Saturday, June 18, 2016

Grown-up Bullies

Three years ago my parents decided to move into an assisted living facility (ALF) while they were still able to make their own decisions, get around, and make new friends.  My dad was the gregarious, outgoing one, he never forgot a name or a face.  That man could talk to a post.  My mom is the meek, quiet one who depended on Dad to meet people and provide the friendships in their couple relationship. Unfortunately, just one short year after moving into the ALF my dad passed away leaving my mom to figure out the friendship thing on her own. Mom is trying. She puts herself out there each day in the dining room, at the Bingo table, and on the facility bus trips around town. It is her experiences in each of these situations that  have brought to the front of my consciousness the fact there are grown-up bullies. Whether it is the nasty comments by a child hating table mate when my Mom had her great grandson of 8 have dinner with her, or the saving of seats at Bingo and telling my Mom you can't sit here, this seat is for "Velma" (who never comes), or the rude comments, to her face, because Mom took the full 90 minutes scheduled for the Wal-Mart bus run when the other residents were ready to go in 60. I help kids with this sort of thing everyday, but I was unprepared to help my Mom deal with her bullies.

Now you are probably thinking, I knew there were adult bullies I work with several or listened to one rant on the phone last week.   Of course, you can  just turn on the TV or listen to talk radio and find bullies too.  I guess I always thought of those things as adults with opposite views loudly expressing their opinions.  Although I know bullies are not just children making fun of or excluding one another, it was my mother's predicament that got me thinking about the bullies at every age and the grown-up bullies I realized I have dealt with this past school year.

As I considered my Mom's experiences, and my own, I came up with 4 types of adult bullies I have dealt with this year. Your experiences, however, may have taught you there are more.

The Boss:   This person thinks they are the boss of you, the teachers, the school. and well, the world actually.  They "know" what is right for you and everyone else and are not afraid to tell you to your face.  They point out everything that is wrong with a situation, but fail to take any responsibility for their part in it. They are part of the problem, never part of the solution.   I think of a recent phone call with a mom regarding the "bullying" of her daughter.  This parent DEMANDS I set up a meeting with the offending child and her mother so they can all meet and deal with this. She tells me there is no law that prevents me from doing that. And I will do it. Now you and I both know THAT is a recipe for disaster!  This mom was quite insistent until I quoted district and state statute about the process for handling complaints of bullying.  Then she backed down.  Strategy:  Remain calm and know your state and district policies.  Always do what's best for all kids no matter what the adults want. 

The Condescender: This is the most closed-minded of bullies.  They are visibly angry most of the time and their tone of voice is frightening. Everyone who is different than them is a target.  Whatever your gender, race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status, it doesn't matter.  If you are different than the Condescender you are a target for verbal abuse and ridicule. My poor intern and I had to meet with a family where the dad was a Condescender.  She was quite sure he would pull out a gun and shoot us, he was really that hostile.  Very little was addressed about the problem with his child, but we heard plenty about all the other "losers" in our school and in the world. Now personally, I love this kind of conference.  I take it as a personal challenge to turn the situation around.  Did I change this Condescender? No, but we were able to reach an understanding.  Strategy:  Show no fear, be the best listener you can be, and find some common ground you can agree on. It is not important to be right.

The Thug:  This bully is not necessarily a thug like you might think of in a stereo-typical-criminal sort of way.  I use the term to denote power, might, and intimidation. Like an enforcer.  This person may be physically large or hold an important position in the school or community, or think they do.  When meeting with you they refuse to sit, but rather stand over you looking down, making references about who they know, who will hear about this meeting, what their attorney has said, and which TV station they are going to call.  Stategies: Always match their posture whether sitting or standing, listen more than you talk, remain calm, take notes, and only say things you can back up. Remember, in most cases, it's all just a lot of  talk.

The Sneak:  This bully is a very dangerous grown-up bully.  The trouble with the Sneak is you don't know about them until it is too late. This person is nice to your face, always polite and respectful. You may not see this person as a friend, maybe more like a friendly acquaintance, but you certainly don't see them for the toxic "pot stirrer" that they are.  However, what is said behind your back, in emails, texts, Facebook, and in private conversations to other faculty or parents is shocking.  You wonder what did I do to them?  Maybe they didn't get their way, they don't like the way you responded to a situation, or who knows?  Maybe they have issues of their own or just like the attention.  After all, why does anyone bully?  Strategies: Stay out of the fray.  Maintain your dignity, rise above their petty gossip, and trust that your honest and trustworthy actions speak for themselves. 

