Violence Prevention: A Lower School teacher’s call to action

By Marion Dear, 5th grade teacher


What does sexual assault have to do with a Lower School teacher? My answer: just as institutionalized racism is a form of bullying, so is sexual assault. Bullying is defined as harm done repeatedly, when there is a discrepancy of power. In July, I trained at a Greendot Institute held in Arlington Virginia.  The Greendot Program is a method of community mobilization that addresses sexual assault and it is applicable to other forms of bullying.   This method fits directly into our Olweus anti-bullying program already in place in the Lower School. Our students already know that the main characters in a bullying scenario include the bully, who has most of the power, the victim, on the receiving end of the harm, and the bystanders, who are aware of the situation but are not actively participating in the harm. This last group is the largest group and where most people find themselves. The Greendot Program is a call to action for the bystander group.

Now for some color coding. Imagine a map of the U. S.. Every time someone inflicts harm on another person, we mark a red dot at that place. As more people are harmed, red dots increase, and eventually they start to cover the map. We often see this this type of visual dot scenario, when we are tracking outbreaks of illnesses or disease. Now, imagine that every time a harmed person receives help and recovers, we mark over the red dot with a green dot. As the instances of help increase, eventually all the red dots are covered up by green dots. Harm is eradicated. Our goal is to teach our students to take care of each other and fill their community with green dots.

There is two types of green dots, reactive and proactive.  A “reactive green dot”, is an action a bystander takes AFTER a harmful behavior. Imagine this. A student sees someone getting teased on the playground or not included in a game of Foursquare. Later at lunch, that student checks in on his/her classmate and says, “Are you OK?”  This simple action is a reactive green dot.  An even more effective type of behavior is a proactive green dot, intended to prevent the harm from occurring in the first place. An example of this, using our recess scenario, might involve recess duty teachers clarifying that games like Foursquare must include everyone who wants to play. Exclusion is not tolerated at recess. As a teacher I have posted the following proactive green dot statement in my classroom:

“No one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something.”

I explain the poster to my class. It is a call to action, telling bystanders that they should not stand by, when they see harmful behavior. They must act. I am also telling any potential bullies that harmful behavior is not tolerated in my classroom community. At the end of this blog post, I will ask each of you as my readers to join me in creating proactive green dots throughout our community here at Westtown.

There are obstacles that prevent us from intervening when we see harm, and the Greendot Program gives us strategies for overcoming them. Many of us are simply afraid to intervene if we witness harmful behavior. We fear for our safety. We learned that, despite this understandable obstacle, we can still intervene with a green dot when we see harm. These strategies involve three different approaches, called direct, delegate, and distract, or the 3 D’s for short.  Direct intervention involves confronting the bully and  telling him/her to stop. This is the least common type of green dot, because it takes  some guts. If you are standing up to a bully, you probably need to be confident in your physical strength. I know I rarely am, and in all honesty, this strategy is the one I am least likely to employ. The second strategy involves delegating or finding help. We tell students to get a teacher when things heat up and get out of hand on the playground. They do. They are acting out a green dot by getting help. Calling 9-1-1 is another example of  delegating a green dot. Delegating works, because it stops the harm. The third type of green dot involves distraction. The bell ringing to signal that recess is over will stop a bully in his/her tracks. So will this, “Excuse me, can I borrow your cell phone? Or, “What is snack today?” This can interrupt the process of harm just enough to keep it from progressing. The favorite distraction for the college trainees at my conference involved spilling your drink on someone. Each of us had to reflect and determine which type of green dot intervention we might be most likely to use, direct, delegate, or distract. Practicing bystander intervention in our heads in hypothetical form prepares us for for situations when we must act out green dots in real life. Sometimes, a harmful situation calls for a combination of these three strategies. This is fine, as long the harm is stopped.

Now, dear reader, I will ask you for help. Remember the map with red dots and green dots? We want to cover our community with proactive green dots, before red dots have an opportunity to occur. Please, join me in making this happen at Westtown, with your very own proactivgreen_dote green dot.  If your answer is, “Yes, I am on board,”  then let me know and I will send you a copy of this green dot poster. Post it in your classroom, and explain it to your students. Know that many colleges are adopting the green dot program as part of their freshman orientation. We can, likewise, teach our students to stand up and strengthen this community by starting right here on campus. We have an opportunity to further define what we so often call “safe space” at Westtown. Thank you for considering my request.  I hope I hear from many of you!


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