In Bullying Experts, Expert Interviews

Jim Dillon on Anti Bullying Policies

Jim Dillon is an educational consultant specialising in leadership and school bullying. He has been an elementary principal in one school for 17 years and a total of 20 years as a school administrator. Prior to that, Jim Dillon also worked as a special education teacher. He talks to about the need for Anti Bullying Policies.

Below is a transcript of this interview on Anti Bullying Policies with Founder Ciaran Connolly:

Ciaran Connolly: Very interesting. Your point of how much bullying the teacher sees in class is very scary but I can understand that because, again, the teacher’s back is turned and I have seen videos on YouTube that obviously children have taken in the class without the teacher’s knowledge and they post it online. So, the schools and the teachers don’t know and probably this is the thing with technology. Maybe even teachers are getting bullied and they don’t even know about it. So, definitely I see a change. In schools, technology like mobile phones, what is the standard or the status quo in the US? Are phones for children banned or supposed to be switched off or is it mixed for school?

Jim Dillon: It is mixed I think. There are, you know with the US, there is such decentralization that the policies really vary. I think there are some progressive schools that have embraced technology and use cellphones and social media. There are some really. I am aware of some principals who make use of Twitter and Facebook and integrate it in their teaching and learning but there are other schools where it’s almost even banned and kids can’t even touch the stuff. So, I would advocate it is better to work with technology with kids and integrate responsible use right into your classroom instruction and I think the flip side of it is, as you said, it’s kids are empowered and it’s being done on Twitter and Facebook, more kids are aware of it. So, you increase the number of kids who could step forward and say stop it.

Ciaran Connolly: Of course. Yes. Totally and report it and alert the adults of what is happening. I know, very true. In your book ‘No Place for Bullying’,  I guess you talk or you infer that leadership is the key in schools, if I read that correctly, and the leaders of school are key in bringing the change that is needed for bullying. Is at the moment the skills of leadership missing in some schools? What is missing to help teachers? Is it time? Is it resources? Is it priorities?

Jim Dillon: That’s a good question. There’s a lot of things I think contribute to that. Interesting. A good definition for the difference between managing and leading is, you know, management is a sort of making the status quo run well and leading is improving the organization and I think what happens is it is very hard to be a principal and there is so many…you have to work so hard just to maintain the status quo. So, it’s then hard to stop and say “OK. How can I make things better? How can I change the culture and climate?” but if you really want to stop bullying, you have to change the culture and climate of schools and people who are in leadership positions are people who are in best positions to do that. I mean it’s funny.

Now that I am not working full time as an administrator, I have a lot more time and if you look in business, everywhere you look, it is all about leadership and it is all about strategies and how to be a better leader and how to build a better culture and it is going much more towards trusting, giving people more freedom, shared decision making collaboration, but it seems in schools, at least in the US, leadership hasn’t happened. In fact, it is going the other way. It is becoming more command and control with a lot of tightening of regulations and a lot of penalties put into place which then decreases the amount of creative problem-solving that is happening. So, I do think it is difficult for school leaders and there is not a lot of resources out there that really give them some guidelines on how to start to change and shape the culture differently. It is a little easier to figure out how to make everything run smoothly, it is little bit harder to figure out how do I improve the culture of my school. There is a need to really provide a lot more support to principals on change strategies.

Good Citizenship 

Ciaran Connolly: That is not something that happens overnight or in six months. It takes years and years to change the culture of any business or school or anywhere. So, we have talked a lot about education and schools and it is great to get your insight since you have been in place of most that happened. What role do you think parents have to play in I guess managing their problem with bullying and trying to make our children better citizens?

Jim Dillon: Very important. They are the primary teachers. One of the things I write about is we have to accept the fact that bullying is a moral issue and I think it is an educational issue, not just a legal issue. You can’t just sort of ban it. You can’t just sort of say “No. Don’t do it.” because it is too ingrained in how we act as people. You know, I can tease one kid on Monday and that kid sort of jokes back and I say the same exact thing to another kid who can’t joke back and in that case it is bullying. So, we have to expect that kids are going to be mixed up. We can’t expect them to be perfect. So, one of the most important things I think parents can do is, very simple thing, sit down at the dinner table and talk to your kids about how to get along in the world. I think kids need to hear parents talk about how to solve problems, how to get along with people. You know, you sit at the dinner table at least and hear how your mom and dad maybe solve the problem and I think parents need more education on our part to see that it is not just a legal issue. There are some kids who are bullies and there are some kids who are victims. I don’t like the use of word bully. I like the use of the verb bullying because all kids can bully and all kids can be victims and all kids can be bystanders and I think we, as educators, have to let parents know that they can unfortunately, rightfully so, maybe misinterpret that their child is innocent victim and the other kid is the bully and bullies are villains and villains need to be punished.

