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National Public Charter School Network Offers Tips to Minimize Bullying in Remote Learning Spaces

NHA Communications Team  |  October 13, 2020
Relying on Founding Principle “Behave with Care,” Organizational Leaders Continue Navigating Learning in Nontraditional Classrooms

In recognition of National Bullying Prevention Month taking place throughout October, school leaders from National Heritage Academies (NHA), are working to find creative solutions to combat bullying as students continue to learn in nontraditional learning spaces this school year. Teachers from across the organization encourage their students to think outside of the box when it comes to bullying. With a bit of encouragement, one fifth-grade student from Buffalo United Charter School recently published a book, “A Slimetastic Day,” that aims to tackle bullying and challenges with others head-on.

As students continue their education in an online space due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, bullying or bully behavior can often be intensified in ways that are difficult to detect. With additional technological resources at kids’ fingertips, including chatrooms, direct messages, and text messages, students may be at heightened risk to experience negative behavior. Add into the mix students’ capability to capture screenshots and video recordings, teachers are facing unprecedented times in protecting their students from bullying behavior.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice, about 20% of students between 12 and 18 experience bullying. Of that number, 15% of students said they were bullied online or by text. To create a level playing ground for all students to minimize this challenge, Rukshana Illahi, director of special education at NHA, recommends that teachers encourage students to create a structured space for learning.

She suggests that students choose a blank space, perhaps a wall without anything on it, or somewhere with limited distractions. By being aware of their surroundings, students limit what is unintentionally shared with their peers, helping to establish norms similar to a traditional classroom.

“When in a classroom, we create norms and expectations for how kids treat one another. Even though students aren’t in a physical classroom, they are in a virtual classroom, the same rules apply. It’s important for teachers to establish what the norms are,” she said.

Illahi also suggests that teachers establish virtual classroom contracts that outline expectations and norms for students to follow in an online learning space. Classroom contracts outline the values that students are expected to uphold in treating each other with kindness and respect. Social contracts may include basics like the Golden Rule, treating others the way you want to be treated, and being considerate of one another’s feelings.

One teacher at East Arbor Charter Academy takes pride in establishing a classroom contract with her students. Ms. Corey Fried, third-grade teacher at East Arbor, shared that the process for setting up her classroom’s contract, or Class Community Agreement, as she calls it, was different this year due to distance, but the principles remained the same. With words like respect and kindness and guidelines such as celebrating diversity, she works with her students to create an environment that is welcoming and inclusive to all students.

“Instead of the children being able to write key points on the actual contract, they took notes individually, and we discussed them verbally as a group,” she reflected. Since students were not able to physically sign the contract as they would have done in person, Fried held a special ceremony. “We had a social contract ceremony where students said their name out loud as well as ‘I agree’ during a live session to signal that they approved of the final list and then I typed their name on the contract,” she said.

Fried shared that overall, the classroom contract expectations are the same as in previous years, but there are many things that virtual learners must consider to obtain them. “A phrase that my students love to use every year and that is always on our social contract is ‘set yourself up for success’,” she said. “This means that we need to prioritize self-care and routines that allow us to show up to school each day in the best possible place to learn.”

East Arbor’s principal agrees that creating a supportive classroom environment is vital to the success of her students who are learning in a nontraditional environment.

“During this time of uncertainty, relationship building is more important than ever. Whether the student is virtual or hybrid, the time spent with all students has decreased,” said Tanesha Newby, principal at East Arbor. “Having a social contract in place and providing a culture of love and learning are critical components of student success during this pandemic. I am thankful that our East Arbor teachers understand and live by a very important quote by John C. Maxwell, ‘Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,’.”

Students at East Arbor and all NHA schools across the country are given an outlet to report bullying behavior safely and securely. This remains true in a remote environment. “At NHA, we normalize that bullying is not allowed and it’s not acceptable behavior,” said Illahi. Staff is trained to respond to student behavior and keep a watchful eye for things to be aware of.

Recently, staff engaged in additional training at NHA’s Annual Leadership Summit, which featured focused training to provide the groundwork to navigate this new space. Topics like monitoring chats for harmful or inappropriate communication were explored with the intention of teachers continuing to hone these skills.

“COVID-19 has created a space that required us to tackle these issues head-on,” said Jessica Glass, leadership development instructional specialist at NHA. “Our schools focus on a school-wide behavior system, ‘Behave with Care,’ in any school environment. Whether you are at school in-person or learning online, we are doing the same things. These are our expectations, and this is how we treat people.”

NHA was founded on a set of principles—core values that reflect the high personal and educational standards staff and individuals throughout the organization are held to each day. Among these, Behave with Care highlights the expectation that individuals respect and support each other.

“NHA has a lot of foundational information and resources for our teachers to refer to,” said Glass. Illahi and Glass agreed that while this is a new space for educators, many of the tools to combat bullying remain the same as in a traditional classroom.

Every October, schools and organizations across the country join STOMP Out Bullying™ in observing National Bullying Prevention Month. The goal aims to encourage schools, communities, and organizations to work together to stop bullying and cyberbullying and put an end to hatred and racism by increasing awareness of the prevalence and impact of all forms of bullying on all children of all ages.