Bullying Prevention Month: Teaching Empathy in the Classroom
I recently read Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick with my students. In the novel, we see students making fun of the main character, Max, calling him “Mad Max” or “Maxi Pad.” He feels left out, and doesn’t know how to act when faced with this mistreatment by his peers. My students immediately felt empathy for the character. As October is Bullying Prevention Month, it’s a great time to ensure we’re addressing not only curriculum, but also empathy, behavior, and accountability. Here are a few ways to talk to our students about how we can provide support for one another.
When you read about someone being bullied or mistreated, ask the students what they could do to help. For example, when reading, my students put themselves in Max’s shoes and reflected on the situation. They understood his feelings and really thought about possible ways that he could respond. Working together to rewrite a scene from the story allowed them to explore different options. Role playing can be a powerful way to help students consider the feelings of others, since kids can analyze the conflicts that they come across in their readings and tie them into real life. They can also discuss the implications of the decisions that characters make and propose alternative decisions. When kids start making it a practice to consider the feelings of others, they will be much less likely to engage in negative or hurtful behavior.
Student Choice in Reading
Newsela has some amazing resources on bullying prevention that are ready for you to share with students. Freak the Mighty is included in Text Sets for Literature. There’s also a new Bullying Prevention Month Text Set containing a variety of articles, paired texts, and student activities. Other Newsela text sets relate, too: consider all of the A Mile in Their Shoes Text Sets, articles curated to teach empathy and understanding. Students could also choose the Text Set that interests them the most and use it for research, inspiration, projects. You could even build your own Text Set that fits the unique needs of your class. Students will be much more engaged in their reading when the material centers their own experiences.
Continuing the Conversation
Bullying is a concern year-round, so it should be an ongoing conversation; we want to keep tolerance and acceptance at the center of who we are as schools and as individuals. With so much of our world being so divided, we want to come together to support and encourage one another as much as we can. Having conversations with our kids is key. Show them that you care. Model respect and empathy in your daily interactions. Consider using bullying as the topic for continued Project-Based Learning in your class: it’s a topic with instant relevance for our students, and they could design a year-round anti-bullying program for their classmates.
Our students are constantly bombarded with information - on TV, on the radio, through social media, and more. They know and see so much more than we did at their age. They hear about instability, unrest, and violence on a regular basis. Let us as educators make school a safe place for them to learn about themselves and the world, and let us encourage positive interactions in all that we do - during Bullying Prevention Month and beyond.