Bullying in Schools–Teaching Respect and Compassion Through Restorative Processes

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Category: Marquette Law School, Milwaukee, Speakers at Marquette
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450px-Bully_Free_ZoneAll too often, we see and hear people trying to intimidate others-whether it involves politics, religion, driving habits, employment, sports, family or any other topic that creates conflict. Rather than civil and respectful discourse on tough topics, many routinely call each other derogatory names and describe the other as “evil,” “Hitler-like” “self-centered,” etc. We see physical violence and harassment occurring regularly in schools, places of employment and even on our highways. Finally, the language people use on talk shows or in e-mails, blogs, and even tweets often is designed to intimidate, ridicule and even destroy those with whom the speaker or writer disagree. I consider that this conduct to be an attempt at “adult bullying”…trying to “win” an argument by physically or verbally attacking others who in good faith see a situation or issue differently.

For the last four years, the Marquette Law School Restorative Justice Initiative (RJI) has held very successful annual conferences on topics involving victims and restorative justice, the international application of restorative justice and two conferences on creating safe streets through restorative justice. Last year when the planning committee for our 2009 (RJI) conference met, we decided to focus on restorative practices that address bullying because many schools were asking our assistance in creating approaches to address a serious problem of bullying in both elementary and high schools. On November 10, we will present our “Bullying in Schools–Teaching Respect and Compassion Through Restorative Practices” conference at the Marquette University Alumni Memorial Union. Not surprisingly we “sold out” all 350 seats at the conference. Students, parents, teachers and social workers continue to struggle with how to address instances of student bullying through physical and verbal abuse not to mention the terrible phenomenon of what is happening on the Internet including the sending of nude student pictures to others. Our conference is designed to help people learn of better ways to promote respectful and civil dialogue in our schools.

Dr. Brenda Morrison, our keynote speaker, describes bullying in the school context this way:

“The most frequently cited definition of bullying is the ‘repeated oppression, psychological or physical of a less powerful person by a more powerful person or group of persons’ (Rigby, 1996, p.15; see also Farrington, 1993; Olweus, 1993). Three critical points are important in this definition: Power: Children who bully acquire their power through various means: physical size and strength; status within a peer group; and recruitment within the peer group so as to exclude others. Frequency: Bullying is not a random act; it is characterized by its repetitive nature. Because it is repetitive, the children who are bullied not only have to survive the humiliation of the attack itself but live in constant fear of its re-occurrence. Intent to harm: While not always fully conscious to the child who bullies, causing physical and emotional harm is a deliberative act. It puts the child who is bullied in a position of oppression by the child who bullies.”

The RJI decided to offer both the academic community and the greater community an opportunity to learn more about bullying and how better to address the problem. The critical nature of the problem is accentuated by the fact that Mayor Tom Barrett, City of Milwaukee School Superintendent Andrew Andrekopoulos, and Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm will all play a role in the conference. We are fortunate to have the most prominent expert on the topic of restorative justice and bullying as our keynote speaker. Dr. Brenda Morrison, Co-Director of the Centre for Restorative Justice and Assistant Professor at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia. She will speak on “The Power Dynamics of Bullying” Negotiating the Socialand Emotional World of the School Community.” Following her talk, we will offer a panel discussion by four Milwaukee high school students who will talk about their respective experiences with bullying.

In the afternoon, we will offer a number of breakout sessions: “What is a Restorative Justice Circle?”, “A Discussion on the Legal Implications of Bullying” (presented by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm), “Cyberbullying and Social Interaction with Technology–How to Talk with Your Child,” (a discussion with educators from two high schools who have faced severe cases of sexual related internet bullying), “The Impact of Bullying on Learning,”  and “How MPS is Using Circles to Deal with Bullying” (with an actual demonstration of a circle with MPS students).

Finally at the end of the conference we will recognize eight “unsung Milwaukee urban heroes” who generously and regularly make a significant difference in the lives of children. Each recipient will receive our RJI Starfish Award and a financial award to use how they see fit. The winners are:

Sister Clara Atwater described as a “living saint” in our city. As founder of the nonprofit Gingerbread Land Inc. on the north side of Milwaukee and as a spiritual leader of True Love Church, she has taken in babies born to drug addicted mothers and become their stand-in mother showering them with love and guidance. Over the years, she has taken in and worked with 400 children. She has also taken in other foster children and homeless people and created a community garden which benefits the neighborhood. She is deeply loved in her community for her generosity and kindness.

Sister Jean Ellman S.S.D.N. has an incredible generous heart and is a tower of faith and stability in challenging neighborhoods. She has shared her gifts through the years as a teacher, principal and minister all in the Hispanic community. In 1996 Notre Dame Middle School (school for Latina youth) opened with Sister Jean’s help. She taught at the school and then became principal in 2008. She works to know each child and each child’s family personally. She observes families and she meets needs as she sees them: warm clothes, food, advice, spiritual guidance, encouragement—whatever will bless the family and empower students. In her service to others, she also models faith, wisdom, and compassion.

