Engaging students in dialogue about prejudice and discrimination is a very powerful tool in combating hate and bullying and ensuring respectful classrooms and schools. Such dialogues can be led by classroom teachers, school social workers or counselors, or by other students trained to lead and facilitate dialogue. Having students view the “Students Tune In and Speak Out” video to begin such a dialogue is an effective way to open this process.
If interested in filming the student dialogue to share with others within or beyond the school, be sure to get parent permission and ensure that every student participating understands that the conversation will be shared with others.
Age-level: Middle school students
Prior to the Discussion:
1. Reflect on your goals for the discussion and how these fit in to larger classroom or school efforts: Is the goal of this discussion to raise awareness? Build skills? Develop empathy? All three? Is this a single dialogue or part of a larger effort? Is there an established anti-bullying policy or program in your school? If so, how will this dialogue support the implementation and effectiveness of that policy? What will make this dialogue a success?
2. Plan to establish groundrules with the students to ensure a productive and “safe” conversation.
(See insert on: Establishing Discussion Guidelines)
Establishing Discussion Guidelines
Engaging students in a process of establishing groundrules for dialogue can help to ensure a “safe” and productive environment when discussing potentially controversial topics. Inviting students to develop these through a collaborative process helps to create common ownership of the agreed-upon rules. Additionally, if conflict emerges, the agreements can serve as a reminder of the need for respect and sensitivity.
An easy way to do this is to ask students to share their own ideas of 5-7 communication rules or behaviors that they can all commit to in the dialogue. You can prompt them with 1-2 such as, “We will listen more than we speak” or “Be open to new perspectives.” This can also be done using a key word such as “RESPECT” or “ESCUCHAR” (to listen in Spanish) or “PROCESS” and ask students to come up with key words/concepts for each letter of the word.
3. Prepare your discussion questions in advance. However, be open and flexible to allowing students to take the conversation in unexpected directions and raise new ideas that are meaningful to them.
4. Think about how to handle silence or lack of participation. Some ways to engage reluctant participants may be to invite students to talk in pairs to answer a question and then share with the larger group, to write down responses to a question anonymously that can be submitted to be read aloud, inserting some physicality into the discussion (invite students to stand if they agree with a statement, etc). Conversely, plan ahead to respond to students who may dominate the conversation.
5. Arrange the room in a way that supports open dialogue – a circle of chairs is ideal; consider sitting with the students rather than standing in front of them. Have chart paper or a promethean board ready, as needed, to capture action ideas or plans that may emerge from the discussion.
Discussion Questions: (after viewing the video)
1. The students in this video shared their personal and school experiences with name-calling and bullying. Let’s talk about experiences at our school and in our lives. Have you ever been the target of hurtful words or seen this happen to another student? (Remind students not to “name names” – the purpose of the conversation is not to get others’ in trouble.) What happened?
2. Often when name-calling and bullying occurs there are at least 3 people or groups of people in the situation – there is 1) the person who is bullying, 2) the person who is the target of that bullying and name-calling and 3) the “bystander” or someone who sees what is happening but may not intervene or step in. Let’s think about each of these people or groups of people:
a. What are some of the consequences that might happen to a target or victim of bullying?
b. What are some of the consequences that might happen to the person who is doing the bullying or name-calling?
c. What are some of the consequences that might happen to the person or group of people who stand-by, who see this happen but don’t try to help or intervene?
(Prompt students to think about the academic, emotional, physical harm that can be caused for all three of these groups’ members.)
3. In the video the students talked about why it is important to intervene when someone is being bullied. Yet, this can be hard to do. What are some of the reasons why you think it is hard to stand-up to others in the face of name-calling or bullying?
4. Let’s brainstorm specific things to say or do if you saw someone being bullied in our school. (If your school has an anti-bullying program in place, this is good opportunity to reinforce that model with the students. Remind students that some responses are more effective than others depending on the specific situation.) The brainstorming session could be followed by paired share practice or role-playing with students willing to volunteer to act out a scenario.