Though the world of education always remains vigilant to the negative effects of bullying on our students, the month of October brings with it a renewed focus on awareness, action, and advocacy. October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a month devoted to prevention, intervention, and spreading awareness. Great strides have been made in our crusade against bullying in schools in recent years, but we still have progress to make. The National Center for Educational Statistics reported in 2019 that 20.2% of students still report being bullied. That’s more than 1 in 5.
According to Pacer.org, school-based bullying programs can decrease bullying by 25%. I may be biased, but I believe that books are fantastic additions to these school-based programs. The right books can be used as interventions to spark courageous conversations in our schools. There are numerous fantastic children’s books about bullying on the shelves, most of which tell the story from the perspective of the victim. In recent years, however, I have become increasingly interested in a perspective in addition to that of the victim: the position of the bystander. If 20.2% of students report being bullied, how high must the statistic be for those who witness bullying? This interest was part of the inspiration for me writing My Name's Sammy, and I’m No Snitch.
When I wrote Sammy, I knew that I wanted to present a story from a bystander’s point of view, to showcase the unique perspectives and conflicts that come with being in that position. In a school peer culture that denounces reporting to adults, students find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. Do they tell an adult and risk personal ostracization and potential retaliation? Or do they do what they can to prevent harm from happening? It is incumbent upon us working within schools to encourage students to speak up when they see bullying taking place and then to do everything within our power to ensure their safety and anonymity.
How do we do this? Proactively. We work from the start to develop strong, compassionate, and trusting relationships with our kids, so that when times get tough, they know they have a safe person to turn to.
As educators and support personnel, we also must remain cognizant that the realm in which bullying takes place has also expanded and, consequently, so has the role of bystanders. In our world of social media, students are unable to escape onslaughts of provocation even in their own homes. But for the media to be social, others have to see it. Therein lie the bystanders. In addition to those who like, comment, or share instances of cyberbullying, there are those who see the posts and are faced with the opportunity to remain silent or to let someone know. Let’s help them choose the latter.
This is by no means a call to remove the primary focus away from the victims of bullying. They should always be our foremost concern. What I do ask as we transition into this National Bullying Prevention Month is that we remember to consider the bystanders. Encourage them to speak up, applaud their bravery when they do, and then do everything in your power to protect them.