Creating Community in the Classroom

By Kelly Huegel, author of GLBTQ

Creating Community in the ClassroomI am the author of a survival guide for GLBTQ kids, so it makes sense that I would address the bullying of GLBTQ students. But in contemplating this topic once again, it is difficult for me to tease out the subgroup of students who are (or are perceived to be) gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning from all objects of bullying writ large. This is because, in the end, I think bullying is more about the perpetrator than the target, and I think bullying is more of a societal epidemic than a school-based one.

The other day, I was driving with my wife and new baby in our suburban Maryland town when a pickup truck crossed traffic in front of us. Secured to the back of the truck were two large flags—one an Islamic flag and the other a rainbow flag (which has been adopted by the GLBTQ civil rights movement)—each with a large black X spray-painted across it.

Today’s teachers have a rough time combatting bullying in their classrooms when everywhere students go, they bear witness to adults bullying one another. And it’s not just in our streets—it’s all over the media. It seems like the more outrageous and antagonistic someone’s behavior is, the more likely the person is to land a reality TV show. And I’ll let these three words speak for themselves: presidential election cycle.

What teachers are seeing in classrooms and hallways is more than just the classic big-picks-on-small or rich-picks-on-poor bullying that has existed since the dawn of humankind; it’s trickle-down behavior from an increasingly uncivilized adult society. Even among my fellow parents, I hear more discussion of how to teach our kids resilience than kindness.

As technology and competition drive us further and further apart in “the real world,” teachers have an opportunity to foster a sense of community in their classrooms that students might not be getting elsewhere. Communities function on interdependence, on valuing the unique contributions of each member rather than on the model of fierce independence that many of us have been taught to prize.

Actor and teacher Maria Broom has embarked on a mission to combat bullying by engendering compassion in the classroom. In her illustrated story-poem The Village Bully, Broom describes the custom of one African village that creates a circle of love around those who engage in hurtful activities, with individual villagers telling the person something that they like about them, reminding them why they are a valued member of the community rather than shaming or ostracizing them. While the book focuses on elementary students, I can attest that this type of approach has been implemented with great success at the secondary level as well.

As educators, we have an incredible opportunity to help kids learn more constructive ways of dealing with bad behavior than the examples media and society set for them. And it makes sense. Even as adults, it’s natural for us to crave belonging and the security of knowing that if we do step out of line, there is a path back to grace.

For more information on the Village Bully Project or to order books for your classroom, write to Mariabroom@aol.com or visit Maria’s website at mariabroom.com.

Author Kelly HuegelKelly Huegel is a freelance writer and educator. She has worked for the Metropolitan Washington, D.C., chapter of PFLAG where she helped provide support and educational services for GLBTQ people and their families. The author of two books and more than fifty published articles, Kelly has a special passion for working with teens and holds a degree in secondary education. She lives in Maryland with her wife, Margaret, and daughter. Kelly welcomes readers to follow her updates on GLBTQ politics and people or message her directly via Twitter at @GLBTQguide.

GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning TeensKelly is the author of GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens.


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