Bullying Prevention … and a Nickel

September 10, 2010 at 8:09 pm 2 comments

I told new stories today at my local elementary school. The deal I have with the 4th grade teachers is that I present my bully prevention program for them at the beginning of each school year, and if there’s anything new I want to try then their kids are my test group.
So this year I started with a science experiment :

  • Two glasses of water, each half full of water
  • One oddly shaped vase half full of water

The conversation begins with my fast-paced questions – raise your hand if:

  • you have brown hair, red hair, blond hair, black hair
  • you have green eyes, blue eyes, brown eyes, black eyes
  • you like soccer better than baseball
  • you think hotdogs are better than pizza
  • and more

Look around the room as your classmates answer these questions. There are a lot of ways we are different.
But this is what I know – on the inside we are all the same – We all want to live in peace. We want to have a friend. We want to be a friend. We want to come to school and feel safe. We want to be respected. Kids raise their hands if they agree with each statement – again, they look around and see that we all want these basic things.

The two matching glasses represent friends. Sometimes friends hurt one another – examples from the kids included having an argument, not waiting to walk home together, not telling the truth.
I put a drop of food coloring into each of the glasses to represent these hurts.
But what do friends do? Examples from the kids included they apologize, they stick up for one another, they talk to one another.
For each of these acts of kindness that are intended to make things right, I add a drop of chlorine bleach to each glass. The kids can see the blue water return to its original clear color. They can see that friends, when they hurt one another, work to make things right.
Then I shift the attention to the oddly shaped vase. The discussion moves to a person, or sometimes a group of people, who are different – too tall, not tall enough / too pretty, not pretty enough / too smart, not smart enough / don’t wear the right clothes / don’t speak the same language that we do / don’t believe the same things that we do.
For any of those reasons, a bully will choose to disrespect that person. That disrespect might include mean words, put-downs, pushing, shoving, punching, leaving them out, whispering behind their back, sending unflattering photos via text or cell phone, etc.
For each of these bully behaviors I add a drop of food coloring to the water in the vase. The water gets darker and darker.
What happens when no one apologizes? I add a drop of food coloring.
What happens when no one sticks up for this person? I add a drop of food coloring.
What happens when no one is there to talk to? I add a drop of food coloring.

I tell the kids: This is the person we’re talking about today. The one who is bullied. Through story, we’re going to figure out what to do to try to make things right; what to do so that bully behavior doesn’t  get a chance to happen at all. I set the vase with blue water aside and the stories begin.
Not only did the kids get to hear the stories and participate in the telling, not only did we have a great learning experience regarding bully behavior and effective strategies for dealing with it – all wrapped up in story – but because the stories were new they also got a chance to comment on the stories at the end. I told them where I was wondering if a change was needed. They got to tell me what they thought. We became collaborators – they knew they were shaping a program that would impact lots of kids in lots of other schools.
The program ended with the kids telling me what they could do to make things right for the ‘person’ represented by the vase with blue water. For each suggestion they had, a drop of chlorine bleach was added to the water. The kids could visually see how much harder it was to make things right when they hadn’t acted right away (like friends do). The kids could see that, while the blue faded, the water wasn’t totally clear – those are the scars we carry on the inside.
Program over. 100 voices, in unison, “Thank you, Mrs. Black.” It had that sing-songy, obligatory tone. You’ve heard it too.
But as I was packing up, individual students started coming up to me. Some offered a sincere thank you. Others offered a hug. I suspect they were thanking me for more than I will ever know. But I could see it in their faces; I could feel it in their hugs; I’d done something special just for them and they were so thankful.
And then a 4th grade girl came up to me. She was holding out a nickel. “I found this today, Mrs. Black. I thought I was so lucky to find a nickel. I want you to have it.”
We talked for awhile longer and then I accepted it with sincere gratitude.
In truth, I was so lucky to be in that place today, with that girl, with those kids, with those stories.
And with that shiny nickel to remind me, it’s a day I won’t soon forget.

** As always, your comments, observations, and questions are welcomed!


Entry filed under: Bullying Prevention, Just Do It -- Stories from the Field, Teaching Artist.

Working with Student Storytellers Maybe — Storytelling for Bullying Prevention

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lainie  |  September 11, 2010 at 10:41 am

    I love this. So simple, but it completely brings the point home. Each time these kids say or do something nice (or not), they will picture those glasses, picture that vase. Bravo.

  • 2. Mike SP  |  September 20, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Good for you! Sorry I hadnt tuned in for a while. Great use of creating the image/symbols of positive & negative behavior. And perks to boot, my nickel-collecting friend!


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