I think that black-and-white type of thinking only can make parents be close-minded when it comes to trying to find more humane solutions. I mean, some parents are going to a school totally convinced that their child is a victim and always the man who is the principal or whoever is in charge of the school sort of throw the book at the kid who he or she thinks is a bully and if you talk to most administrators or teachers, they would say those cases are rare and I’m not to say that there are some kids who are bullying some kids who tend to be victims , and it is not a moral equivalence all the time but most solutions are better worked out in non-punitive ways and if parents…we help them understand that but, unfortunately, when you take a legal approach and more criminal justice approach, rather than a more educational approach, we feed in to that tendency that parents have towards wanting to find good guys and bad guys. So, I think we need to do a lot more to educate parents about what bullying is, what it is not and how it really happens in the real world and even kids who bully, they are not bad kids. They are kids who are making mistakes and they need help and we have to help them learn why they are doing it and give them strategies to how to get to some of their need met in different ways.

Ciaran Connolly: Totally. You said we need to educate parents as well which is totally true. Again my perception is that a child comes home and says he is being bullied…so actually our whole society we are talking about education of parents, it’s actually society. I am thinking as well how people in sports react, how we treat famous people and on social media, what we say about these people if there’s something we don’t agree with towards a person.

Jim Dillon: I think the larger issue of civility, responsible citizenship, being a community member. I think if we can fulfil it in that larger context…it is a moral issue about how we treat each other. What does it mean to be a responsible citizen?  What does it mean to be a community member? What does it mean to be a leader? In a sense, we have to believe that all kids are possible…have leadership qualities meaning they can take the risk to help somebody else and promote those skills in kids. As a teacher, I think most teachers prefer to promote leadership skills and abilities in kids and take the role as educator rather than taking the role as a law enforcement person.

The School Bus Safety Program and Anti Bullying Policies

Ciaran Connolly: Going back, I just noted down that I want to talk to you about the School Bus Safety Program in more detail. Can you tell us more of what was included in that program?

Jim Dillon: It is a very simple idea. It goes back to a lot of things you have just said. One of the things we discovered about the bus was our ability as adults to control what kids do on the bus was very limited. Here in the US, you can typically have 50 kids on the bus with one adult driving the bus and that adult has to drive and watch the road. If you could go to my school and take the best teacher but if I had this teacher turn his or her back to the class and have to do another job while they are teaching, it won’t be a very effective. So, we can’t just sort of say all the bus drivers are going to be able to control the kids in the bus. It is not something we can reasonably expect from them. Here again, our best teacher couldn’t teach a class with his or her [back turned].

So, what we sort have stumbled upon with the school bus. We sort of took it as a positive way instead of looking at it to figure out what are the problems with the bus. We were getting some success in school. That success in school was in the classroom where the teachers built a sense of community, where they built a sense of kids discovering what they have in common, that kids got together and solved problems together, where they took ownership for the classroom. The teacher has reported a lot of behaviour issues have gone a long way down. So, when we got together a group of parents and teachers, we said what is the difference between the bus and the school? What is working in the school but not working on the bus? So, we said why don’t we just take what we do in school that is working and apply it to the bus? That is basically what we did. We said let’s take the kids who ride the bus together and they do it everyday and bring them in the building and build a sense of community among those students and have their teachers in the school have activities with the kids who ride the bus to get them to know each other, to tell them that it is really their responsibility to care for each other; simple things.

Even through the sense of identity as they ride the bus together so we would take a picture of the bus driver and the students together, take a picture and put it in the hall in the building just to create that sense that riding the bus is important and it’s what happens on the bus that is important because I think sometimes we can inadvertently  get the message to kids that what happens in the bus is not that important because, you know, what is important is home or school and the bus is sort of like this environment that we don’t really attend to and we had very very positive good success even doing those simple things. The year before, we started a program. I got fifty eight referrals from a bus driver reporting problems with kids.

Now, bus drivers don’t write those things up unless they get pretty bad and after five or six years of doing the program, it was down to under ten per year. So, from fifty eight to under ten. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have problems but that the kids started to police themselves so to speak. They started to govern themselves and they started to report problems before they got and bus drivers trusted me and the teachers more so they didn’t wait for the problems to get so bad until they couldn’t handle them anymore and they would write up the referral. They would come by and say “Jim, these two kids are starting to get on each other’s nerves. Can you talk to them before they get into a fight?”. So, what we found when we found out about the problems when they are smaller better than waiting for them to escalate until drivers wrote them up.

Ciaran Connolly: Very good. Excellent. Sitting back and looking at the problem, there is actually a solution. It is just wanting to put it into place.

Jim Dillon: It is finding things that work and we didn’t just fall into the old pattern of increasing penalties or those other ways. We did it more like let’s find what is working and apply what is working to our problem.

Ciaran Connolly: You are right. There is the easy ways which is the penalties but it’s immediate and the impact I think we probably all agree isn’t that great, and there is the slightly harder way but long term results are totally different as you’ve seen. So, brilliant. If anyone is listening to this or reading the transcription and they want to find more about your programs and what have you written or want to ask you some questions, is there anywhere we can tell them to go?

Jim Dillon:If you do search can give you a lot of information. Plus, people can contact me directly through my email which is [email protected] and I have a twitter account too. It’s @dilion_Jim.

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