The Smack Down: Preventing Bullying

Bullying is the latest buzz word everywhere. 6 years ago when I started teaching kindergarten, the term “bullying” was never something we needed to discuss as a class. As of late, my students have been coming to kindergarten using the term “bullying” WAY too freely. Student A pinches Student B: “He’s bullying me!” Student A whips their scarf around in the hallway and hits Student B by accident: “Hey! Quit being a bully!”
I agree that bullying has become an ongoing and more prominent problem within recent years, and that has made me focus on certain area in my teaching practice. It’s time teachers took steps to change their teaching to be more proactive rather than reactive when it comes to this subject. Teachers should discuss with their students, ESPECIALLY younger aged students, the difference between a bully and someone who is being mean. Here are the following areas I focus on heavily in my classroom to prevent my students from using such a strong term so loosely.

Talk About Comfortable Feelings vs. Uncomfortable Feelings
Whenever we are doing ANYTHING in the classroom, we talk about comfortable feelings and uncomfortable feelings.

I come into the classroom after recess and see many students on the carpet with their hands to themselves: “Thank you everyone. It gives me very comfortable feelings when I see that people are keeping their hands to themselves while waiting for me to come in from supervision. I feel so happy. Happy is a comfortable feeling.”
I see one student share a book with another student: “Wow Student A, Student B probably had very comfortable feelings that you chose to share the book with them. Sharing makes everyone feel happy. Happy is a comfortable feeling.”
I see a student excited to try a new game: “You look excited to play that game. Excited is a comfortable feeling.”
I see a student hit another student: “You hit Student A. Student A felt angry and upset that you hit them. That gave Student A uncomfortable feelings.”
I hear a student say something hurtful to another student: “You said a hurtful word to Student B that hurt their feelings. Now Student B is feeling sad. Sad is an uncomfortable feeling.”

It’s so important for students to be able to sympathize with the feelings of others so they can fully understand the situation at hand. All people have feelings. Students, pets, grown ups, everyone. It’s ok to have those feelings if something happens but it’s not ok to go around giving those uncomfortable feelings due to “not OK” choices.

Talk about “OK choices” and “Not OK choices”

As a teacher of young learners, this is a fundamental building block for consistent vocabulary in my classroom.
OK choices give people comfortable feelings.
Not OK choices give uncomfortable feelings.
Plain. And. Simple.
“You made the OK choice of telling Student B they needed to get their own piece of paper when they scribbled on your art. You also made the OK choice of getting your feelings under control, keeping your hands to yourself, and keeping your words kind. Your OK choice gave me comfortable feelings.”
“You made the not OK choice of pinching Student B when you wanted a turn with the toy. Your not OK choice made Student B feel angry and upset. Your not OK choice gave Student B uncomfortable feelings.”

If students know the black and white of situations, it makes it much easier for them to process. They’re young! Let’s not complicate things! That’s the reason why I don’t like any of the traffic light systems (red light, yellow light, green light) to discuss feelings. Three choices is too much. I also dislike the “how my engine runs” analogy with young learners. Then they think there is ACTUALLY an engine inside them somewhere. Let’s teach them the REAL stuff. The choices they make are either OK or NOT OK. OK choices give people comfortable feelings. Not OK choices give uncomfortable feelings.

Ask “What Can I Do To Make You Feel Better?”
My good friend Amy and I (@happycampergirl) use this all the time to avoid the lame “I’m sorry” words that students think make everything go away. I always make my student say “I’m sorry” but then make them add “What can I do to make you feel better?” Sorry doesn’t always make everything better. Student answers will surprise you. Answers have been: stop doing that to me, don’t do that next time, help me rebuild my castle, give me a hug, and play with me right now. This lets students know “but I said I’m sorry!” is unacceptable.

