Sunday, November 1, 2015

Bullies: Let’s Do More Than Ignore

If you’re involved in an education movement or engage in pioneering practices, you have noticed not everyone agrees with your views. 

Effective movers and shakers welcome a challenge. They are ready to take on the discourse that comes from sharing their ideas with a global audience. They understand that inspiring peers and change requires a thick skin. There is a difference however between respectful discourse and those who use their voice and reputation to intimidate and belittle others. Unfortunately, it is not unusual to have a bully who derails conversations and brings the movement off track with personal attacks as well as damaging and demeaning engagements.   Recently, a friend grappled with the issue of online bullying with members of her learning network which included people with many perspectives including those impacted by such behavior. Overwhelmingly, their advice was this:


Their strategies:
  • Block them
  • Don’t engage
  • Walk away
  • Move on
  • Pick your battles
  • You have better ways to spend your time

While those strategies may work for strangers on the internet, they aren’t effective when these people are individuals we know and who will continue to be in our circles. Furthermore, simply ignoring, blocking, and walking away is not the advice we would give students who witnessed a friend’s ideas, work, or person intentionally being degraded, demeaned, or denigrated.

Also disconcerting was that the community was just responding in terms of what my friend should do. There was little discussion around how a community can handle such a person who is known for their damaging and demeaning behaviors.
As models and mentors to our children, ignoring just doesn’t go far enough.

Not only because strategies such as blocking are often ineffective (e.g. perhaps you don’t moderate the platform where the bullying occurs or perhaps the bully controls or created the platform) but also because the people engaging in such behavior are real people who any members of the community may encounter face-to-face in other professional; settings.  

Staying silent and walking away does not send a strong enough message. It does not say "this is not okay." Instead, it says that when you do this, we will look the other way and act like it never happened.

Just like kids, teachers need peers to stand up and speak out. Wherever we see bullying (online or face-to-face), when someone we respect is attacked, we can do better than “ignoring” the person who has besmirched their cause, work, and/or name not only as a direct attack but in front of an education network.

When you see something that is not right,don’t be bystander. Use your voice to be an upstander. Help inspire the community to address this person directly and explain why their actions are unacceptable.

While this may not change the behavior of the bully, it does set a norm for the community about what is acceptable and what will not be tolerated.  

I don't just advise others do this. I do this myself serving as the upstanding voice in several occasions and it has made an impact.  I will share two examples.  

In the early days of the Bammy Awards that celebrated education excellence, the organizers knew they were not perfect and it was not likely they’d get everything right in their early attempts. The good thing was that each year they were willing to listen to and incorporate feedback. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before they came under scrutiny which turned to attack for some, about choices they made. After several disparaging contributions in online platforms, I took to my blog to write a thoughtful response which you can read here. It gave a new perspective to, and refocused, the conversation around what was good about the awards and those behind it. We moved from what was wrong to how this work can be mutually beneficial.  

Another example (unfortunately I have many of these) is parents who are are attacked by other parents for opting their children out of standardized tests. I stand up for those parents and show where they can get support. Having another voice helps. Once I stand up, others feel more comfortable doing the same. The parents who are making tough decisions feel suppoeted. They realize there are others on their side. As a result attitudes shift and their children benefit.    

WE CAN DO BETTER than ignoring hurtful behavior. We can make a difference. To do that, we must acknowledge and stand up to it. Together we can make it clear that while we embrace differing views, degrading and demeaning attacks that harm people and the work they are doing, will not be tolerated in our communities.  

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