Several years ago I met Tristan, a 14-year-old gay student from Chicago’s west side. This bright young man attended a center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth with dozens of other teenagers who had been ostracized and bullied by their classmates. One of Tristan’s statements still haunts me. “I finally figured out how to deal with the harassment from other kids,” he said, “but I never knew what to do when the teachers joined in.”
As leaders, it is imperative that we remind the adults in our schools and districts of their responsibility to protect all children, especially those whose beliefs, sexual orientations, religions, family traditions, racial identities, and backgrounds are different from their own. It’s our responsibility to create and sustain an environment where all children and adults experience safety and security. Leaders have a responsibility to create a successful learning environment, and that means we can’t ignore the need to protect children who experience hatred because they are different.
So how safe are our schools, and how prepared are we to protect our children? According to the 2009 National School Climate Survey from the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed, and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation. Also, a nationwide National Education Association (NEA) study on bullying reported that 62% of surveyed NEA members had witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month, and 41% indicated they had witnessed bullying once a week or more. Although 93% of those surveyed stated their district had implemented a bullying prevention policy, only 54% had received training related to the policy.
As leaders, I urge you to engage in your own professional learning journey around these issues. Learn what protections students have in your district and state. Work with the staff and student leaders in your district to develop an anti-bullying policy, and provide the professional learning necessary to support and enforce it. Ensure every student has at least one caring adult by engaging in efforts like NEA’s “Bully Free - It Starts with Me” campaign that asks each adult to sign the following pledge:
“I agree to be identified as a caring adult who pledges to help bullied students. I will listen carefully to all students who seek my help and act on their behalf to put an immediate stop to the bullying. I will work with other caring adults to create a safe learning environment for all the students in my school.”
Finally, seek out resources and external expertise such as these offered by GLSEN, NEA, Teaching Tolerance, and the Department of Education.
“Why are the boys in glee club surprised they are being hassled by their classmates? Why do these girls insist on wearing their burqas knowing the other kids will tease them?” May we all work together to increase our own knowledge and the skills of all the adults in our schools so questions like these are never asked again!
Director of Strategy and Development, Learning Forward
The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.