In Bullying Experts, Expert Interviews

Steve Leininger on Being Bullied at School

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Steve Leininger is the Site Administrator Principal at La Paloma Academy located in Tucson, Arizona. He has been with La Paloma Academy for 10 years with approximately 870 enrolled students. He and Jennifer Henkry talk to Ciaran Connolly, NoBullying.com’s Founder, about Being Bullied at School and what it takes to combat Bullying at School.  

Below is a transcript of the interview on Being Bullied at School that is also found here and here

Steve Leininger: Ok, well. First, my name is Steve Leininger. I currently I’m the Site Administrator Principal at La Paloma Academy here located in Tucson, Arizona. I have been with La Paloma Academy for 10 years now and we are a cater age school approximately 870 enrolled students and my colleague that is with me today, she is our Olweus Bullying Prevention Coordinator.

Jennifer Henkry: My name is Jennifer Henkry and I’m also the school counsellor at this site.

Ciaran Connolly: Brilliant. Excellent. Thank you Steve and Jennifer for taking time out to talk to us today and share with us what your schools are doing to deal with bullying and if you don’t mind if we started with some general questions just to get a feel for what’s happening in the space. Do you think bullying is as big an issue today as it was maybe 10 or 20 years ago?

SL: We think because of the way that definition has varied across all of our states as well as our schools here in Tucson, because it has a loose definition with a lot of our schools and so because of the loose definition, we believe that we call it bullying with some of our educational communities when actually we believe that it is not bullying. We believe it is more mutual conflict and as we go throughout our policy today, you’ll kind of hear how we define it and what our program consists of and so hopefully we can show you why we believe that our definition helps us provide a better, a more transparent view for our parents in educational community.

CC: Brilliant, it sounds excellent. Looking forward to hearing about that and we are talking about, again I guess, old-style bullying and what happens today. Do you see a difference in approach with social media and mobile phones and the internet?

JH: We did a survey of our students before we implemented our early prevention program and the data that we received from our students was that cyber bullying, the issue of cyber bullying, wasn’t as big as maybe it’s portrayed in the media today. It could be a fact that just our neighbourhood kids here that they don’t necessarily get on the computer an awful lot, but they didn’t identify cyber bullying as big as it is portrayed in the media today.

CC: Very good. Very interesting but of course cyber bullying…it seems to be big stories, capture a national and international attention when there’s many people involved and it’s something new. That is a question. Is it just because the media is jumping up it seems to be a bigger story but in reality maybe it’s not as big as it looks? So, then maybe you don’t think children are at more risk today due to cyber bulling? It’s the same as it always was.

SL: Because of the acceptability to technology, you know, we do believe that it has increased. We just feel that sometimes it has been blown out of proportion due to the survey that we received. We are a school that is approximately 65% free and reduced lunch; not all of our families have the technology that some of our brother and sister schools do here in Tucson but, yes. I mean, you know, technology has made it more prevalent to pick and post at, you know, one another so in that sense it has but in terms of what our students told us in the surveys, they don’t feel that it is as prevalent as what the news media has made it out to be.

JH: And I think in the case with cyber bullying and bullying with text messages, there is a sense of anonymity where the kids can hide behind their computer keyboards and thinking that they wouldn’t necessarily say that face to face.

CC: Very good. Very true and many websites, I guess as educators it will be great to ask you your view on this because, many websites have age restrictions on their site. For example, [with] most of the social media sites, you have to be over 13 years to sign up but we know of cases for parents allow the child to use social media and internet when they are under 13. What is your view on this? Is it a good thing or bad thing? Is 13 too young or too old?

More on Being Bullied at School

JH: My opinion is that kids that are under the age that is required by the social websites shouldn’t use it and if parents are allowing their students or their children to use the social website and they are under the age that’s required by them, then they need to be there to monitor what is happening just for their own child’s safety.

CC: Very good and a very good point. I guess a strong school policy is very important to protect children from bullying and you are going to talk us through what happens at your school and what systems you have implemented to protect children.

