Some time back I listened in on a virtual press conference kicking off abilitypath.org’s “Disable Bullying” campaign and the release of the report: “Walk a Mile in Their Shoes: Bullying and Special Needs.” Reading the report, about how ETL kids and other kids with disabilities are bullied was an eye-opening, cringe-inducing, heart-breaking experience.
My ETL daughter, Natalie, now a 5th grader, often has troubling social interactions at school. Usually her behavior is at least partially to blame, and she’s only had a few incidents that I would consider bullying. But I absolutely ache for her every time she gets her feelings hurt, is rebuffed, or excluded. Here’s just one tiny example of what it’s like to be Natalie: Her class is working on laptops in the media center. Natalie asks the child sitting next to her for help with something she doesn’t understand. That child rolls her eyes, sighs dramatically, and says, crossly, “What do you need this time?”
Natalie’s school uses a social and emotional development curriculum called Responsive Classroom in an effort to teach students to interact positively and as a community. I think the program is great, but when I think about my sweet, struggling child, I want more!
A couple of weeks ago Natalie had some really serious problems with peer interactions, and I felt incredibly helpless. You know how we moms of ETL children long to fix things, to shield our kids from pain. Natalie’s teachers and the school administrators do a fabulous job trying to make the school safe and inviting for every student—there isn’t a single thing I could think of to ask them to do differently. But despite their best efforts, kids will be kids, and kids can be mean.
So, I wondered, rather than trying to problem solve with a staff who are already doing a great job, could I influence the kids directly? I came up with an idea. What if I (anonymously) sponsored a contest where for the second semester of this year, the student, classroom or other group (like student council), or teacher who had the best record of showing and/or teaching sincere kindness, tolerance, and inclusiveness would win a monetary prize. Anyone on the school staff, any student, or any parent could nominate individuals or groups to win the prize.
Could you, fellow parents of ETL kids, please help me refine this idea further?
1) First of all, I’m not sure how to emphasize that it’s the ETL kids–the kids in special education, with behavioral problems, invisible disabilites–that should be the recipients of more respectful treatment. Do I even need to make that point in order to meet my goal, or would that be assumed?
2) I thought I could offer a list of suggested actions of what I’m looking for. For example, a child could research ADHD, autism, and other invisible disabilities, and then write a “book” for kids about understanding and befriending these kids; or keep a kindness journal, and list in it ways in which the child sought to be inclusive, such as asking an ETL child to join his/her group of friends on the playground, and then acting as that child’s protector and champion as a role model for the group (yeah, like that’s going to happen.) What prompts or ideas would you put on this list? What could we suggest that a teacher might do?
3) What other feedback do you have for me? Do you think this could work, or should my wishful thinking remain wishful? How do you think the principal of Natalie’s school would react if I presented this plan to him? What are some possible problems with the plan, and how could I address them?
4) What would be a good name for this challenge/award?
Please give me your input. I can’t wait to hear your responses, folks!
(Image from livingwithspecialneeds.com)