Thursday, 17 November 2011

Bullying - What To Do About It!

It was professional day on Monday at our school. The teachers basically decide how to spend this day, and it was agreed to bring in a speaker on bullying. The speaker shared his credentials at the beginning of the session as being a youth care worker, and his strategies have been formed from collecting the ideas from youth on what doesn't work and what the youth believe will work. The youth gathered these ideas from attending a non-violent crisis intervention workshop and thought that the strategies would also work in bullying research to back any of this up, just the suppositions of a group of kids and a presenter eager to believe that he has found the magic cure!

My senses were on high alert, and as the day wore on, the knots in my stomache just grew tighter and tighter.....such a different feeling from our last two professional days that Colleen Drobot has led for our staff this year. As I sat there, I just wanted to cry, thinking about how this very strict behavioural perspective could potential derail all the good work that we have been doing in our school for the last two years!

Making it worse was the presenter’s insistence on the staff doing role plays in which one person needed to be the bully and the other needed to be the victim. Eventually, the presenter decided to use me as a target and then criticized me for not handling it in the way he thought I should. Apparently, we are to stay strong, look the bully in the eye, and keep repeating that we don't want to be treated this way and want him/her to stop.  By this time, the knots in my stomache were so severe, and my disappointment in myself for not being able to challenge his presentation (at the break, all the teachers seemed to think it was a fantastic presentation; oh, the need for the quick fix!) Sigh, I just left the workshop and worked in my office for the day. Sometimes I can be such a chicken.

Collectively, our staff has moved to a much deeper understanding of the developmental needs of children. It has been inspiring to see teachers take the extra time to look beyond each child’s behaviour and try to understand what might be driving it. We have seen a number of children become much more secure and happy in themselves and in their classrooms, as teachers have gone out of their way to address the child’s need for time and attention. Our teachers have risen to their position of being the natural caregiver in their classrooms, and, as each teacher gains confidence in this position, most children naturally look to their teacher as their provider in their home away from home.

Listening to the presentation on Monday inspired me to watch Gordon Neufeld’s videos on bullying. This was taken from an all day workshop that Dr. Neufeld has presented all over the world.
Just listening to his soothing voice and solid understanding of the bullying problem calms my spirit! I know in my heart that I need just as much compassion and understanding for the "Bully" (such a dreadful word!) as for the "Bullied" (also a dreadful word!) One suggests a victimizer whose main purpose in life is to hurt others, and the other suggests a victim who lacks the strength to protect one's self. My experience over the years is that it is seldom this clear cut. This is a multi-faceted problem; the child who feels bullied needs to be supported and absolutely given strategies to deal with those who mistreat him or her. However, the child who is hurting the other also needs our compassion and support. It ALL comes back to attachment, providing loving guidelines, and ensuring that the adults are taking responsibility for keeping the environment safe for the children. Seldom have I experienced an out and out bullying situation. There are often so many pieces involved, such as the child being hurt continually going back to the antagonizer, wanting to be friends with someone who is hurtful, etc. Working one on one with both children does make a difference. As each one becomes more secure in themselves and begin to trust that the adults will indeed take care of them, the need to act out their frustration on others lessens.

This brings me to the many wonderful points made by Dr. Neufeld in his Power to Parent series. While we could look at the child who is being hurtful to another child in a judgmental way, labeling him or her as a bully, (or even worse), I think that looking at the child who might be prone to bullying behaviour could safely be assumed to be an immature child. Using the four guidelines for dealing with immature behaviour makes perfect sense here: 

1.  1. Assume responsibility for the immature child. We have identified children in our school that we believe might be prone to bullying behaviour. We have now set up additional supervision at recess and lunch to keep a close eye on them and intervene when necessary.

2.   2.  Change the circumstances or feelings that result in problem behaviour. These children are often very strong alpha (dominant personalities), and don’t handle it well when things don’t go their way. They also tend to be defended against attachment (emotionally protected). So…..we adults have a lot of work to do with these children. It is not going to be a quick process and it is not going to be easy. One of the things that our staff has worked especially hard at is finding ways to connect with those children who appear to be emotionally defended. We know that we are making inroads with these children,  and we are seeing it start to make a difference for these children. Continually providing a safe environment for both the child who feels bullied and the child who hurts others will prevent a lot of these issues from arising. Again, providing adequate supervision that is targeted at the children of concern and intervening before the child loses his or her temper will prevent a lot of these issues from arising.

