Saturday, February 20, 2016

Is it Rude, is it Mean or is it Bullying?

I don't know about you but I grow weary of the constant reports of students being "bullied."  Now I know there are children who are truly being bullied, who are afraid to come to school, find it difficult to concentrate on their work, have no friends, and are withdrawn and depressed because of the constant abuse of a school bully.  When real bullying occurs, I am the first to advocate for any student in that situation.  I investigate each claim and I do everything I can as a School Counselor to empower and support the student targeted, involve parents and administration who address the situation from a  legal and disciplinary angle, and get help for the bully.

But, that is not what I am talking about here.  The word bullied has become a real hot button.  I know, you know what I mean.  I am talking about those students and parents who call every unpleasant exchange between students bullying.  No matter how few times or infrequently a student experiences an unkind remark, teasing, or physical interaction it is called bullying.  It is a word that is increasingly used to describe any situation where a student has gotten their feelings hurt whether intentionally or unintentionally.  Parents and students utter this word and we spring into action to investigate their report of bullying.  And because of our response, I have come to realize it is a word our students will often utilize when the attention is on them for some wrongdoing. Our students have learned they can instantly control any situation and shift the focus of teachers, and especially their parents, from their troubles if they claim they are being bullied.  What I needed was a way to educate students and their parents about the difference between conflict and bullying.

Last year I came across a wonderful article written in 2012 by Signe Whitson, Licensed Social Worker, School Counselor, author, keynote speaker and Chief Operating Officer of Life Space Crisis Intervention Institute. Many of you may be familiar with her article titled, Is it Rude, Is it Mean or Is it Bullying?  In it she explains  how everything isn't bullying and how many people have difficulty discerning what is and is not bullying.  Signe  also mentions how she first heard best selling children's author Trudy Ludwig  "talk of these distinguishing terms" and  then went on to use them in her own work.  As I read her article I thought, this is what I want my students and parents to know, so I began work on creating a set of classroom lessons.

 Along the way I ran into a bit of trouble with my students failure to comprehend the differences in these terms. So I went straight to the source and contacted Signe myself.  She responded to my email and then gave me her number and invited me to call her.  What an honor to share my experiences and ideas with her.  Signe listened to my concerns regarding my students and their struggles with her vocabulary. She directed me to her website resource page and recommended I use her forced choice activity to help my students think more critically about the definitions of rude, mean, and bullying they were learning.  I did, and they loved it!  I could see them making the connections as they moved from corner to corner in response to Signe's scenarios. They were thinking and questioning and arguing convincingly about how some situations might be mean rather than rude and it would depend on how it was said to a person.  I could see their point.  They were  internalizing the concepts and questioning the dynamics of the scenarios.  It was truly exciting!

My students and have have enjoyed these lessons on "Is it Rude, Is it Mean or Is it Bullying?" Below you will find a brief outline of the 5 lessons I have created, my activity forms and PowerPoint too. I based these lessons on the work of Signe Whitson. I publish them here to share with you with her permission. Please visit Signe Whitson's website for more information about her work on bullying and aggression.

Click here for  Rude, Mean, Bully lesson plans 
Pre/post test (non-tech option)
Kahoot! link 
Rude vs. Mean vs. Bully PowerPoint
Inappropriate Behaviors Brainstorming sheet
Signe  Whitson's Forced Choice Activity
Rude, Mean, Bully Behavior Statements

Lessons 1:  The pre-test.  For those with technology resources I have created a Kahoot!
(website for game-based learning) for gathering pre/post test data.  I have also include a "non-tech" option (paper and pencil) for those who do not have access to technology.

Lesson 2: A PowerPoint introduction to the rude, mean and bullying vocabulary and a brainstorming activity on thinking of examples of things that are rude, mean, and bullying.

Lesson 3:  Forced Choice Scenarios from Signe Whitson's website resource page.

Lesson 4:  Divide students into groups, print one copy of the "Rude, Mean, Bullying Behavior" statement sheets, cut them up and divide them into stacks. Each group will sort and glue their stack to index cards according to which are rude, mean and bullying. Cards are shared with the class for approval and glued to chart paper to make a tree map poster for the students to take back to class.

Lesson 5:  Post-test using Kahoot! or non-tech option.

I have used these lessons with all my 3rd, 4th and 5th graders (15 classes total) and while their comprehension of the terminology is only at about 70%, there is a vast improvement over the previous number of reports we had regarding bullying. Even though my students aren't there yet, in fully understanding the definition of rude, mean and bullying, they are conscious of the differences. Now when complaints of bullying arise,  I am able to reference these lessons and help my students make a more accurate assessment of their own situation.

I hope you and your students find these lessons helpful. Keep in touch and let me know how your students respond to learning the difference in rude, mean, and bullying.


  1. Awesome Jeannie, thanks for sharing. I'm putting a blurb and link to this from my blog ..

  2. Thanks Russ! I am deeply honored. You do such great things for kids and families! Proud to play a small part in what you do.

  3. I am SOOOOO excited to use your resources this week. I am a new elementary counselor and am still figuring out how to lesson plan. Thank you, thank you for sharing!

    1. You are very welcome! Please take a look at the Resources at the top of this page to help you as you settle into your new role as an elementary School Counselor.

  4. I love this lesson and my students have really responded well. I'm wondering, what is your lesson for students about what to do if you or some is being bullied?

  5. Thank you! I am glad you love the lesson. We are the Bulldogs, and we have a wheel of Bulldog Choices. It says things like walk away, tell someone, make a joke, compromise, talk it out, ignore, stay away, Be an Upstander. We talk about what those look like and sound like and do role plays to practice them.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing these resources! Great content and ideas. Can't wait to try it out with my 6th graders.

  7. This is great! Thank you so much for sharing these lessons, I'm trying it out with my 3rd and 4th graders!

  8. Exactly what I have been looking for. I am planning a parent student night and then will take this into the classroom. The issues you see with incorrect use of terms is what I see also. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Is the Kahoot still available??

    1. Yes it is. It should still be working. Let me know if there is an issue with it. Thank you for your interest!

  10. Thank you very much will be used with my 6th grade class. Much appreciated!!!

  11. I was looking for something EXACTLY like this!!!! I am going to use this with my 6th graders! Thank you so much!