Brooks Gibbs invited students to join him on stage at Hellgate Elementary on Thursday to role play different scenarios involving bullying.
Gibbs is an author and speaker who travels to schools across the country to teach students how to combat bullying by developing resilience.
Gibbs explained three different ways that people bully others. “The first is that someone is trying to be funny,” he said. “The second is that they’re trying to hurt you. And the third is that they’re trying to psychologically control you.”
To demonstrate each type, Gibbs selected students from the crowd who he invited to “bully” him on stage. Gibbs explained that sometimes, it’s easy to brush off mean comments by responding with a joke, like “that’s a good one” or “you should be a comedian.”
But situations that involve psychological intimidation or efforts to control another person require a different approach. Gibbs invited another student on stage and asked her to make a mean comment about him. “You’re not smart,” the student said.
The two engaged in a back-and-forth exchange in which Gibbs became increasingly defensive and upset, raising his voice to a high-pitched tone. Then, he asked the same student to “bully” him again, except this time, he didn’t get upset.
Her words were the same in both scenarios. What changed, he noted, was the way he let them affect him.
“The second time she was still mean to me but I didn’t get upset. She said the same thing but I changed my thinking,'' he said. "You see, it’s not her words that upset me, it’s my thoughts about her words that upset me.”
Gibbs told students that they can learn to stop getting offended when they’re the target of an insult by changing their thinking. He believes that building up emotional resilience is the best way to combat bullying.
“I call the behaviors what they are: name-calling, social exclusion, racial slurs, online insults,'' Gibbs said. "I say let’s call it what it is. Let’s say what actually happened.”
Hellgate Superintendent Doug Reisig said bullying prevention is an important issue to him. The district uses Olweus, a nationally recognized bullying prevention program endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education.
“I would like to tell you that bullying doesn’t take place and that hurtful things don’t take place but we have 1,500 children here,” Reisig said. “Our goal is to provide kids with the tools to work through this so that they feel that they’re welcome here and they’re safe here.”
Jonna Brandt, the coordinator for the bullying prevention program at Hellgate, said Olweus provides resources and training to staff that help create and maintain a positive school climate.
Brandt said that teachers at Hellgate hold weekly class meetings where they discuss any topics of concern to students as part of the district's effort to encourage inclusion.
"Our hope is that the kids have a safe place to talk about what's important to them and what's on their mind, and help empower them to have some say in what their environment is like," she said.