3.   3.  Use structure and ritual to get the desired result. Most bullying incidents seem to happen during transitional times: going outside at recess and lunch, playing outside where there is less supervision. While we pride ourselves on having clear routines and structures, we  still have some work to do here. We want to be sure that the children clearly understand the routines and that all students respect them.

4.  4.  Use the power of attachment to script the desired behaviour. While the presenter on Monday did a good job of teaching us the script to teach  students when they feel that they are being bullied, there is so much more that we need to do in this regard. What script can we teach the child who  does not have good self control in the moment? Teaching that child to focus on his or her breath, to walk away, try to calm down is something that we do, but again, can definitely do a better job of.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Napping in Kindergarten

Yesterday, I covered for our kindergarten teacher so that she could attend a meeting in the middle of the day. After the children eat their lunch, they put their heads on their tables and close their eyes. The teacher turns off the lights, closes the blinds, and plays soft classical music. Not surprisingly, a few of the children fall asleep, some for an hour or more.

As I sat at the teacher’s desk with my eyes closed, peeking every few minutes to make sure that everyone was still where they were supposed to be, I found myself relaxing. At one point, I decided that I would put my head down on the desk, as I started to get very drowsy. I found myself semi-meditating, as I needed to remain aware of my surroundings and continue to check on the children every few minutes.

Once nap time was over, and the children came to the carpet for story, I noticed how much calmer both the children and I were. I was reminded of the work of Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman and the evidence that they write about in their book “How God Changes Your Brain”, that daily meditation not only increases students’ ability to concentrate and achieve better in school as well as decreasing anxiety, but actually changes the structures of the brain.

Dan Siegel, the author of the books “Mindsight”  and “Parenting From the Inside Out” (, recommends quiet time or meditation as an important process to help children gain some control over their emotions. Dr. Siegel is coming to Vancouver, B.C. on November 16 and 17 ( This is a great opportunity to learn more about how we can nurture growth in our children. Check him out on YouTube at: and:

Dr. Gordon Neufeld, the author of “Hold Onto Your Kids” talks about the importance of rest, which he describes as a state in which children are able to relax in  relationship to the adults who are responsible for them. Dr. Neufeld speaks about this at:

While naptime alone is not on its own going to address the points made by Dr. Neufeld, slowing ourselves down so that we are able to be present with our children does allow us to reflect on their needs and how we can best respond to them. Many of the people that I see in my counseling practice struggle with a state of constant busy-ness which distracts them from paying attention to those they most care about. As I have discussed in previous posts, this is one of the dangers of technology and the constant distraction that it provides from being in tune with ourselves and others.  Dr. Neufeld will be doing an online presentation on Nov. 10 about this topic. In order to register, go to:

An argument can be made for slowing ourselves and our children down in order to enable us to reflect on and address our mutual needs for connection. Start small; take 5 minutes a day and, after a week, if you find the results positive, slowly increase the time until you are taking at least 30 minutes a day in quiet time or meditation. Let me know if you find yourself more relaxed and able to face the stress of your day in a better frame of mind.

Monday, 31 October 2011

It’s All About the Connections!

Great meeting of the F2F Network today, a group of like-minded educators who meet face to face every few months to explore personal use of technology and how we can best use it. After blogging for a few months, I shared my frustration at not being able to commit to more regular entries. Others are at different points in their exploration of social media, some much further down the path, some still pondering how they want to put it to use. It was an “aha” moment for me when the point was made that we first have to decide what the purpose of technology is for us. I know that my main purpose of blogging is to communicate with staff and parents about what I consider to be important learning opportunities. I would also like to somehow knit together my role as principal with my other professional role as I transition to being a counselor in private practice at the end of this school year. I hope to connect with others who seek to understand matters of the heart as well as the intellect.

An important part of our conversation tonight was around how we use technology to connect. As Li and Bernoff (Groundswell, 2011) put it “concentrate on the relationship, not the technologies.” (p. 18) It’s about creating a community of others who are interested in exploring the same ideas as you are. 

