Respect takes wing

Bird ChildIn Bird Child, the beautiful newcomer by Canadian teacher Nan Forler, birdlike Eliza has a wise mom who gifts her as an infant with a lifelong skill: wings to fly. This includes not only the ability stay positive, but also the ability to see solutions to situations and choices for conflicts. Her mantra? Look down and see what is. Now look up and see what can be. When you first read it with your students, find out what they think that means because it will be important when you see it again.

When Lainey, the new student at Eliza’s school, is targeted by a group of bullies, Eliza initially freezes, stands by, and watches. When Lainey doesn’t return to school, Eliza does some serious soul searching. With a gentle reminder from her mom about sharing her special gift, Eliza figures out how to help her new friend. Fact meets fantasy, and Eliza flies to Lainey’s house to show her how to be all she can be. Eliza then spreads her wings and stands up for Lainey at school the next day, helping put an end to the bullying behaviors. On the second-to-last page, Lainey rolls a ball of snow, so I stopped to ask the students to make a prediction: What’s Lainey going to do with that snowball? This sparked a great debate on whether or not it would be a good character choice for her to pitch it at the bullies as they walk away.

Research suggests that new students are the most likely target for bullies. This story will serve as a springboard for an insightful discussion about respect for differences as well as a LINK (Let’s Include New Kids) discussion about how to Be A Buddy, Not A Bully or a Bystander. After you read about the bullying incident in the schoolyard, ask students: What kind of school does Lainey attend? My students’ responses ranged from “an un-character school” or “a non character school” to “a mean school,” “a school where bullying is allowed,” and “a boarding school.” Interesting!

How would Lainey’s school experience have been different if Eliza had done something to help right away? What about if Eliza had joined in on the teasing or taunting? What about if she had done nothing at all?

Have students give specific examples of how Eliza befriended Lainey. Then ask them: What do the words bystander and ally mean? Who in the book was an ally or upstander? Who were the bystanders? What could these students have done differently? Ask students to talk about a time they’ve been in a bullying situation, either as the bully, the target, or the bystander. What common feelings come out?

We’re going to end our lesson by dancing with the The Chicken Dance motions that students learned in physical education classes, but using these bullying-prevention lyrics that I wrote:

Chorus (4X): If a bully bothers you, and you don’t know what to do, out at recess or in school, talk, walk, then tell.
Verse: I’ll be a buddy, not a bully. I’ll be a friend and take a stand. I can swarm or go get a grown up so we can all lend a helping hand.

This gem is a literary dream, filled with alliteration, metaphors, and sparkle words. “What does nestle mean?” my students wanted to know. So I asked them, “Why did the author choose the word nestle instead of hold?”  The illustrations by François Thisdale are amazingly eye-catching, and they mesh fact and fiction nicely. If you want more ideas on how to integrate this treasure into your curriculum, visit the author’s website and download the comprehensive Teachers’ Guide.

* Also check out this round-up of all of our recent book reviews.

Barbara Gruener is a school counselor at Westwood Elementary in Friendswood, TX, a winner of the 2009 CEP National School of Character Award. For more information on Westwood’s program, visit its website.

A One-of-a-Kind Find

By Barbara Gruener

Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun

If you’re looking for a gourmet bullying-prevention resource, try this tasty morsel from Maria Dismondy and Nelson Publishing. With irresistible illustrations by Kimberly Shaw-Peterson, Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun: Having the Courage to Be Who You Are is a spicy story about Lucy, a wide-eyed, curly-locked child with a uniquely-flavored zest for life. Her caretaker, Papa Gino, has modeled celebrating differences, repeatedly telling Lucy that everyone has a heart with feelings. Well, if her classmate Ralph really does have heart, then why is he so mean?

After reading this entree aloud, ask the students, “Is Ralph a bully?” followed by, “How can you tell?” Review the definition of a bully using this formula: Are Ralph’s mean actions and words REPEATED? Are his behaviors toward Lucy causing INTENTIONAL harm? Is he using words and actions to purposefully create an imbalance of POWER? If the answer is yes to all three of these, Ralph is, by definition, bullying.

This delicious delight will serve up a discussion about dealing with bullying behaviors. Did Lucy use an anti-bullying strategy like Talk, Walk, Then Tell? If so, which parts did she try and how did they work for her? What else could Lucy have done to solve her problem with Ralph? Are there other children with bullying behaviors in the story?

More food for thought: Bullies will do what bystanders allow. Who are the bystanders in Lucy’s story? What, if anything, could they have done to help Lucy? Isolate some pages; how does Ralph feel when he’s sitting alone on the bus? One of my students thought that maybe he just didn’t know how to make friends appropriately. Isn’t that insightful? Another said Ralph was angry because he was all alone. Find out what your students might suggest to help Ralph get along with others better.