JH: Can you say it one more time? We couldn’t quite hear you.

Anti Policy for Being Bullied at School

CC: A strong school [policy] is very important to protect children from bullying. What is in place in your school that does this? What is your anti bullying policy?

SL: OK. Well, it all starts with making sure that we define bullying and we are clear about it because a lot of times students or parents will come into our offices and they will say “My son or daughter is being bullied” and we first want to make sure that we are defining it together as a partnership and speaking the same, you know, with the same definition. So, our definition of bullying is the person is bullied when he or she is exposed repeatedly and overtime to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself and we are partners with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program http://www.clemson.edu/olweus that has helped us come to that definition but basically we would like to keep it simple. If:

1-It is repeatedly happening overtime.

2-If there are one or more other persons involved.

3- If we are having a power imbalance; if someone has difficulty defending him or herself.

If those three things are happening, then we feel that there could be bullying present and we act accordingly. It is also our experience that sometimes if we are not able to validate those three items under that definition, we find that a lot of it is mutual conflict. I may be calling you a name and you’re calling me a name. That’s not necessarily…that’s not bullying. We are basically having a mutual conflict back and forth that sometimes is verbal. It can lead to physical but, so, that’s how we try to define bullying.

CC: Excellent! So, mutual conflict is more like general playing or teasing but not serious? But obviously there is a lot stronger definition of bullying which is totally separate.

JH: Yes. The Olweus Bullying prevention Program is really the premier bullying prevention program based on scientific research that was done by Dr. Olweus and we have the quick class meetings in which teachers teach about bullying and bullying behaviors. So, we might see name calling on the playground and the teachers are trained to identify the behavior and stop the behavior immediately and post consequences when necessary and then the kids go back to their classrooms in which they have these weekly discussions on meetings and they are taught how to interact appropriately instead of calling names or instead of excluding other students from their class. They learn the tools it takes to interact more positively and with these bullying prevention meetings, the Olweus Bully Prevention Program is the study that teachers systematically use. If class meetings work, then there is large reduction in bullying problems in the schools that this program is used in.

Educating Children on Being Bullied at School

CC: Sounds excellent and is it hard to educate the children on bullying? Is it hard to get them engaged in this program?

JH: No, it is not at all hard because you’re really trying to encourage a conversation between the kids and the teacher acts more like a facilitator and they solve their own problems through this discussion. So, the teacher asks maybe” How can you help a friend when you know they are not being included in a game?” and the students come up and say “Well, can ask them to join in” or “We can tell them during the next game they can join in”. So, the students are really part of the solution.

CC: Sounds excellent and it also sounds like it would help teachers as well because I guess we know that teachers in the education system is under a lot of pressure to deliver grades and educate our young people to play sports and so many other things that being a good citizen often isn’t measured and isn’t on the target list. So, it’s sometimes forced down on the priorities but this system that you have sounds like it could actually help teachers. Do the teachers find it’s good system?

JH: Yes, the other system that we are using at school is called the (Character Counts Program) which fits hand in hand with The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program because we are talking about being a good citizen and we are talking about showing respect for everybody in our school and so they are learning about the specific bullying behaviours that we don’t tolerate in our school so it is really a perfect fit between the Character Counts Program and the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

Teachers and Children Being Bullied at School

CC: Excellent, and what roles do parents play in educating their children in regards to bullying? Because, again, of course children are with you for 5-6-7 hours a day and they spend most of the time at home with the families so and even in the greater community. So, while educators have a responsibility, of course parents and wider society have equal, if not more, responsibility in making sure the children are good citizens.

SL: The first thing we need to do as an educational institution, as a school, is to make sure our parents know our expectations of what our anti bullying program really is and so by giving them that information about what the bullying definition is, how we do on the spot interventions, how we are going to contact them as parents and have them aware to hold them accountable so that they also can hold us accountable and really form a partnership. The better we do at communicating with the students, the teachers and the parents and make sure that we are talking about it, we are seeing a decrease in the bullying referrals that come to our office.