Talk About Facial Features
Point them out. Illustrate them. Look closely at pictures. Use peer models. Use teacher models. Do everything you can to point out different facial features associated with different emotions. And don’t forget to insert them into conversations you have with students. I had students who SERIOUSLY didn’t know that tears streaming down someone’s face means they are sad. To me, huge red flag, people.
“When you told Student B that you would play with them at recess, I bet that gave them comfortable feelings. When you said those kind words, Student B had a big smile on their face, their eyes were wide open, and their eyebrows were arched. Have fun!”
“Student B grabbed your block right out of your hand. That made you feel angry and upset. Angry is an uncomfortable feeling. You made the not OK choice of hitting Student B on the arm. When you hit Student B, did you look at their face? The corners of their mouth were turned down, they were frowning, they had tears in their eyes, and their eyebrows were scrunchy. Their face says they are having uncomfortable feelings. Those uncomfortable feelings happened because of your not OK choice.”

Talk About the Difference
We talk about the difference between a bully and someone who is being mean.
A bully is someone who bothers you every single day, seeks you out to bother you, is malicious, and knows they are being mean.
Someone who is being mean is a person who you have had ONE problem or a FEW problems with.
When I explain this to parents, I like to use the grocery store analogy. If you shop at Safeway and you have had 3 customer service issues while getting your groceries, of course you will complain about Safeway. Safeway is the only place you have gone for groceries. Safeway is someone who is being mean. They have given you a few problems, but they didn’t seek you out to give you these problems. The same goes with young kids. Of course they are going to complain about the same kids over and over: they play with each other and gravitate towards each other. They’re also all learning at the same time but at different rates.

These strategies have been very successful for me in my classroom. Being in a preventative mindset has been much more effective for me as a teacher rather than freaking out when one big blow out happens at recess. Consistent vocabulary has been fundamental for communication between me and my students and it also comes in handy when solving situations on the playground with my previous students.

Please know that the intention of this post it to outline what I have been doing in my classroom. I’m not saying bullying doesn’t happen. I’m not saying these strategies will solve everyone’s problems. I’m not saying bullying is happening less frequently. I’m just saying we try together, using strategies we know will work, to improve student communication, to improve students’ awareness of their feelings, and to know the difference between a real bully and age appropriate problems.

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Magic Journals: Emergent Writing in K

Each time I think of embarking on the journey of having my students become writers, I remind myself that locating one of my eyelash extensions in my the shag area rug of my living room would probably be easier. But over the hurdle we go!

I give credit to the following idea from another teacher. Her name is Giselle and I took over for her while she was on maternity leave. This is one of the few ideas I have kept (actually maybe the only idea) from my first year teaching. My friend Veronica and I use these religiously each year. This activity is not Reggio inspired. It’s not inquiry based. It’s not challenged based. It’s good old school French Immersion fun.

Each student in my class has a Magic Journal. And I make up some rainbows and butterflies and unicorns story each year about how these books are special for my students. These ideas have ranged from putting glitter on them so they sparkle the first time I take them out, to pulling them out of a magical bag, to saying they SMELL like magic. I don’t like lying to my students, but getting them excited about writing is the first step!

The Magic Journal is one of those scribblers you can get at Staples, with 1/2 lines and 1/2 blank at the top. You can see a picture of it in the photo below. The photo below is the letter I send home/post on our class website for parents to know what all this dang magic is about.

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On the front of the book, I also stick a little explanation of what it is.

For each entry we do, I write a sentence starter. In French of course. Some sentence starters I have used have been:
“Bonjour, je m’appelle…” (“Hello, my name is…”)
“Je vois…” (“I see…”)
“Dans le forĂȘt, il y a…” (“In the forest, there is…”)

Basically anything that works with something the students can add at the end of the sentence.
And then. We. Practice. Every. Single. Day. Over. And. Over.
We learn how to say the word nice and slowly and listen for the sounds.
We learn how to guess what letter comes next.
We learn how to put any letters we think are correct.
And we do these examples on the smart board. This year, I have really focused on scaffolding my lessons in my teaching. This year we focused on “Merci Dieu pour” (“Thank you God for”) during various activities that lead up to Thanksgiving. This was the perfect sentence starter to practice writing.

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We did three different objects a day for a whole week. And in the goodness of #wtdk, that means I got to do this activity a fantastic 8-10 times. YIPEE!

