Ask a group of high school girls to quote the 2004 comedy Mean Girls and many of them would probably hysterically call out, “You can’t sit with us!” Despite the comedic exaggerations of the film, it effectively nailed the plague of exclusivity facing many students today. The emotional well-being of our students at school is another aspect of school security that, while a part of our current conversation, does not receive near enough attention in schools.
Physical or verbal bullying has received the most attention in education circles. We caution our students about teasing each other or train them to reach out for help in the face of physical hazing. While these forms of bullying are serious and should absolutely be addressed, they do not represent the whole picture. Many students (and parents, teachers and administrators) often forget that bullying can take much milder forms including choosing teams for a game or deliberately shunning others from social events: The Mean Girls-like trend of “disclusion.”
Anti-bullying campaigns of recent years (such as The Bully Project or the government sponsored Stop Bullying) have brought national attention to the power of hurtful words. For the past few years, students in the Treasure Valley have engaged in several of these campaigns. Thousands of students attended assemblies and signed pledges as part of Rachel’s Challenge. Students at Meridian High School in 2013 were challenged by motivational speaker Nick Vujicic to end bullying in their school. While these large campaigns are wonderful contributions to the discussion of bullying, few people talk about the issues that lurk behind the guise of cliques.
For another take on school security, see Josie Fretwell’s post on security for the whole student. This essay is part of our new feature: TBR Teach, a discussion about school policy among three Boise teachers. Follow their posts here.
Disclusion is an easy and subtle tool to use when feuding with another student. I have witnessed it many times and I know that I am not alone. Yet I have never discussed this with a colleague and have certainly never received training on how to recognize and prevent it.
Perhaps we chalk it up to the drama of teenagers or the immaturity of kids, but I would argue that something much more sinister is happening. By not addressing these issues, we are telling our students that they can function in society by ignoring people and situations that they do not like. Students are learning to exclude undesirables and the result is a divided student body in which individuals do not feel safe or comfortable outside of their exclusive groups of friends.
Teachers receive very little training on how to recognize subtler forms of bullying and how to address them in their classroom. This must change. The Boise School District sets aside one hour every week for departments to collaborate with each other and this could be a great place to begin the discussion. While we primarily use this time to discuss curriculum and lesson planning, we must expand the conversation to include the emotional well-being of our students as well.
The best laid lesson will fall upon deaf ears if a student feels abandoned and miserable in school. It is no secret that our school districts work under very restrictive budgets and schedules, so perhaps asking for specialized training is a bit too ambitious, but we can use the knowledge and resources our colleagues have amassed until that goal is attainable.
Instead of embracing cliques as a normal part of the school experience (thanks a lot Buzzfeed), we must work beyond these stereotypes with our students. Part of our job as teachers is to help students work with all kinds of people and to do so with grace, kindness and inclusion.
While we participate in lock-down drills and remain cognisant of our students’ health and economic status, we must also remember to help protect them from the lonely hallways of youth.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University or the School of Public Service.