You can also review the Respect pillar by finding out how many times your students saw the Golden Rule in this tale. Ask your students to research the Golden Rule to find out how many cultural variations of Treat others the way you want to be treated there are.

Finally, ketchup on toast? Explore what kinds of creative concoctions your students have tried and liked; mayo on your French fries, anyone?


Check out this book and treat yourself to an authentically savory story! And don’t miss The Juice Box Bully: Empowering Kids to Stand Up for Others, a sequel by the same amazing author/illustrator duo.

Barbara Gruener is a school counselor at Westwood Elementary in Friendswood, TX, a winner of the 2009 CEP National School of Character Award. For more information on Westwood’s program, visit its website.

Showing kids the way

Boy with Baby

We can combat bullying by coming down hard on the bullies, but we also need to prevent kids from becoming bullies in the first place. In a recent New York Times Opinionator column, David Bornstein writes about Roots of Empathy, a Canadian program that helps children grow their empathy.

Bornstein describes the program:

Roots arranges monthly class visits by a mother and her baby (who must be between two and four months old at the beginning of the school year). Each month, for nine months, a trained instructor guides a classroom using a standard curriculum that involves three 40-minute visits – a pre-visit, a baby visit, and a post-visit. The program runs from kindergarten to seventh grade. During the baby visits, the children sit around the baby and mother (sometimes it’s a father) on a green blanket (which represents new life and nature) and they try to understand the baby’s feelings. The instructor helps by labeling them. “It’s a launch pad for them to understand their own feelings and the feelings of others,” explains Gordon. “It carries over to the rest of class.”

Bornstein visited several classes and found that kids change around babies: “tough kids smile, disruptive kids focus, shy kids open up. In a seventh grade class, I found 12-year-olds unabashedly singing nursery rhymes.”

* Read Bornstein’s article, or visit Roots of Empathy.

* Check out CHARACTER COUNTS! lesson plans designed to help students become caring people.

Study shows high school experience is more gloom than glee

Girls bullying another girl

In our recent survey (the largest ever undertaken of the attitudes and conduct of high school students), half of all high school students (50 percent) admit they bullied someone in the past year, and nearly half (47 percent) say they were bullied, teased, or taunted in a way that seriously upset them in the past year. The study reports the responses from 43,321 high school students. The margin of error is less than one percent.

“If the saying, ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never harm me’ was ever true, it certainly is not so today,” said Michael Josephson, founder and president of the Josephson Institute. “Insults, name calling, relentless teasing, and malicious gossip often inflict deep and enduring pain,” he added.

“It’s not only the prevalence of bullying behavior and victimization that’s troublesome. The Internet has intensified the injury. What’s posted on the Internet is permanent, and it spreads like a virus – there is no refuge. The difference between the impact of bullying today versus 20 years ago is the difference between getting into a fist fight and using a gun.”

The study also found that one-third (33 percent) of all high school students say that violence is a big problem at their school, and one in four (24 percent) say they do not feel very safe at school. More than half (52 percent) admit that within the past year they hit a person because they were angry. Ten percent of students say they took a weapon to school at least once in the past 12 months, and 16 percent admit that they have been intoxicated at school.

“The combination of bullying, a penchant toward violence when one is angry, the availability of weapons, and the possibility of intoxication at school increases significantly the likelihood of retaliatory violence,” Josephson said.


What you can do:

Parents: Take our three online surveys to determine whether your child is being bullied, whether your child is a bully, and whether you’re doing all you can to prevent bullying.

Teachers: Book an anti-bullying workshop. Our one-day in-service workshop will teach you how to intervene, combat cyber-bullying, and promote a positive school climate. Learn more>>


Click on the links below to see the press generated by the Ethics of American Youth: 2010 survey. Click here for a more comprehensive list.

USA Today: “Bullying Survey: Most teens have hit someone out of anger”

Chicago Sun-Times: “Half of high schoolers admit bullying someone” Study: Half of high school students admit to bullying

NPR: Study: Half of Teens Admit Bullying in Last Year A Glimmer of Hope in Bad-News Survey About Bullying

Los Angeles Times Blog: Survey shows technology worsening teen bullying

San Francisco Chronicle: Study: Half of teens admit bullying in last year

Washington Post: The Answer Sheet: Are we raising a generation of bullies? “Half Of Teens Report Being Bullied In New Study”

The Canadian Press: National study: Half of high schoolers admit bullying in last year

Education Week: Half of U.S. Teens Admit Bullying in Last Year

The New York Times, Opinion by Charles M. Blow: Private School Civility Gap 

Count on 2 News, WCBD TV, Charleston, SC: “Feds tackle school bullying” (Video:)

Today Show: Bullying: Just a part of growing up? (Video:)

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams: DOE Bears Down on Bullying (Video:)