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  • Writer's pictureTrish Dotts

These 8th graders know something about bullying you wish everyone knew.

Voices of DPMS

To increase the quality of peer relationships, my middle school developed a special program for our students in North Eastern Washington. Each semester the Principal, Tim Olietti and I hand-pick a cross-section of eighth graders to represent their peers. The group, called "Voices" is diverse in social tendencies, communication skill, interests, and academics. Not just athletes or unique gamers. Not all social justice warriors. These are students that are found in every school in every town in America.

‘Voices' students meet with me, for 45 minutes every day to learn about their brain, presence, perseverance and communication for the purpose of bringing the school culture together. Once a week, they teach a lesson reaching every student in small classrooms throughout the school. Voices students are excited about this work to eliminate bullying and increase school-wide communication skills. One student says, "It feels really good to have an impact on how people treat each other. We are helping our friends gain skills they will use the rest of their lives."

Why this approach is imperative

Search the web for the top five skills colleges and employers are looking for in their candidates.

  • Collaboration, Teamwork, Interpersonal skill.

Every single search result will have communication and collaboration as one of the top five. Typically, these attributes are not explicitly taught. Teachers do a good job of teaching writing in language arts. It is clear that we are supposed to teach students how to state a claim support it with evidence and elaborate. However, a walk up and down the halls or a trip to any school lunchroom we hear students who build relationships by teasing and joking around. This works well for students when they are within their friend group, in a comfortable setting. But students struggle when placed in a different context or taken out of their social group.

Take a look at that top-five skills list you see what are considered soft skills. Soft skills are attributes that are difficult to put your finger on and tend to be "caught not taught". "Caught" means that it is the cultural environment that teaches. You observe strategies used by the people around you. You improve them by trial and error and reflection. Errors are usually pointed out by peer rejection or teasing.

"Catching' communication is an effective method for children whose families are interpersonally healthy and have great communication skills themselves. But families who struggle pass weak skills to their children. This limits their potential success in school, employment opportunities, and healthy relationships for themselves.

Poor communication skill is related to peer rejection and bullying, according to a recent study at University of Illinois, Advising parents, Susanna Hatcher suggests increasing a child’s social problem-solving skills as a way to combat bullying and limit peer rejection.

Before a child even tries to get a job, they must survive the dreaded middle school. In order to do well academically, students need to feel safe. Social safety is crucial for a child to take the risks necessary to learn. In fact, social interaction is the most powerful way to attain learning. So it is imperative that students learn to communicate effectively.

See how these 8th grade students are changing the trajectory for themselves and their classmates in the next blog post.

Cook, C. R., Williams, K. R., Guerra, N. G., Kim, T. E., & Sadek, S. (2010). Predictors of bullying and victimization in childhood and adolescence: A meta-analytic investigation. School Psychology Quarterly,25(2), 65-83. doi:10.1037/a0020149

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