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Social Conflict Resolution and Bullying Prevention

Weekly Update from the Director - November 3, 2023  
Dear GISC Community,
Over this past month, the faculty and staff have examined the importance of “community” by primarily reflecting on social conflict and bullying that unfortunately is part of school life. I believe that simply talking about it (and fostering awareness) is a first step in creating a healthier school community.
In that spirit, I invite you for a special parent session/conversation on the topic of "Social Conflict and Bullying." I will facilitate this conversation, raising many of the points outlined in this newsletter. We will hold this parent conversation on Wednesday, November 15, from 8:30 am to 9:30 am. Alternatively, I will offer this presentation on that same evening at 6:30 pm. Given the topic and the emphasis on conversation, I do not think a remote format is suitable. We will send a summary of the conversation to GISC families.
Why Is Community Important in a School Setting?
The connection between one’s feelings and one’s performance in learning is undeniable – feeling sad or lonely is counterproductive to great learning; and, obviously, a sense of belonging and being respected is highly productive to achieving great performance.
It is appropriate to put a high degree of value on how students feel when they are learning. A colleague of mine recently wrote to me that “social-emotional learning, self-care, trust, morale/spirit, advocacy skills, healthy boundaries, and equity, inclusion, and belonging work are not alternatives to academic programming, but instead are the very foundation of deep and wide intellectual development for everyone.”
What Have We Learned This Past Month?
As a result of faculty and student presentations, including from Carrie Goldman, author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear (a 2013 Gold Winner of National Parenting Publications Award), I would like to offer a few compelling big-picture thoughts that Carrie Goldman makes. I encourage you to review these points with your kids at home just as we are telling them here at school:
  • Teasing: Teasing is actually good-natured, and it occurs when the teaser and the target of the teasing are both laughing and having fun.
  • Taunting: Taunting happens when the teaser is having fun, but the target is feeling hurt, embarrassed, angry, or scared (never tease about personal attributes such as one’s family, one’s weight, one’s religion, one’s race or ethnicity, or one’s socio-economic status).
  • “Just Kidding:” We need to teach and empower our children to respond to teasers who say “just kidding:” “Kidding means we are both having fun. Now that you know I am not laughing, if you are really just kidding, then you won’t do it again.” Should the “just kidding” statements continue, kids can say “You already know I don’t think it’s funny. You are trying to hurt me on purpose, and it’s not okay.”
  • Bullying: It has three attributes: a) it is repetitive; b) it is unwanted, as in NOT Kidding, and c) it involves a power imbalance (many kids versus a minority of one or a few kids, age differential, etc.). A key indicator of bullying is fear.
  • Forms of Bullying: Verbal (taunts), physical (shoving, hitting), relational (exclusion, ostracism, rumors), material (destroying or stealing belongings), hate-motivated (slurs, bias-based), and cyber-digital (anything using the phone or computer).
  • Being Different: Research shows that those with differences are likelier targets. Examples include racial and ethnic minorities, kids with larger body sizes, kids with physical or mental disabilities, kids with brain differences such as neurodivergence, autism, ADHD, or sensor processing differences, or kids who are bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender.
  • Victim Blaming: Groups reporting that a target is “too sensitive” or is “provoking others” imply that it is only the target who needs to change. If, however, the group accepts that addressing the situation includes the aggressors and the bystanders, then everyone needs to learn how to change, which is more work.
  • Affirmation: Bullying or being mistreated does not happen because a child is flawed – it is happening because other people are choosing to be mean.
  • Social Conflict versus Bullying: Social Conflict is about something external (e.g. kids fighting over a video game) and neither child fears serious ramifications (e.g. being excluded from a social group). Bullying involves an attack on someone’s internal identity (e.g. “You are ugly” or “You are worthless).” In cases of social conflict, parents and teachers should avoid swooping in and fixing things, but rather offer solutions or facilitate conversations. It is important that kids talk face-to-face to work on resolving the conflict. When social conflict remains unresolved, it can turn into bullying.
  • Consequences: When bullying occurs, the most effective consequence is to teach kids about appropriate social competencies – more effective than punishing. These social competencies are empathy, compassion, and conflict resolution.
  • Cyberbullying: The conflict escalates online due to the following: a) Funny or sarcastic messages get misinterpreted, b) Cyberbullying escalates quickly (sometimes on simultaneous but different channels), making it difficult to sort out accountability, c) kids who may not target in-person or kids who do not fight back in-person are more likely to do so online, and d) conflict turns into drama as social media turns someone’s private pain into public entertainment.
  • Snitching: There is a profound difference between getting someone into trouble as opposed to getting someone out of trouble. Getting others into trouble usually applies to situations in which nobody is in danger and nobody's getting hurt. Getting others out of trouble implies that someone is in danger or at risk of harm. Kids often stay silent as they do not want to be labeled as a snitch.
Again, I look forward to seeing you on Wednesday, November 15, to talk about social conflict and bullying. One disclaimer: This meeting is not the forum in which individual and personal situations will be addressed. If that is the case, please contact your child’s Klassenleiter*in or me personally at your earliest convenience.

Thank you,
German International School Chicago is a preschool through 8th grade school that prepares students to become well-rounded, creative, and responsible global citizens. We provide students with a rigorous German-English bilingual education in a supportive and individualized learning environment.

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