Bully forum focuses on educating adults, making schools safer
By Nicole Michaud - Staff Writer
Suffield - posted Thu., Feb. 10, 2011
Suffield Middle School welcomed JoAnn Freiberg, an educational consultant with the Connecticut State Department of Education, as host of Feb. 8’s open forum to discuss bullying and school climate improvements.
While the event focused on bullying, Freiberg’s strongest recommendation was to eliminate the word “bully” from the conversation, since the stigma attached to the word tends to shut down communication. “People won’t listen when you say their kid is a bully,” Freiberg said. “One person’s bullying is another’s ‘kids will be kids.’”
According to Freiberg, bullying is an adult problem that requires staff and parents to step up and advocate for children. “We can teach kids self-advocacy skills, but it’s not up to kids to change who they are,” she said. Freiberg reminded the audience that students are not equipped to manage stressful situations and may need more than guidance to stop a potential bullying issue.
Freiberg identified bullying as “the most toxic concept schools have to deal with on a daily basis” and acknowledged that most schools do as much as they can to reduce incidents. “What we need to hold schools accountable for is creating a safe climate,” she said. According to Freiberg, schools should focus on intervention at low levels and increasing connectedness between students and staff.
Freiberg also acknowledged that communication between parents and school officials is a major issue after several parents at the event expressed their dissatisfaction with the communication practices of administrators. “The ‘black hole’ is how we communicate about the issues that happen,” Freiberg stated. She recommended school officials be aware that silence can increase anxieties and recommended consistent communication with parents, especially when responding to an incident.
Freiberg asked audience members to remember their part. “Think about how we talk to children and to each other – we are role models,” she said.
Freiberg has worked as a classroom teacher, teacher educator and as a faculty member at various universities. She has served on the statewide task force on bullying and as an educational consultant in variety of settings both in Connecticut and nationwide.