Then the students started their first entry. Major outcomes of the French Immersion program include: the ability to write the approximation of letters and drawings, being able to relate words to a picture, the function of letters, knowledge that there are spaces between words, and knowledge that many words make up a sentence, to name a few.

Here are some samples of student work.

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As you can see, the abilities of the students are drastically different.
This is a perfect activity for students to practice their writing skills, be OK with making mistakes, gain confidence in writing, learn French vocabulary, and share their learning with their families.
We also learn right from day one that the end of a sentence needs a period.
After they have finished, they stamp the date, I snap a picture for their Evernote ePortfolio, and they take their book home. Their parent or guardian write a note back, send it back to school, and we share the students’ work and note from their family as a class.

Anxiety in Kindergarten: Strategies That Work

My little B had anxiety. Mega anxiety towards recess and to leaving her family at the door at the beginning of the school day.
Mom was SO good. She did not bend down onto one knee and proclaim her everlasting love for her one and only daughter and say thing like “I’ll miss you too” and “You’re making mommy sad sweetheart!” She was a trooper. She held her hand as tears streamed down her daughter’s cheeks, gave her a swift kiss and said “I love you! I’ll see you at the end of the school day” and promptly left. Sometimes she would even leave her with another parent from our class who was also waiting to come inside.

Strategies I used in the classroom to curb the tears

1. Pair the student with a friend for recess
It was very comforting for B to know that a friend was waiting with her while she walked down the hallway, put her shoes on, and ran out to the park. 3 minutes before recess, I would pick 2 loving and excited peers and tell them “B is feeling a little sad today. Sad is an uncomfortable feeling. Do you guys think you could help B have comfortable feelings and wait for her to go out to recess together?” And of course, these loving 5 year olds had no problem with that.

2. Talk about what is giving the student uncomfortable feelings and ACKNOWLEDGE them
B and I talked about everything under the sun when it came to figuring out what was giving her uncomfortable feelings at recess and at drop off time. The reasons were endless but I addressed each one by letting her know it was OK to have those uncomfortable feelings. Lots of students think it’s not ok to feel mad, upset, angry, or frustrated. By telling B it was OK to have those feelings, we understood each other much better in our student-teacher relationship.

3. Insert the family link
I did some research on the Interwebz about separation anxiety. B’s mom DID say that her appetite was being affected by her anxiety, but nothing else lined up as far as actual separation anxiety goes. She did not refuse to go to school, she didn’t threaten her mom with consequences, she didn’t even put up a fight. Some of the research I read even says separation anxiety can’t even be completely confirmed until the age of 7. I feel this makes some sense since you need time and environment changes to be able to distinguish between separation anxiety and having uncomfortable feelings from change.
After much research, I came up with a plan. B loves books. B misses her family during the day. Together, B and I decorated a piece of purple construction paper (her colour choice of course!) with a photo of her family she brought from home. We drew four boxes at the top, one for each day she is at school. The deal was if she put on a brave face every single day she came to school and every time she went out for recess, she could draw a happy face on a sticky note and put it in the box. At the end of the week, 4 happy faces means Ss gets to take a book from the classroom home for the weekend.
Her eyes lit up at this proposal.

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In our classroom, we don’t do stickers or candy or treasure boxes or prize bags or certificates. We do hugs and 5 fives from me and real rewards that promote healthy relationships.
Here is B happily choosing a book at the end of her 2nd successful week.

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It’s also important to note that if B cried, that didn’t mean she didn’t get a happy face that day. That would be going against the technique of acknowledging the fact it’s ok to have uncomfortable feelings. She had to put on a BRAVE FACE during recess and drop off time. We talked about how a brave face means a smile in our face, and brave eyes that are the driest as possible for that day. I never once said she could not cry.

If you have a student in your class with a situation similar to B, I encourage you to try these strategies. B’s mom deserves a lot of credit too. She read The Kissing Hand and every other book printed on God’s earth to help B through this. She drew hearts in her arm for B to look at the during the day to let her know she loves her. They did the same thing each day during drop off and didnt let the situation linger.

I love winner parents.