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Ever wish your students were more motivated? If you’re like most of us, you have tried an array of rewards and punishments to motivate kids. There’s only one problem: it doesn’t work. At least it doesn't work well enough. People (yes, even students) aren’t motivated from the outside so rewards and punishments only work to a point. We are internally motivated. That’s why it's essential to engage and inspire students to be motivated to succeed in school (and life.)

If you’re ready to move beyond the reward/punishment model and embrace a whole new way to understand motivation, I encourage you to come back regularly. It’s time to challenge the status quo and create schools and classrooms based on what really motivates behavior.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Dealing with Students Who Bully: Part I (The Essential First Step)


After reading “Standing Up To Bullying: Refusing To Be A Victim,”  a reader from New Hampshire asked me to discuss how I would handle a student who bullies another. (Note: Just as I warned about the dangers of identifying kids as “victims” in “Standing Up To Bullying,” I try to avoid calling kids “bullies.” So even though it’s faster and easier to label a kid as a “bully,” I prefer to say “a kid who bullied another.” It might seem like a subtle difference, but I think it dramatically changes our perception and behavior.)

The following scene (or something like it) happened to me more than once during my time as a middle school administrator. I return to my office after supervising 200 fifth-grade students at lunch and my secretary informs me that Jon is waiting for me. He has been sent to the office for bullying other students. It’s not the first time. Apparently, Jon and was in the boys’ bathroom when a fifth-grade boy entered. Jon told him the bathroom was off limits unless he paid him. Scared beyond belief - Jon is a rather imposing sixth-grader and the fifth-grade boy is both small for his age and timid – the fifth grade boy left quickly and went to the nurse’s office where he asked to use the facilities.

As I entered my office and saw Jon, chair tipped back and just a trace of a smirk on his face, I immediately felt rage surging inside of me. At that moment, I wanted to berate him. I wanted to humiliate him. I wanted to punish him. A part of me even wanted to smack him. (Yeah, I’m a senior faculty member of The William Glasser Association and consult all over the world, but I haven’t fully eliminated anger from my behavioral repertoire.) As much as I genuinely like Jon, he can be horribly mean and he had gone after a weak target. I was enraged. This isn’t why I got into education.

Fortunately, I am well versed in internal control psychology/choice theory. Even though nearly everybody I know would blindly accept it if I were to say, “Jon makes me so angry!” I knew Jon doesn’t make me anything. Like everyone else, he just behaves. Unfortunately for me (and lots of others), he often behaves in hurtful, inappropriate ways. Today was no exception. But the fact remains: Jon doesn’t make me angry or cause me to lose it. He is responsible for his behavior; I am in control of mine, including how I choose to deal with him at this moment.

So my first rule in dealing with a student who has bullied another is this: remember my role and my goal. Forget the poorly behaving student for a moment. Instead, let me focus on the following:

What’s my role in this situation?
Given my role, what do I want?

It has been my experience that when I remember to ask myself these two questions, my anger dissipates and I can more easily access behaviors that will help the offending child in front of me, allowing me to do my job more effectively.

As a school administrator, my role included helping all kids behave responsibly, even those whose behavior was horribly inappropriate. Berating Jon or humiliating him wouldn’t help him grow, mature, and become more empathetic. Aggressively informing him of my displeasure would only model a version of the bullying behavior I abhor. No, my role required me to deal with Jon differently, even though my anger and frustration with him was perfectly understandable.

And what did I want? Did I really want him to feel humiliated? No. I might have harbored the false belief that humiliation would somehow magically lead Jon to enlightenment, but what I really wanted was to help Jon develop a more appropriate, empathetic repertoire of behaviors.

When I entered my office, my behavior was dominated by angry emotion. In that state, there was literally no way I could do my job well. By taking a moment to ask myself, “What is my role? Given my role, what is my goal?” I gave myself a new way to behave, one that would allow me to deal more effectively with a student who clearly needed adult help.

When we are faced with a child who has bullied another, we understandably want to take immediate, decisive action. Because bullying is so offensive to us, it’s easy to become a slave to our emotions in moments like these. For that reason, I believe the essential first step in dealing with a student who has bullied another is to calm ourselves by focusing on our role and goal. Once we get our own emotions in check, we will be better able to intervene effectively.

In an upcoming piece, I’ll discuss the kinds of things I might specifically say to Jon and identify my two primary goals when working with him.

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As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

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