Its been an amazing honor to be at the White House with the President, the First Lady, and national experts today for the first ever White House conference on bullying prevention. Here’s a few of the points I found most important and interesting.
President Obama made an important point. Bullying does not have to be a rite of passage. For a long time, there’s been a subtle belief that there’s nothing we can do about bullying and related malicious problems. We have come to realize that we actually can stop behaviors and attitudes that are mean spirited. Actually, my son Tim made this point to me most clearly this morning:
“Dad, what’s changed is not the problems. What’s changed is that we no longer accept the idea that we can’t do anything about them. My generation believes that change is not only the right thing but also an achievable goal.”
This is a huge shift because it means we don’t have to accept failure any more.
Second, all of the expert panelists reinforced the same point: we should focus on social and emotional strategies that are K-12, and not focus only on interventions that stop specific behaviors. I was pleasantly shocked by this. In 30 years of attending conferences about the achievement gap, dropout prevention, substance abuse prevention, violence prevention, and bullying, I have never heard such a clear message about the importance of a developmentally sound, social and emotional learning based education strategy. A few people even mentioned the recent Weissberg-Durlak meta analysis and the CASEL advocacy for evidence based approaches that are district based. What a breakthrough!
Third, a key message of the President and all the panelists was that young people are a key untapped resource. Fourteen year-old Brandon Greene was celebrated for his efforts to turn his school in Rhode Island around. He was successful because he reached out on a peer to peer basis and had the credibility of his age together with the courage of a change agent. The President said there are many more like him, “fighting not only to change rules and policies, but also to create a stronger sense of community and respect in their schools” and I wanted to say, “You bet! You should meet the youth leaders of Special Olympics Project Unify!”
Finally, it has been sobering to remember what’s at stake. Two families were present both of whose children took their lives. They were in tears throughout the President’s remarks sitting just a few seats away from me. I’m grateful for their emotion as it reminded me that while we cannot bring their children back, we can be resolute in working to do better as professionals, as parents, as citizens in the days ahead.
Bullying Prevention Resources:
AbilityPath.org Report on Bullying of Special Needs Students:
“Walk a Mile in their Shoes“