Six summers ago, I traveled to LA to join a group of teachers (grades 5-12) for a week at Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Visual History Foundation (which in recent years has relocated to USC). The previous summer the invitation had been for high school teachers only. Their task was to watch taped interviews with Holocaust survivors and to then weave these gripping stories into their curriculum. As the participants examined hate group statistics, they came to the realization that with an average age span of 12-20 for both the perpetrators and bystanders of hate crimes, perhaps intolerance needed to be addressed prior to high school!
The high school group returned for a second summer, this time joined by me (at the time a 5th grade teacher), a 6th grade teacher, a 7th grade teacher, and an 8th grade teacher.Throughout the week, as we shook our heads, cried openly, and attempted to understand the events that led up to the exclusion and forced removal of targeted groups, we also tried to relate the “then and there” to “here and now.” We were committed to teaching for tolerance. But what did that look like, for instance, in a 5th grade classroom? Norma Motta Altman, a wonderful, wonderful English and ELL high school from LA USD, shared a strategy that was central to her teaching: creating the home court advantage. Each new school year, she would guide her students through a discussion of “the home court advantage”: what it meant and what it would look like in the classroom.
That August, I guided my new 5th graders through the same exercise. From then on, whenever students felt the need for put downs, I could refer them to our chart of guidelines and gently remind them about every student’s need and right for the home court advantage.
Six years later, I still share Norma’s home court advantage strategy with new teachers (including my daughter, who just finished her first week as a high school physical science teacher ). Six years later, the need to address bullying is greater than ever. The one conversation never addressed, however, with my Shoah colleagues was “cyberbullying.” Six years ago, as we sat in a state-of-the-art classroom in a back stage lot at Universal Studios, the latest technologies allowed us to download digitized versions of the original taped interviews. But we were working solely with Web 1.0. And in terms of bullying issues, we were concerned about inside the classroom, out in the schoolyard, on the bus, at the mall, etc. – “real-time” locations. But we were only a year away from Web 2.0 and social networking providers such as MySpace.
Last week I gave an iSafety workshop for my district. One of the teachers shared that over 50% of the issues counselors at her middle school are dealing with are related to cyberbullying. Over 50%! Six years later, part of the home court advantage discussion needs to include cyberbullying! And this discussion needs to start in elementary classrooms! In the primary grades, all reading textbook series include a story or two on bullying. Let the conversation begin there, with teachers teaming up to create age-appropriate lesson plans. For grades 4-6, still using the reading text, the lessons could be structured to help students make connections between playground bullying, for instance, and ethical use of the Internet. Elementary students should understand that the home court advantage extends into cyberspace. Taking pictures of a classmate with a hidden cell phone and then uploading them onto YouTube, for example, with a cruel storyline is a violation of the home court advantage and should not be tolerated.
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Key to the whole issue of eliminating cyberbully perpetrators and bystanders is to bring parents, teachers, and administrators on board! Fortunately, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel due to the growing number of excellent anti-cyberbullying resources, such as the above Heroes in the Hallway video, created by students (Kyle Barrett: University of Illinois and Bobby Barrett: Cary Grove High School) for students. (If you need a non-YouTube link in order to show this video at your school site, hop on over to thespiritdesk.com.) The ever-generous Wes Fryer has many resources on his Cyberbullying wiki. For the middle school group, whose cyberbulling curriculum could still be integrated into the adopted language arts textbook, I really like the videos posted to NetSmartzKids. For high schoolers, I would hope they might be involved in cyber mentoring programs such as iSafe.org.
In order to truly offer the home court advantage to our students, we need more heroes in the hallways – real time and virtual.