Have you encountered grown-up bullies?  At home, at work, in life?  Maybe you just thought of them as difficult colleagues or parents. How would you describe those you have met in your role as a School Counselor or even as member of the grown-up world?   It's easy to get discouraged and feel threatened in our jobs and personal lives by these bullies.  I know that's how my Mom feels. Now she just wants to hide in her apartment and not come out. So what did I tell my Mom?  What any good School Counselor  and daughter would say. Stand up for yourself, use your words, and stay strong! I'm here if you need me!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Reflect, Review, Research, Revise, and Relax!

In 2 more days students will be out for the summer!  And two days after that, I will be out for the summer!  I am already daydreaming about what those long unstructured days will look like. Travelling, reading, creating, and relaxing are high on my to do list, along with sleeping late, getting more exercise, and hanging-out with friends.  Whether you are out already or still hanging on for a couple of more weeks, there are some things you will want to do to start preparing your program for your best school year yet!

Part of the reading and creating I will be doing has to do with my school counseling program. Summer gives me the opportunity to think more clearly and deeply about what I want to accomplish in the next school year.  Flying by the seat of my pants has served me well as a Mom and many times over my years of being a School Counselor.  However planning as you go, while it can be stimulating and may produce some amazing lessons, can also be frustrating and leave your school colleagues questioning what it is you really do.  Having a well organized and data informed program does much to improve administrative support and increase the understanding of both teachers and administrators of how students are different because of what School Counselors do.

Reflect.  Take a moment and make a list of all you accomplished this year.  Feels a little surreal looking back on it now doesn't it?  Celebrate it!  Congratulate yourself on a job well done!  Look at all the things you did that weren’t even part of your plan, the teacher and administrative requests, ideas you saw on-line or heard about from another School Counselor. These were not things you planned on doing, but you rose to the occasion and handled them all!  There were a number of things I didn't do this year, but a lot more things I did.  Take the time to reflect on it all, feel pride in what you accomplished and make plans for improvements in the coming school year.
Start by asking yourself these questions:
Did I use data to inform my program?
Did I do all I set out to do?  
What did I miss and why? 
What can I do to correct this situation?
What are the things I did that were not part of my original plan for the school year? Were they worthwhile?  
Am I pleased with the impact of my program this year?
Was it the best it could be?
How did my faculty and administration respond to my school counseling program/services?
What can I do to improve on my program for next school year?
What did I do to grow both personally and professionally?

Review.  Start with data. What does your data for the 2015-2016 school year indicate are your school's greatest needs? Not sure what data to review?  Gather year end data in the following areas:
discipline referrals, attendance, students with D's and F's, students with unsatisfactory conduct grades, climate, student, and teacher surveys.

Take some time and look for patterns.  Disaggregate your data to pinpoint specific areas that need your attention.  Share the identified needs with your administration. Discuss your plans to meet those needs on a school wide basis with classroom lessons at Tier 1 and more specific help for students who need small groups at Tier 2. 

Research.   Take some time to research materials that will best meet the needs you have identified for your school population.  There is so much terrific stuff on-line for teaching classes and groups.  A lot of it is free or very inexpensive.  Of course there are great evidenced-based materials out there as well, costing hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. Choosing what you would like to use or will use, will depend on your budget and your administration.  Do your research and be prepared to make requests or offer informed suggestions for materials to meet the identified needs of your school. If you have demonstrated a school need with data, you may find yourself in a position to make recommendations to your administration for the resources to meet that need.  Be prepared!

Revise.  Look at your School Wide Counseling Curriculum Plan and begin making changes that reflect the needs you saw in the research you did with your school's data. If you don't have a School Wide Counseling Curriculum Plan, it is a great tool for laying out your school counseling program. It is like a calendar of your program for the year.  It gives an overview of all you have planned from groups to classes to parent meetings, professional development, special events, school wide programming, assemblies, committee meetings and more.  It is a great tool for planning with your administration, to lock in dates and venues you will need when implementing your school counseling program. If you are unfamiliar with the School Wide Counseling Curriculum Plan, take a look at the one I created for my school this past year HERE.  I have included a blank template HERE so you can begin your own planning.

Relax.  And now it is time for family, friends, and fun!  School Counselors work hard at taking care of others, but not so much when it comes to taking care of ourselves.  We need this time to rejuvenate our body, mind, and spirit.  It will be much easier to do if you've reflected on your year, reviewed data, researched materials, and revised your School Wide Counseling Curriculum plan.  So whether you are out for the summer or still have days or weeks remaining, take some time to reflect, review, research, and revise in order to have the most relaxing summer possible. You will return to school recharged and ready to launch your best school year yet!

Happy Summer!