• LEADnet: An Annotated Bullying Policy

  • An Annotated Bullying Policy

    Note: Phrases directly from the existing policy appear indented and in italics.

    The very word bullying makes me cringe. It brings to mind so many memories in my past that are clear and painful. There was the time in middle school when I acted like a bully to a younger, smaller student. As a freshman in high school, I ended up on the painful end of a headlock at the hands of an angry senior. As a principal, the word bullying reared its ugly head as parents expressed concerns for their child. In the community where I live, the local public high school had an official bullying complaint filed against the coaches when the team won 91–0.

    So, when our school leaders took on the task of writing an anti-bullying policy, a lot of thoughts, questions, and opinions came to the surface. The very phrase anti-bullying policy was the first thing that caught our attention. We wanted something different. Our school looked for a way to be rooted in Scripture that would be broad in nature and would address the issue in a positive manner. What developed was, “A Christ-Centered, Principled Approach to the Treatment of Others.” The name captures more fully and accurately how we are to deal with each other.

    Our approach begins with Scripture.

    God instructs us in Mark 12:31 (NIV) to “love your neighbors as yourself.” Mean behavior does not comply with this instruction—and it does not reflect God’s love and grace. The bullying of any student, therefore, is unacceptable behavior at St. Paul Lutheran School.

    The Bible is very clear. All mean behavior, hate, or anything that does not reflect the love of Jesus Christ is unacceptable. It is outside the lines. It was important for our school to clarify up front that if it’s not love, it’s not of God. Secondly, our school emphasized the need to report to a person of authority if bullying has occurred.

    If a student or parent believes there has been bullying behavior involving an SPLS student, he or she should report it to a teacher or the principal and allow the administration to determine the appropriate course of action.

    Once those two items were identified, our school decided to take the time to acknowledge that while we aim for a perfect environment, the reality is we live in a broken world.

    SPLS is committed to providing a safe, loving, and forgiving environment. We strive to protect our students and at the same time encourage them to mature in their walk with Christ, even as they stumble as we all stumble.

    The blessing of a Lutheran school is that we cherish the need for law and gospel. We readily admit that sin exists and students fail to live up to God’s standards. It is a true joy to acknowledge sin, confess wrong-doing, and experience the forgiveness made possible by Jesus Christ.

    Our school listed four ways by which we will help create an environment that is God-pleasing.

    • All staff will lead by example as they seek to love others as image-bearers of God and will teach that a proper understanding of one’s self is found in their identity in Christ. We encourage the promotion of positive—Christ-like—interpersonal relations between members of the school community.
    • We will take an active role in resolving conflicts and encouraging students to resolve conflict in a God-pleasing way.
    • Teachers will be vigilant in watching for signs of bullying. We expect students to conduct themselves in a manner in keeping with their level of development and maturity. Accordingly, teachers will instruct and intervene as appropriate to keep our students safe and to encourage our students’ growth as followers of Christ.
    • Leadership will partner with parents to discover and verify acts of bullying and to take appropriate corrective measures.

    12 guiding principles

    Our school developed 12 principles to guide our school administration and staff regarding bullying and to indicate the behavior we will seek to model. Each principle is based on truth found in Scripture.

    We are made in the image of God therefore every person has intrinsic worth, value, and dignity and each believer should ensure that others are treated accordingly.

    • We are made in the image of God therefore every person has intrinsic worth, value, and dignity and each believer should ensure that others are treated accordingly.
    • Jesus identified the most important commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. Bullying behavior is rebellion against God’s character and command. Therefore, our school takes bullying seriously. Our school will support all involved when bullying is reported and verified. Bullying will be forgiven and corrected—but it will not be excused, permitted, or tolerated.
    • God helps us to learn how to love others through the example and instruction of godly teachers. The primary responsibility to model and teach how to love others as God commands falls to the parents of children. Therefore, we expect parents to equip their children with the appropriate training and tools to live lives of love and encouragement and to hold their children accountable for the children’s failures to exhibit such behavior.
    • Through the Scriptures, we are taught that relationships inevitably involve conflict. Conflict may be caused by our sinful nature, including by selfishness, jealousy, greed, arrogance, and rivalry. Individuals may become resentful, sullen, or angry when they do not get what they want. Each student can expect such sinful behavior to be confronted and corrected.
    • Humility and brokenness are essential to life in a Christ-centered community and will be encouraged and expected of staff, students, and parents.
    • God calls individuals to overlook minor offenses as we love one another and to seek justice.
    • Individuals can sin in word, action, and thought.
    • Humans should not seek revenge.
    • Words have power and reflect the condition of one’s heart. When another person sins, the goal of leadership ought to be restoration and reconciliation. This involves a Spirit-directed discerning of the heart. Restoration involves ownership of the sinful behavior, acknowledgement of the hurt, asking forgiveness, and repentance. Love requires gentle confrontation or a firm rebuke and correction when sinful behavior is identified.
    • Sometimes the context of restoration must be outside of the student population for the safety and health of others.
    • Prayer accomplishes much.
    • The objective of this policy is not to merely maintain a safe community but to develop one that is transformational and life-giving through the Holy Spirit.

    Defining the word “bullying” is essential in any written policy. Too often the word is misunderstood and misused. Our school settled on the following definition.

    Bullying” is engaging in written or verbal expression, expression through electronic means, or physical conduct that occurs on school property, at a school-sponsored or school-related activity, or in a school vehicle and that:

    • exploits an imbalance of power between the offending student and the victim student through written or verbal expression or physical conduct;
    • interferes with student’s education or substantially disrupts the operation of the school; and
    • either:
    • has the effect or will have the effect of physically harming a student, damaging a student’s property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or of damage to the student’s property; or
    • is sufficiently severe, persistent, and pervasive enough that the action or threat creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive educational environment for a student.
    • What aspects of your school’s anti-bullying policy need re-examining?
    • What effects does your school’s current policy have on school culture?
    • How can your school balance teaching, discipline, forgiveness, and accountability?

    The remainder of our “Christ-Centered, Principled Approach to the Treatment of Others” outlines the proper reporting and school response. It addresses confidentiality, false-reporting, and steps that need to be taken by school administration.

    Our school has found this approach useful as we compare each situation to Scripture. Jesus sets the ultimate example for us in calling out sin for what it is, teaching, and restoring people through his amazing love and grace. We simply try to follow His example.

    Scott Browning is the principal of St. Paul Lutheran School in Fort Worth, Texas. He was named a 2020 NAESP National Distinguished Principal and is a Van Lunen Fellow. He has served in Lutheran schools for 25 years.

    Art ©iStock/Viorika

     

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