When her students talked about the cruelty and bullying that happened outside of class, one new teacher found a unique way to help them see that their world was full of kind and respectful people. It could be hard to believe when students witnessed bullying in school, on buses, and in their home neighborhoods. It seemed that bullying was more common than civility, or at least more memorable. She wanted to show them that bullying could take a backseat to being civil.
Karen did her first year of teaching in a large school in Washington, D.C. She adopted the behavior codes her principal suggested for her fourth-grade class. It laid out simple steps for being polite and treating classmates with respect. She found it to be a useful resource when someone acted out in class, but it did not take her long to see that kids seemed to think it only applied in the classroom. While walking to the gym, in the cafeteria, or playing outside at recess, respect and politeness seemed to vanish. Coming back to the classroom, it took a long time to get the class settled and ready to learn. One student complained about having to quiet down and take turns, saying that “Those rules only work in here, nowhere else!” Others chimed in, saying that recess was for letting loose, and that being polite was not cool. Karen asked, “Is being rude or disrespectful considered cool then?”
One day, armed with inspiration and a giant box of large rubber bands, Karen gave each student five bands. Each student could put one on their wrist every time they followed a classroom rule. With all the hand-raising, taking turns, and listening to each other’s reports, everyone had all five bands on their wrists before lunch. “At lunch today, you have to give away your bands. Give them to anyone you notice following the classroom rules or being really kind and polite while in the cafeteria or at recess,” she explained. “Yes, even if they are not in our class.” Kids could give the bands to classmates or anyone they encountered. “Let’s see if being respectful and polite is really common or rare. Watch to see how many people wind up wearing bands this week.”
Some students returned to class with no bands left, but others had lots because their classmates had awarded them. Karen kept giving out bands until her box was empty, reminding kids to pass them on to others who were respectful. Soon kids all over school were seen wearing them. The media specialist and a bus driver were sporting several each. One kid said he gave all his to his big sister at home, because she helped him do the dishes.
Friday morning the class took a tour of the school, scanning to see how many people were wearing rubber bands. They saw them in nearly every part of the school. The kids were surprised to see that being civil was so popular. “We all decided that every Friday we would share stories of people being nice to each other, and not give the bullies the power to take over the conversation.”
How can teachers help kids see that rules of the classroom can apply in almost any situation, even beyond school? What have you done to help kids notice when others are behaving in a good way, and not just notice negative behavior?
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