I apologize in advance for the clinical nature of my description below… these are students currently in my class, and this blog is open for anyone to read.

Background: Student 1 is male; Students 2 & 3 are female. Student 1 and 2 ‘dated’ earlier in the year. Student 1 and 3 are good friends… “But that’s all!”

The incident: Student 1 (who is in my first class) does not log out of his Science Alive! wiki account. Student 2 (who is in my second class) goes onto the same computer and realizes that Student 1 is not logged out. She writes a wiki mail message that she addresses to all students in Science Alive! (almost 60 kids in 2 classes). Here is the message:

from [Student 1]
to members of sciencealive
date May 3, 2007 1:42 pm
subject most horrible secret!

Unfortunately I was not in class when this happened- I was at a Math Learning Team meeting.

This message got to Student 3 (also in the second class) quickly. She excused herself to go to the bathroom and confronted Student 1 about this – she realized it wasn’t him because at the time of the incident he did not have access to a computer. After coming back to class and doing some more digging, she discovered who sent the message. Then this new message came along:

from [Student 2]
to members of sciencealive
date May 3, 2007 2:06 pm
subject sorry folks
i sent [student 1’s] message
totally sorry! 🙁 i throw myself on [student 3’s] & [student 1’s] mercy… it was a bad joke
swear i won’t do it again!

I find all of this out the same evening via an e-mail from Student 3. She is very upset!

What did I do? Well, the first thing I did was make this an office issue.

(A little digression here as I look at what makes something an office issue.)

In 9 years as a teacher I have made very few classroom issues into office issues. I have 4 D’s that I think are issues that should be dealt with at an office level. The first two D’s are cut-and-dry/immediate office issues. These are ‘no-brainers’, you break these rules and you go to the office!

1. Drugs- Alcohol is included in this category;

2. Dangerous- Not just weapons, but physical violence too. The best policy is a zero-tolerance policy… We don’t solve problems this way. (Sorry President Bush, but I’d be sending you to the office);

The next 2 D’s have some grey area between being an issue for the office and being an issue that I handle myself. They are:

3. Defiance- an absolute refusal to participate and/or co-operate. If you don’t come to class prepared to learn, or if you aren’t willing to participate with the class… If you can’t offer me 5% of what I am offering you, then that probably hinders my ability to give everyone else the time and attention they deserve. I obviously can’t help you, so there is no reason for you to be here. I’ve only ever had one student absolutely refuse to engage in learning to this point. I honestly felt that it was a disservice to keep him in the class and made this the reason to send him to the office. (I have used this as ‘leverage’ with other students in the past- not an ideal strategy, but sometimes a student needs to know that you have limits);

and the final ‘D’,

4. Disrespect- If you are going to treat me, or others in a way that is hurtful, if you are going to ‘injure’ others emotionally/socially… then we have a problem. Hitting someone, or physically hurting someone puts you in the ‘Dangerous’ category and becomes an immediate office referral. Disrespect on the other hand is a little different. If you emotionally or socially injure someone then you are defying one or two of our school beliefs : Respect and/or Inclusion.

So why was this act of disrespect an office issue? Because it was bullying! It may not satisfy the dictionary definition of bullying, ‘to use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone)’, but it injured someone’s dignity in a very public way. To me bullying of any kind, like physical violence, should have a zero-tolerance policy. If I dealt with this on my own, then I would be offering a perception that this is easily fixed… and it isn’t. From Nails in Fence (from my Teaching Metaphors):

“When you say things in anger, they leave a scar… You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there.” A verbal wound can be just as bad as a physical one.”

This act, whether done simply as a joke, or with hurtful intentions, was wrong on many levels, from identity theft with the use of Student 1’s account to social embarrassment of Student 3, (and Student 1 as well). It is cyberbullying because it used technology as the medium to bully.

For my class, the first thing I did (while still at home) was to send out a wiki mail message to everyone. Basically it said, ‘Don’t use wiki mail until we get a chance to talk tomorrow.’ I didn’t want it used to perpetuate any more issues or, for that matter, gossip.

Next, I changed my lesson plans for Science. It was our last day for the project, (talk about putting a damper on the whole thing), and our school dance was scheduled for the afternoon so I thought this would be a great opportunity to have a lesson about bullying and cyberbullying.

Here is my Daily Agenda for Science Alive!

Friday May 4th, 2007

Today we will take a break to talk about a serious issue… Cyberbullying!

We are having this talk because of a specific wiki ‘mail’ issue. However, please realize that the specific issue is being dealt with appropriately… talking about an issue that has already been dealt with can be equally as hurtful.

If you scroll down to March 30th, you will see that we already discussed Cyberbullying. Also, please check out April 16th to see that we brought up our school beliefs, which we first talked about when blogging and also very early on in this project, on March 16th.

So, we will talk about the many faces of Bullying and Cyberbullying today- an appropriate conversation before our dance… and we will do a reflective assignment on Science Alive! on Monday.

Also, I will give you until Monday to put last touches on your wiki pages!
(This was something I was planning to do anyway! -Use the time well!)

Normally I would be equally as clinical talking about this situation with my class, so as not to single out the involved students, however this specific issue was fully public already since every student received all the mail messages mentioned above.

