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Personal Responsibility in Bullying Prevention

Reviewed by Wendy Carria

Edited By Merryl Bushansky

This book is a great resource for those just beginning their bullying prevention efforts, and will reenergize those who have been implementing bullying prevention programs in their schools without seeing desired long-term results. Stan Davis hits all of the frequently asked questions about bullying prevention. What constitutes an effective definition of bullying? How do we teach students to tell us about bullying without reinforcing tattling behavior? How do we deal with exclusion? Davis brings common sense and practical strategies to life in this book. The anecdotal stories make this book easy to read and easy to relate to; the research validates its contents.

One important difference between this and other publications that address bullying prevention is the emphasis on personal responsibility of the students— all of them. Many times, school climate is referenced in discussions on bullying, but most often the responsibility for the climate is placed on the adults. Davis brings home the concept that the most important (and most powerful) stakeholders in determining school climate are the students themselves. Throughout the book, Davis prompts us to reflect on our own behaviors (which sometimes subtly perpetuate problems) and to use our insights to guide youngsters into making a difference in their world.

Davis specifically addresses the contrast between adult behavior and adult messages with the example of often-given advice to "just tell the bully to stop." His honest appraisals of his own and other adult behaviors yield the insight that not only is this advice easier given than followed, it is also placing the responsibility for stopping the behavior on the victim. Davis goes on to discuss that as long as confrontation (telling the bully to stop) is a possible solution, then other solutions are not likely to be remembered or applied.

One particular strategy to address problems at recess is the use of "Recess School" to teach appropriate play skills. Elementary educators will immediately recognize the problems that Davis is referring to: rough play, invading others' space, difficulty with turn taking, and exclusion. The notion of a skill-building response, rather than repeated punishment that doesn't address the underlying problems, is one that will have wide-ranging appeal.

In addition to providing detailed situational and school-wide strategies, lesson plans, and scenarios, this book includes simple concepts that any individual educator can incorporate into daily interactions with students. For example, making a change in language so that consequences are "earned" by the students rather than "given" by the adults can begin the process of instilling personal responsibility. Furthermore, being able to recognize teachable moments for reinforcing appropriate, responsible behavior, and applying historical or literary examples to daily life can elicit reflections and insights from students.

This book is highly recommended for anyone who seeks to begin or refine efforts in bullying prevention. Although it is written with the perspective of kindergarten through grade 8 in mind, some of the concepts can be extended to older students. With his inclusionary approach, emphasis on appreciating diversity, and skill-focused interventions, Davis has provided a valuable tool in the ongoing effort to create positive learning environments for all students.