CC: Amazing. Excellent and it’s clear as I’ve noticed…it’s very refreshing actually to be talking to a school that is so driven and driving and passionate about driving down bullying and it is very easy to say that you have good policies in place and to see the passion around it. So, it’s very refreshing because I don’t think many schools will be brave enough to come and talk to anti bullying site like this. So, I have to say and command you on that and I see parental involvement is really encouraged when I look at your website. Is parental involvement in a school very important?

SL: Very much so. We have actually dedicated one of our colleagues, one of our administrators, one of her soul purposes is to be a Parental Involvement Coordinator and she is responsible for getting this information out, having parent outreach nights, parenting classes and so academically as well as social programs, we are trying to get the parents involved so that we can form once again more of a partnership.

A lot of times our parents and legal guardians, they are working a lot, one or two jobs, and they are doing the best they can so we are trying to find different ways, what works best for them and whether it’s serving dinner, having them coming and listening to some of the things that we need of them and they can expect from us and getting ideas from them [in] round table discussions. We are just trying to really form partnerships once again. The better we can communicate, we will have greater results achieving, you know, academically as well as socially within our school.

Advice for Parents on Children Being Bullied at School

CC: Brilliant. Sounds good and would you have any advice for parents who are worried that their child might be a victim of bullying?

JH: The question was what happens if there is a bullying situation? What we do with it?

CC: Well, if a parent was worried that their child might be a victim of bullying, what should a parent do? What steps? What process should they follow in general?

JH: Good. So, if a child reports that there has been a situation where they feel it has been a bullying situation, what they are taught at school is to tell an adult at school and to tell an adult at home. So, hopefully with our bully prevention process, the child has already told somebody at school and the teacher or the adult has investigated the situation. The person that has done the investigation will then contact the parents of both parties. So [for] the person that has been bullied, the adult will make a phone call that sounds something like “It was reported that your child was called a name today and it made them upset. I just wanted to make you aware of the situation”.

Let them know on their well-being and tell them that they’re safe at school and there had been consequences imposed on the person that has done the name calling and if they would have a conversation with their son or daughter that night and if anything else comes out in the conversation, they should relay that information to us here back at school. Then the other conversation that would happen is the phone call to the parents of the student who was doing the bullying and that conversation would be something like “Your son or daughter was calling names today and as you know that is against our anti bullying rules. Would you please have a conversation about this and support us in our consequences here at school because they would have had a consequence and then if you have any other questions, feel free to contact us here at school”.

CC: Very good and what would the consequence be? What would normally happen in that case?

SL: Well, it ranges from whether it’s mediation between administrators like a conference mediation in terms of a parent, teacher, administrator, and student conference. It could be at once detention, after school detention, in school suspension, out of school suspension, lots of consequences. It really depends on the severity and the progression of the act of their bullying behaviour.

CC: Excellent and I guess we are coming to a close of our interview. Is there anything that I haven’t asked about or that you have in place in your school that might be of interest to your listeners that I have missed?

SL: I just really want to hit on that. The big three goals that we’re really trying to achieve are:

  • Reducing existing bullying problems.
  • Preventing the development of new bullying problems.
  • And achieving better peer relations.

If we can do those three things to our partnership with the Olweus bullying prevention program then we have succeeded, our students will perform better academically, socially and that will also help our, you know, our educational community as well.

CC: Excellent and if anyone listening wants to find out more about your school and what you are doing, where should they go?

SL: Well, we are located at http://lpatucson.org/ and that is here in Tucson, Arizona. We have about seven schools across the State of Arizona to retreat different charters but http://lpatucson.org/

CC: Brilliant, excellent, we will put a live link just below this audio clip if anyone wants to click through and see more about your school. Well, Steve and Jennifer, thank you so much for your time today. It was very refreshing and very interesting and I’m sure a lot of people will want to find out more about what’s happening in your schools. So, again, thank you for your time and I’m sure we will talk again.

SL: You are welcome and thank you for giving us the opportunity.

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