Falmouth assistant principal: Practicing kindness bests bullying

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FALMOUTH — Being an “upstander” – someone who consistently practices kindness and respect – is the best way to thwart bullying, students at Falmouth Middle School were told last week.

Assistant Principal Steve Chabot is leading the anti-bullying discussion in each sixth-grade class in an effort to make the middle school a place where every student feels safe, valued and welcome.

Overall, he said, the goal of the sessions is to “improve the school climate” and to encourage the “kids to connect with each other and the school” as a whole.

Sixth-graders Eve Chace, Andrew Belliveau and Valerie Rand all said the middle school is a very friendly place, where even people you don’t know will say hello or smile in passing.

And Rand said she can’t think of any student in her grade who doesn’t have at least one other person to sit with at lunch or do things with, either during school or afterward.

Even so, the three agreed that it’s important to talk about issues related to bullying, although they also hope there might come a day when it won’t be necessary.

None of the three said they have ever experienced what they would call bullying, but Belliveau mentioned a practice among his classmates called “roasting,” which he says includes “playful insults.”

But Chace said sometimes what’s meant to be “just teasing doesn’t feel too good and even though you play along you suffer internally.”

Chabot said discussing bullying is important in the sixth-grade, in particular, because middle school is often the first time in a child’s life that the opinion of their peers matters more than those of parents or other trusted adults.

Last week he told the students it’s OK to disagree and that “conflict is normal, but bullying is unacceptable.You don’t have to like everybody, but you must treat them with kindness.”

He also said he doesn’t like the word bullying and instead likes to talk with students about empowerment and how they can actively take steps to improve the culture or climate of school, so that everyone feels “safe, comfortable and ready to learn.”

Because 90 percent of student interaction takes places outside of the classroom –in halls, the cafeteria and locker rooms – Chabot said anti-bullying measures must become a matter of individual responsibility.

He then asked the students to define bullying.

One group said it’s “unkind actions, being mean and starting rumors.” Another group mentioned physical violence, and another group said behavior must be repetitive to rise to the level of bullying.

The students all agreed with Chabot that if someone says something they think is a joke, but it hurts another person’s feelings, as long as the speaker apologizes and doesn’t do it again, that’s not bullying.

However, Chabot also told the students it’s not up to the person who made the comment or took the action to say how the victim should feel.

A purposeful action, even one that’s non-verbal, that includes elements of mocking, excluding or manipulating a social situation can all be bullying, he added.

Chabot said there are four types of bullying that students should watch out for; social-emotional, physical, cyber and verbal.

In terms of cyber-bullying, he reminded students that once something is out on the internet it’s no longer under their control and even if they delete it, others can continue to share.

Chabot also encouraged students to report any bullying they see or suffer and not to be afraid of retaliation, because school staff can handle the situation discreetly.

And he also told the students that things get better.

“If you’ve bullied someone, you don’t have to be a bully for life,” Chabot said. “If you’re a victim, you don’t always have to be a victim.” 

In closing the session, he told the students “You have to understand that everybody is dealing with something and so sometimes we all say things we regret, but we can also all practice kindness everyday.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Steve Chabot, the assistant principal at Falmouth Middle School, leads a discussion on bullying last week. He said he doesn’t like to use the word “bullying,” and prefers to focus on ways for students to be empowered.

Falmouth sixth-graders Valerie Rand, left, Eve Chace and Andrew Belliveau all say school is a very friendly place and none of the three ever recall being bullied.