I must confess to being a little reluctant to embrace social media, as I worry about looking, or I should say, sounding silly. I also worry about taking time from connecting with friends and family through more traditional means. Time is always an issue; I don’t want to lose out on valuable opportunities to connect through face to face meetings, phone, personal email, etc. I worry about becoming addicted to the computer, and not keeping up with my many other interests. On the other hand, I am convinced that there is much power behind social media, and I don’t want to miss out on the chance to learn alongside my friends. I have several friends both professional and private who are blogging and tweeting. I definitely feel more connected to them when I read their blogs and tweets.  I enjoy reading about other people’s learning adventures, and the personal growth that they are experiencing. 

So here I am, dipping another toe in.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Attending a Conference... in my Pyjamas!

Yesterday, I attended a three hour conference with Dr. Gordon Neufeld in my pyjamas. I was able to get up and use the washroom when I wanted without disturbing others, get myself a fresh cup of tea, and make my bed and unload the dishwasher during the break! I didn’t have to worry about finding parking and taking the extra time to commute into the city. I felt connected to Dr. Neufeld and that my presence was acknowledged and valued.

This was accomplished through Adobe Connect, which allows the presenter to use Skype to be seen and heard by the participants. It also allowed Dr. Neufeld to include slides for us to follow along as he talked, and a lively discussion to take place throughout the presentation.  Participants were able to ask questions through a chat box and could indicate if they wanted their audio turned on to enable a voice discussion. 

I am continually intrigued by the power of technology in our lives. As both a school principal and a counselor in private practice, I am intrigued by how we might apply this power to learning and counselling. I wonder what it would take to enable this system to operate in our schools? We could hold live meetings without having to leave our buildings, parents could attend daytime PAC meetings from home or work, principals and teachers could hold video conferences with parents to discuss student learning. The applications are endless! The opportunities for learning boundless. What exciting times we live in!

Friday, 30 September 2011

Filling up Our Hearts

“Mrs. Geres, you fill up my heart!”  explaimed one of my favourite students today as she rushed forward for a hug. I was teaching her class while her teacher had to suddenly leave due to a family emergency. I have always had a soft spot for children who struggle. There is something inspiring about a child who faces significant challenges, yet perseveres through situations under which many of us adults would crumble. Her statement touched me on many levels, one of which was the realization that our collective efforts are paying off with her.

I am proud of my staff and even prouder of my students, as we work together to create a sense of family where we fill up each other’s hearts. Our staff attended a professional development day on Monday led by Colleen Drobot. Colleen is a family therapist and a teacher, who has trained under Gordon Neufeld. The staff was encouraged by Colleen to consider the emotional needs of the children with whom we work, and how parents and educators can work together to meet these emotional needs. When children act up, whether at home or school, it is often because their needs are not being met. Understanding children from a developmental perspective enables us to consider how we provide an environment that allows them to develop their full human potential. As my young student put it: filling up each other’s hearts.

How, exactly, do we fill up each other’s hearts? When I walk down the halls of my school, I see teachers who are genuinely delighted by the students they teach; teachers who provide the rich soil of caring, thoughtfulness and guidance that enables our students to thrive. As I walk around the playground before and after school chatting with parents, I see parents who take delight in their children, whose eyes light up when they see them, and who naturally respond to their children with love and sensitivity. 

We had a wonderful thing happen in our school this week. We just hired a brand new teacher, and her first day of teaching was on Tuesday. Her classroom had not yet been set up and the walls in her room were bare. After school, one of the other teachers went onto the PA system and announced that there was “a decorating party” in the new teacher’s room. Most of the staff showed up with scissors and staplers, and within an hour, a job that usually takes a teacher a full week during the week before school starts was complete. Every bulletin board was covered, including the border, which various staff donated to the cause. Her calendar was laminated, cut up, and mounted on the wall. Seeing everyone come together in this way filled up my heart, and I’m sure it did for the new teacher as well. What a great symbol of the Old Yale Road community spirit!

The PAC came out in force last week to ensure that every street corner was covered in our Terry Fox Run. The caring spirit was strong as they watched out for our children to ensure that everyone completed the run safely. This week, they are hard at work selling Entertainment books in the foyer of the school. We are a true team, and I am proud to be a part of such a terrific school. I feel fortunate to work in a place where my heart is filled by a million kind and thoughtful things that adults and children do for each other every day.