Charles Reese is the Program Director for the Milwaukee chapter of the I Have A Dream (IHAD) Program at the Clarke Street School. Charles works hand-in-hand with first and second graders to ensure they will continue from elementary school to college with financial assistance from IHAD. He offers year-round education assistance as well as support to overcome non-educational barriers. IHAD utilizes a holistic approach to address the need for increased educational opportunities for central city youth. He is persistent to see the ultimate goal of the program fulfilled: college education for the children with financial gaps funded by IHAD.

Raymond Rivera grew up in the Riverwest area watching many of his friends and family become heavily involved in gangs and drug activity. He however focused his energies into martial arts and sports which has allowed him to help many young people find a safe and healthy way to relieve stress. He currently works as the Youth Development Specialists for the United Community Center. He serves as a wonderful role model for young people. He also runs a faith-based drug and alcohol prevention program on the Southside called Life Changers.

Raymond Robakowski is a city of Milwaukee police officer, a loving husband and father and proud grandfather. For most of his career in law enforcement Ray’s views were traditional, but as the Community Liaison office at MPD District 5 he has grown to embrace community policing. He is an officer who interprets the law by the book, but has the ability to make it fit the culture of the community. Ray knows all the players in the neighborhoods: the gang-bangers, the business owners, scores of residents, the block clubs, community-based organizations, stakeholders, and leaders. He has been so successful in building these relationships that community residents will call Ray on his cell phone and share information with him or ask him for help. As a police officer, he has certainly witnessed the underside of humanity, but he is still able to approach the daily challenges of his profession with optimism and hope.

Jacqueline Spence is a full-time MPS teacher. She has gone above and beyond the work as a teacher by doing community work through the Running Rebels Organization. Through her work with this organization, she created a reading program that helps students read as well as confront some of their issues including bullying, violence and relationships. She has also developed literature to help parents navigate the sometimes confusing jargon surrounding the educational system. including definitions and explanations of acronyms. Her upbeat demeanor, diligent work and humility display that her goals are centered on the success of the children.

Bradley Thurman is married and the proud father of three boys. After graduating from UW-Oshkosh he served as a Milwaukee firefighter for sixteen years, rising to the rank of Lieutenant. In 1995 he started a second career as an entrepreneur and businessman. Bradley is well respected in the business community and is known to assist and collaborate with other local businesses, even competitors of his. For the past 25 years, he has been a staunch supporter and volunteer for the Becham/Stapleton Little League baseball program in Milwaukee. Bradley has served as a coach for many years, worked in fund development and now is the player agent and all-around handyman and good guy. He also has generously, without compensation, given our RJI Safe Streets north side coordinator, Ron Johnson, an office and meeting space for his work with the community.

Lori Vance founded Express Yourself Milwaukee (EYM), a nonprofit organization to help young people realize their inner talents and rise above their daily struggles through the power of art. Lori believes that every child, no matter the pain and adversity he or she faces each day, has endless potential to grow, transform and prosper and that art provides an outlet to these children for self-expression, self-identification and self- improvement. Each year Lori brings together about 700 students with lots of baggage—learning, behavioral, emotional, or psychological disadvantages, and home lives marred by violence, poverty, incarceration, and drug addiction. But once they arrive at EYM, Lori immerses her students in various artistic mediums, including music, drama, dance, visual, and performance art. With the help of guest artists, including performers from Stomp, Lori’s students work together towards a grand, culminating, end-of year performance.

(Editor’s note:  The photograph accompanying this post was found here.)

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5 Responses to “Bullying in Schools–Teaching Respect and Compassion Through Restorative Processes”

  1. Rebecca Blemberg Says:

    Thanks for the inspiring post! The conference sounds like it will be fantastic, and it is truly uplifting to read about the Milwaukee heroes who will be honored.

  2. Daniel Idzikowski Says:

    As the community discusses the larger policy issues regarding the Milwaukee Public Schools, it is important that we pause to remember the day-to-day challenges faced by our children and the everyday heroes who are making a positive difference in their lives. Thank you for hosting what promises to be a terrific conference.

  3. Joseph Savirimuthu Says:

    Colleagues – will papers from the Conference be published? I found the Keynote inspiring.

  4. Mary J. Flanagan Says:

    My sons have been constantly bullied in school. They both have negative suspension records. How can I help my eleven year old?

  5. Deborah Brock Says:

    The Research Center for Women and Girls (RCWG) at Alverno College in Milwaukee has completed innovative and inspiring peer-reviewed student-driven research on bullying and has developed a Bullying Prevention Toolkit for parents, teachers and communities to utilize to counteract bullying. Alverno College’s RCWG develops research from the unique perspective of creating a bridge from research to real-world application. You can find access to this information and the toolkit at the following website: http://www.alverno.edu/rcwg/.

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