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It’s “No Name Calling Week” again – what do we do the rest of the time?

January 26, 2011

This week is the 8th annual ‘No Name Calling Week” in schools across the country.  Created by GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), it is intended to be

 … an annual week of educational activities aimed at ending name-calling of all kinds and providing schools with the tools and inspiration to launch an on-going dialogue about ways to eliminate bullying in their communities.

It’s a worthwhile effort that has certainly garnered quite a bit of attention and many high-profile sponsors — Barnes and Noble, Cisco Systems and several others.  It also has the support of leading educational associations like ASCD, the NEA (National Education Association), NAESP (National Association of Elementary School Principals) and more.

While it’s a great concept, it suffers from the same pitfalls, I believe, as many other “traditional” anti-bullying efforts. Which means, it’s a one-week highlight on the problem — but what do we do the other 51 weeks of the year?

Yes, it’s meant to be a high-point or beginning step in continual dialog. But in reality, here’s probably what happens:

  • The schools who participate start planning for the special “week.” They may make posters, announce it in the newsletter for parents, promote the coming week to the students.
  • When the actual “week” happens (it began this past Monday 1/24, this year), there may be special activities planned — perhaps an assembly or rally, maybe daily “moments” in classes to discuss No Name-Calling Week, its implication or how each school or class can “own” the intent.

Now, kids themselves, being kids, are likely to react in one of three ways:

  1. First, some may really get behind it, embrace it and support it. These are generally the kids who have been affected by bullying, either first- or second-hand. They have been teased or know someone who has been picked on.
  2. Next are the kids who will go along with it, but it really doesn’t affect them. It’s just another “rah-rah” that their school does for other causes and events, but in general, it doesn’t change much for them personally.
  3. Then there’s the third group. They are jaded, they are frequently the bullies even, but their attitude is “Hey, we’re having this ‘No Name Calling Week.’  What sort of dork is going to do THAT?  I got your ‘no-name calling,’ lame-o.”  In other words, with these kids — the ones we are most trying to reach, calling attention to an already-negative issue just results in more negative.

 And then, what happens after “No Name Calling Week” is over? Typically what occurs is that life gets back to normal. Just like the holidays, after the wrapping has been put away and the batteries have run out, so does the interest in the gift.  It’s like that with any “special” event — as time goes by, unless reinforced and revisited, the feeling and drive behind it fades into the past.

That is typical for most of these types of “anti-bullying” efforts, sadly. We have rallies, we have assemblies, we have policies and programs, but they don’t become deeply integrated into the daily fabric of behavior and conduct. As one principal told me not too long ago: “We don’t believe in anti-bullying anymore because after the ‘rah-rah’ is over, nothing has changed.”

Don’t misunderstand me — I think “No Name Calling Week” is a good effort, but there’s so much more that must be done to make it be “No Name Calling Year.” We have to consciously make positive behavior and positive social skills just as important as the other things we do in school. And not just in school, but beyond. As I share in some of the presentations I do for K-12 students, we have a mascot we use, too, to talk about creating “No Put Down Zones,” but it’s not just for today…we ask students, teachers and staff to make a committment to being a “No Put-Down Zone” and they can have our logos, even order products such as TShirts and other things to be used as constant reminders of their promise to practice empathy, compassion, kindness and caring all the time.  Not just this week, but for all the ones after that.

Of course, T-Shirts and logos in the classroom won’t be any more effective than a one-week celebration of tolerance.  That, too, has to be followed up with continual dialog, continual education and a continued emphasis on positive social skills and character. We’ll never achieve a paradigm shift that really has a positive effect on the bullying epidemic until we stop thinking “anti-bullying” and start thinking “pro-social skills.”

Let’s see if we can get the sponsors of this week to commit to that kind of lasting and on-going education in our schools — sadly, it may mean that we no longer have an annual “No Name Calling Week,” but wouldn’t it be incredible if we didn’t have to?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 26, 2011 10:08 am

    I agree. As a retired elementary teacher, I can vouch for the “one shot rah-rah” campaign on whatever topic was in the headlines. Nothing changed unless a concerted effort was put forth by the parents, the kids, the teachers, the school and community. That seldom happened. Children watch how adults handle situations and, of course, TV has a huge effect on how kids behave. If it is okay for the parent to blow up, then it must be okay for the kids. Bullying has been around for as long as I can remember, it’s just now we are putting more emphasis on stopping it. A daunting task at all levels. An effort for me since I retired was to write a children’s book with bullying as the main theme. When an entire school reads and discusses bullying, then some gains can be noticed. The challenge will be on going. We need to support parents and teachers in their daily efforts to make schools safer places to learn.

  2. March 4, 2011 10:44 am

    Do these “one-shot” approaches/events reduce bullying behavior or do they enable it? By focusing efforts on such superficial and short-term solutions, it leaves too many people with the belief that they are DOING something and taking action. School principals, for example, when asked what they are doing about bullying can refer to these “action days.” And parents and others may walk away from such references with a sense that effective action is being taken.

    All of these responses result in fewer people taking action during the rest of the year or recognizing the need for a larger, more comprehensive approach that focuses on kindness, generosity, support, and respect rather than a short-term focus on punishment for hurtful actions.

    As far as I can tell, “pink shirt days” or “no name calling weeks” do too little to prevent the extensive bullying, hurtful actions, and other psychologically damaging behaviors that are unfortunately more typical of today’s education system.

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