math exams for boys and negative and significant effects in math for girls.”

Of course, as Kurtzleben also points out, “this is a working paper, meaning its results are preliminary, and it studied students in a different culture and school system, so we can’t assume US students would see the exact same magnitudes of effects” (emphasis added). However, what’s most important about this research now, as Kurtzleben explains, is that it shows how powerfully “socialization takes hold early on” as well as showcases

“the power of biases — discourage a child from pursuing a subject, and she will, years later, later perform worse on that subject (encourage her, meanwhile, and she’ll do better). So when you discourage a whole swath of the population from pursuing high-paying fields, all those people will be much more likely to have lower-paying jobs.”

What does this mean for us in the here and now? What does it mean for us as parents, teachers, and/or fellow students? It means constantly interrogating ourselves and our assumptions. It means asking ourselves hard questions before we hand back that test or agree with our daughters that Yeah, math really is boring or Yeah, math is super hard, when we might be telling our sons, Yeah, but you can do it or Yeah, but you want to be a marine biologist one day, don’t you? The insidious evil of sexism is that you can sometimes be adding to the problem and perpetuating old sins without ever realizing it or meaning to.

This is a trend and social failing that should both greatly concern and anger you, for your sake as well as for the rest of the world’s. After all, as Kurtzleben so well explains:

“This isn’t just a problem for women; it’s a problem for society. This study suggests that girls were just as capable as boys at math at the start of the observation period, but they were slowly pushed away from math. To diminish an entire demographic’s talent at once is to squander their potential productivity, and economic growth.”

If we want to one day live in a better, more just, more equitable, and more peaceful world, then there’s really no better or easier place to start than right at home with the editing, improving, and monitoring of our own attitudes, perspectives, and actions. The hard truth is, we will only have justice and equality for all when we begin treating others justly and equitably.

 

All quotes and facts here were drawn from Danielle Kurtzleben’s Vox article, “Grade-school teachers can push girls away from math, with huge consequences.”