When Coach Heather started a student leadership program at recess, she received one applicant that she wasn’t so sure about. “Jocelyn’s teachers told me that she consistently singled out other girls and taunted them,” Heather shared. Jocelyn was being called a bully by her peers.
Heather continued, “When I read her answers to the application, they were, by far, the most genuine answers I had received. She wanted to be a Junior Coach so she could show others that she did know how to play fair and that she was capable of being a good friend. Although I was hesitant, I spoke to her about the responsibility and, ultimately, invited her to the leadership program.
“When Jocelyn become a Junior Coach, she lit up; her entire personality seemed to shift. When she wears her purple Playworks t-shirt, she becomes an incredibly positive leader. She gives high-fives, cheers kids on, and tells kids good job and nice try more than any other student or adult on the playground. She never turns down an opportunity to start a game. Even her attitude in the classroom has improved.”
Jocelyn may have once exhibited bullying behavior, but she did not want to be a bully. She just needed the opportunity to shift her behavior and be viewed as a friend.
Kids who bully may have other things going on in their lives. It could be that their basic needs are not being fully met. Maybe they do not have strong social skills or are being bullied themselves. These kids may behave poorly and use verbal or physical aggression to get attention.
Regardless of the root cause, kids who exhibit bullying behavior do not benefit from being called a bully. In fact, this is more likely to increase the bad behavior than decrease it. We know this to be true from all the years we've spent working to ensure that all kids have a place on the playground.
Labeling kids sends the message that their behavior cannot change. Our responsibility as adults and peers is to give kids the opportunity to change their behavior. It is up to adults to help them channel their challenges into something positive.
Recess is a great place to demonstrate kindness and positivity. When we provide students with opportunities to lead and be included on the playground, they can begin to change their bullying behavior and become the leaders they have the potential to be. Just like Jocelyn.
*Student’s name changed.