Once I went over the situation, I emphasized that the issue has been taken to the office and is indeed being dealt with appropriately, and that my lesson goes well beyond this one incident.

Why is this an important step? If I don’t do this, then I am a bully too! I am ostracizing Student 2, and I don’t want to do this! She is a wonderful kid who made a bad choice… “Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone”. I’ve made some very stupid choices/decisions in my life. In the hockey game we call life, I’d like to think that I have a good plus/minus when it comes to good choices I’ve made versus bad, but that doesn’t negate the bad choices as if they never existed. Student 2 made a bad choice, she is not a bad person!

Next in the agenda, I specifically mentioned other times that we discussed similar topics for two reasons, first to further distance my lesson from the specific issue, and then also to show everyone that this is an important issue that needs to be discussed on a regular basis.

Also, rather than having students reading this agenda on their own computer as I have done in the past, I had this on the projector screen, and I did not scroll down enough for students to see that I was extending the due date of the assignment. I wanted them focused.

So, the lesson involved 3 videos from Youtube, with a discussion after each. Here are the videos:

I think the discussions went well in both classes. I think I made students see that there are many faces to bullying… it is a continuum. I tried to convey that the choices they make influence others, whether we intend for this to happen or not. I hope that I helped students to see that we have a responsibility to make a positive rather than negative difference in the world, and that often we can do so with very little effort.

I also spoke of the etiquette around asking someone to dance, and turning someone down politely. I admitted to being turned down for dances many times in my life, and that I appreciated when it was done in a nice way. I reminded them that saying yes to a dance was a 2-3 minute commitment, not a lifetime one. On the other side of the spectrum, 2-3 minutes is an eternity if someone is groping you or touching you inappropriately- you have every right to stop a dance early in that case. This was a ‘light’ way to end a very heavy conversation, without losing sight of the main ideas I wanted to get across.

An important note: What were student 2’s consequences? She was not permitted to go to the dance. Also, on Monday or Tuesday she must report back to the office, along with Student 3, and state whether they have been able to come to an acceptable resolution. If they haven’t, the next step is that they can choose to have peer mediators involved. Barring that, it will become an office issue again, but I’m confident it won’t get to that point.

A side note: Student 3 stayed back after class and thanked me for giving this the attention that I did.

A final note: It would not have been too hard to handle this situation on my own. However, I think that making a very public issue such as this into an office concern raises the profile of such an incident. It validates that such behavior is simply not tolerated in our school!

Originally posted: May 6th, 2007

Reflection upon re-reading and re-posting:

[Student 2] admitted to me about a week later that she actually felt a little bullied herself by my very public discussion, over two classes, about this issue. It was a great conversation because I got to apologize and, for the first time, she really saw how intent and consequences did not always match. She meant to be funny with hurtful consequences, I too ended up with hurtful consequences. It was a valuable lesson for both of us!

I was invited to be her friend on Facebook this summer and I saw that both Student 1 and Student 3 are also her online friends.

Comments from the original post

  1. Hi David,Thanks for sharing your story. You mention that you tell your students that they have a chance to make a positive difference. That’s just what you did by grabbing such an important teachable moment. As a mom & a former middle school teacher, I have to say that you are one in a million.

    Carolyn on Sunday, 06 May 2007, 15:04 CEST

  2. Thank you for your kind words Carolyn! 🙂SmileI was visiting my page on the StopCyberbullying Social Network on Ning and re-read what I wrote on my ‘Chatterwall’:

    “I think that IDEALLY cyberbullying should be something we expect not to happen, just as graffiti is. We don’t say, “Don’t write on the walls”, but it is understood when we look at basic rules and expectations. For now I think it should be mentioned.
    Here is where I could use some help:
    For my foray into using blogs and wikis in the clasrroom, I have tried my best to keep the rules very simple… Respect, Inclusion, Learning and Safety

    Well, it isn’t enough to just expect cyberbullying to ‘not happen’ without making reference to it. My rules on Respect and Inclusion do not mention specific ‘infractions’ and so I wonder, do I mention cyberbullying in the rules, or do I just teach about it?”

    I am a fan of telling students ‘what to do’ rather than ‘what not to do’ however, now I realize that yes, indeed, counter-examples are needed. I think this is the case because many students are interacting with each other in new ways with these Web2.0 tools, and a social faux pas is not as obvious as graffiti painted on a wall.

    Once again, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment Carolyn,


    David Truss on Monday, 07 May 2007, 06:32 CEST

  3. You were right to make this an office issue. As much as I don’t like dealing with these as an administrator, these are the issue that help to define the culture and atmosphere of the school. As an administrator, it also helps to have discussions with teachers who are dealing with these issues to know where they stand and what they are doing. By continuing to discuss this with students and creating an environment of learning from mistakes, you have allowed the students to see that mistakes happen, they sometimes hurt people and we need to fix them. You allowed the student to see that they aren’t bad – ALL of us make mistakes. It’s the learning that is important. That is why the place we are in is called school!

    Kelly Christopherson on Sunday, 13 May 2007, 08:40 CEST