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May 19, 2021

Empathy-Based Bullying Prevention

We know more. Let’s do more. 

Often, I reflect on my experience as an elementary student in the 70’s. There was no focus on “SEL,” or “upstanding.” We were told not to bully, and some kids bullied anyway. Many kids, including my best friend, suffered dearly at the hands of bullies. Bullies suffered too, because they were punished, labeled as “bad kids,” and sent back into the mainstream, only to have the cycle begin- again and again. Victims were told, “sometimes this is just part of life.” There was little in the way of recourse or recovery. Ask a colleague and they may remember any number of things from childhood about bullying: being bullied, who the class bully was, and perhaps, their role as a bystander.

In 1978, we didn’t know what we didn’t have. Not only did we not have today’s technology, but learning how to be kind wasn’t emphasized in our education. Neither was practicing empathy and compassion (unless you were in parochial school). You were expected to be kind because by doing so you can earn the respect of adults and other children. Identity was something “other” children dealt with, not middle income, white kids with few to no outward barriers.  

Consider for a moment how many students were marginalized simply because the incorporation of SEL in schools was not a focus. Think about how many students were traumatized and became bullies, and how many students were traumatized by bullies. What we know now about trauma and other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) could have changed the lives of so many. 

I can look back and say things like, “we didn’t have tablets or smartphones then! We had nature! Outdoor recess! We made our own fun!” I can point to the technology that now exists – the perfect scapegoat – as a reason why bullying can infuse someone’s life seamlessly, and torture them non-stop. But it’s important to note how different bullying is now, not by how much simpler it seemed to be back then, but by how much more we know.  

  • We understand that empathy, identity, and compassion are implemented now as social-emotional learning.  
  • Instead of just labeling students as bullies, we know about the brain’s response to trauma and can piece together how to help a child before she resorts to bullying. 
  • In our pockets, our cell phones can help us model digital citizenship and online etiquette. We can capture proof of words said. 
  • We can find information on how to educate about bullying.  
  • We can send positive messages.  
  • We can call for help.  

Here’s an excellent opportunity to grow our knowledge, so we can do better.  

Our new course, 5131: SEL and Empathy-Based Bullying Prevention provides tools to empower bystanders to become upstanders, and it encourages victims that there is safety in remaining strong in who they are. The course’s goal is to give students a world they can navigate with a strong sense of self and the courage to make social change. Learners Edge is proud to partner with IndieFlix for video clips and resources from the film, The Upstanders, to support both SEL and brain science related to bullying prevention. Learners create activities focused on identity, empathy, and well-being, and analyze bullying prevention policies. Educators will leave this course understanding the complicated nature of bullying and the many ways they and their students can be part of the solution.  

Learners Edge offers great courses for your continuing education and professional development.  Check out the following related courses: 

Learners Edge Offers 120+ Self-Paced, Online,
Graduate Credit Continuing Education Courses for Teachers


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