Whether you find out that your child is the target of a bully, or, alarmingly, the one bullying their classmates, “bullying” is one of those visceral terms that can leave parents at a loss.
Sadly, sometimes the hardest group in which to re-enforce empathy is a school community, with episodes of bullying usually peaking in late middle school. Teachers do their best to get to know their students, but without specific directives towards community-building and with overcrowded classrooms, it’s difficult for most to get to know every child. How do we ensure that we’re teaching our kids to deal with adversity and to have empathy for others?
BUILDING EMPATHY IN A SCHOOL SETTING
At Lausanne Collegiate School in east Memphis, middle schoolers begin each day with the “Daily Focus,” a meeting for 10 minutes in small groups led by a faculty member. The students do activities together that foster self-reflection, self-management, and communication skills. It gives students a place to vent and receive support. They also begin to identify the things they have in common as they get to know each other with the guidance of caring teachers and counselors. It offers both students and teachers alike a calm start to the beginning of the day and positively resets emotions and attention for what’s to come.
“It gets their minds right for the day,” middle school head Greg Graber said. “So many of these students have so much going on in their lives. The Daily Focus lets them remove all those distractions, quiet their minds, and focus on the day.”
During each trimester at Lausanne, students follow lessons that provide them with positive social and emotional tools while engaging in various activities that align with their lesson plans. As they meet throughout the year, they get to know, trust, and respect each other. School administrators and faculty use the opportunity to re-enforce children’s self-esteem and to build healthy, respectful communities of empathetic learners, growing the community’s respect for each child’s unique personality, interests, learning style, and backgrounds. The process forges meaningful relationships among the pre- and young teens. As they begin going through physical and emotional changes, they benefit from teachers who know them well and are pro-active in their lives as they begin to test their independence.
“Children in today’s society live in an accelerated culture, and at this stage of their development they are going through significant changes on the physical, emotional, psychological, and social levels,” Graber said. “We use the Daily Focus as an opportunity to cultivate their social, emotional, and executive functioning skills.”
HELPING CHILDREN WITH SELF-REFLECTION
Middle school students at Lausanne also practice journaling during their Daily Focus activities. They follow writing prompts like “my intentions for the week,” “three ways I can take care of myself this week,” and “the three best parts of the day” as they write. Alongside inspirational quotes, the journals have random places for the students to doodle and list the names of people that they can champion for the week, as well as people to thank or celebrate.
“The Daily Focus discussions and journals give students context for what they are learning, as well as an opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings,” Laura Trott, Lausanne’s Director of Admissions shared. “This continual self-reflection of their character gives them each a healthy gauge for interactions with their peers. When children are given the tools to communicate their opinions and to be heard, and when they are respected for who they are, they develop an appreciation for the differences in others that develops into shared empathy.”
STOPPING BULLYING BEFORE IT STARTS
Growing a community’s empathy and self-reflection skills dramatically reduces bullying within peer groups. In these safe-spaces at Lausanne, students can share their feelings and get to know their peers and teachers better. They learn to respect one another, and the support from their teachers and fellow students leads to increased self-esteem. Because of this, they don’t feel the need to be defensive or combative.
But sometimes even the best-behaved student in middle school can’t help but let hormones take over. When they make the wrong choice of words or actions, communication tools they’ve developed as a group during the Daily Focus are in place for teachers and peers to quickly and positively redirect and help the child self-reflect. Because of the individual attention each student receives, the first negative action is addressed rapidly with an open dialogue about how they could have responded differently. Challenges like bullying don’t have the opportunity to escalate. Counselors, as well as both faculty and peer advisors, are on hand to provide on-going conversation and support.
Lausanne’s Daily Focus approach is a continuing step to give students the best possible learning experience and life-long skills that benefit the students both inside and outside of the classroom.