Maybe — Storytelling for Bullying Prevention

December 2, 2010 at 6:16 pm 4 comments

I was at a  branch of the Chicago Public Library today for my bully prevention program. They advertise the program free to local schools and when the room is full the registration stops. Lilya, my contact, contacted me a month ago to say the program was full with 120 kids grades 4-8. I think 150 showed up. One of the schools there is starting the Dan Olweus program in January so that tells me they are very serious about addressing the problem. My program is very aligned with the Olweus school of thought –all good stuff.
It was a GREAT group of kids. It was a GREAT response to the stories, skits, and experiment.
You know how you can sense things are going well as you move forward with your program, with your stories? I sensed it almost from the start today. Something was in the air — the kids were excited to have walked from their schools to the local library, they were excited to be out of school, they were curious to see where this was going to go. Their excitement, my awareness of it, the mutual certainty that something special was happening here just kept building thru the program.
One teacher came up to me to say that she has seen lots of programs and has never been so moved. “I had tears,” she said. Now, nothing I do is tear-jerker; I truly think she was referring to the connection, to the response of the kids, and the bulls-eye of message.
Even the reaction to the close of the program was different today. I challenge the kids to help me ‘blast out’ the hurt — referring to a glass filled with blue water we used at the start of the program. They repeat the stop, walk, talk concepts as I add dish detergent, baking soda, and vinegar to the glass. They anticipated the ‘explosion’  — “something’s going to happen, watch out” and oo-ed and ah-ed when it went spilling everywhere.
Being a public entertainer, storyteller, teaching artist isn’t always easy. There are enough times when you leave wondering if you made a difference, feel like you aren’t doing enough, wonder if you might just need to go out and get a ‘real’ job — that’s just the nature of the solo entertainer business. But you don’t feel like that every day. And I certainly didn’t feel like that today. No,  not today. I hit a home run today.
There is a short ‘skit’ of sorts during the program — more a human visual display for the learners who need it. I bring 2 kids up front surrounded by 10 bystanders. I always cast against type and have the littlest kid be the bully with an intimidating stance and fists up, and I have the biggest kid be the bullied with shoulders slumped and face downcast. I move the bystanders around to illustrate their power and the actions on their part that shifts that power to the bullied (with bystander help).
The little guy who played the bully came up to me afterwards and said because he is so small sometimes the kids in his class bully him. “Maybe this will change things,” he said.
Maybe my message. Maybe my casting him in a starring role. Maybe his opportunity to be seen as important to the success of that skit.
Whatever ‘this’  is — I made a difference today. Kids heard the message. They leaned in and laughed and clapped and sang. Kids experienced the stories deeply. And at least one left with hope.
Make that two.
I left with hope too.

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

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Karen  |  December 2, 2010 at 6:32 pm


    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you are amazing! Your work is powerful and your connection is honest. You can’t fool kids, you are the real deal my friend. Proud to know you!


    • 2. Sue Black  |  December 2, 2010 at 6:42 pm

      thanks, Karen
      these things have to be shared, yes?
      and I couldn’t do it without your keen eye and ear for story editing!

  • 3. Lainie Levin  |  December 13, 2010 at 9:38 pm


    This is why I like and respect you so much. It’s in these moments – these very real moments – that you can realize what you do. A piece of you will always be with that child. Maybe things can be different. Maybe things will change. Maybe all you needed to do was offer that piece of hope, that one bit that will give some much-needed confidence and the feeling that things may get better. Bravo to you!


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