Bullying Assembly Programs – What Schools Need to Know

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on February 9, 2015

bullying assemblySchools have been organizing assemblies to address bullying, substance abuse, and a variety of other student issues for as long as I can remember. I definitely remember sitting through them during middle school in particular, and – unfortunately – tuning out because I just didn’t feel like I could connect with the speaker. When it came to the assemblies about bullying, I thought to myself, “yes, we all realize that it’s wrong to be mean to others, but nothing really is going to change at my school, and so why even bother?” I admit that was quite a defeatist mentality, but I’ll blame it in large part on my disillusioned, angst-ridden adolescent self.

That said, I also remember a couple of more inspirational speakers who gave presentations at my schools – and while they weren’t at all about bullying, I did find them compelling, hopeful, motivating, and even instructive. And I didn’t feel like I was being preached or lectured to. That showed me I could be reached – it just really seemed to depend on the quality of the content, the tone of the message, the level at which I was spoken to, and the relatability of what was conveyed. The bottom line is that there is value in assembly programs, but their selection and implementation requires significant consideration and forethought.

The Assembly as a Bullying Solution

Since schools know that bullying and cyberbullying is a problem on their campus and want to do something about it, scheduling an assembly is often the very first idea that comes to their mind. It makes sense, because they seem to be an easy-to-implement solution. Typically, a school has a budget, they find a speaker (or just have one of their staff members do it), they schedule the day and time, and they bring that person in to do his/her thing in the auditorium, gymnasium, or cafeteria. This takes a lot less time and effort than all that is actually needed to make a true difference. But at least it is something.

To be sure, there are a ton of options available for schools in this space. Just do a Google search for “bullying assembly” or “cyberbullying assembly,” and you’ll find pages and pages of people, many of whom are self-described “experts” (perhaps they are, I have no idea). Many educators also receive unsolicited emails from speakers, encouraging them to check out their web sites and skillsets, and consider hiring them to talk to their students. The speakers’ web sites describe what makes their particular talks engaging, interactive, and motivating, and most provide testimonials highlighting the benefit the assemblies provided to the school and attendant students. All of this is good. Really good. There is definitely a need to reach kids with a gripping and powerful message that cultivates empathy, induces intentional kindness and respect towards one’s peers, and equips them to know exactly what to do if they – or someone they know – is being targeted. And there is definitely a need for many speakers to be out there doing their part to help. However, there are three points which we want to make to help inform your implementation:

1. Assemblies must be used as a single piece of a much broader effort.

While a bullying assembly does have some value, we cannot emphasize strongly enough that a “one and done” strategy will fall short and ring painfully hollow in time – even if it is the most heart-rending or entertaining or memorable or impressive or convicting talk your youth have ever heard in their entire lives. Students need more. Bullying prevention initiatives in schools can have assemblies as part of their programming, but according to the research need more substantive characteristics such as information sent home to parents, requests for parents to attend meetings (so as to get them on board to help educators with the message), instructive role-playing scenarios in the classroom, and efforts that lasted more than one day. Schools need more than a flash-in-the-pan event, even if it is really good. The speaker’s efforts can have great value as a launching pad from which other initiatives can take off. These can include a comprehensive anti-bullying curriculum, peer-to-peer programming, specifically training faculty/staff on how to teach digital civility and how to handle problems that arise, modules on socio-emotional learning, stress management, and conflict resolution, social norming, and building a positive school climate.

2. Consider the impact of the specific content

A school’s good intentions to impact, influence, and inspire their student body may backfire if the speaker or organization is not carefully vetted, and if the message is not carefully designed – with every word measured and every aspect planned and prepped for. For example, in just the last six months one school district has had significant reputational fallout in the community because they brought in a speaker whose interactive exercises may have contributed to excessive vulnerability (and even emotional and psychological pain) by students, and consequently further targeting by bullies, and at least one school district has been sued for indirectly contributing to a teen suicide by hiring a speaker who gave a presentation that may have planted ideas of self-harm as a viable option out of the pain one is experiencing.

3. Take the time to find a great speaker to optimize chances for success

Schools interested in bringing out speakers to conduct student assemblies must demonstrate due diligence and do their background research. This is one of the primary ways to find out if they actually are relatable and uplifting, and if they actually have great content that focuses on the positive, provides real solutions, and can lead to specific follow-up by the school. We suggest that educators reach out to colleagues at other schools for specific recommendations. Feel free to even cold call those you don’t know but who work at schools similar to your own. Feel free to review testimonials, but also know that a speaker’s testimonials may not paint a full picture. As such, we also recommend that you take the time to schedule a call with potential speakers so you can get to know their style, passion, convictions, content areas, and exactly how they will connect with your students.

My next blog will detail what I believe the best bullying and cyberbullying assembly speakers do, in order to illuminate what makes a great quality presentation to youth. In addition, Justin and I would love to hear your own thoughts, observations, and experiences in this area, and so feel free to weigh in!

High School Cyberbullying Assembly

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on July 5, 2013

For students in high school, this presentation encourages the safe and responsible use of technology. Cyberbullying is explained and high school students are encouraged to be leaders in their school when it comes to combating online harm. The presentation also stresses the importance of online reputations and the (mis)use of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, and other social media sites. Adolescents need to know that what they post or send in cyberspace could remain there for a long time – even after they delete those provocative pictures or inappropriate messages. It then covers the negative implications that stem from carelessness or foolishness on the Internet, and how it can affect athletic participation, college admission, work opportunities, and social relationships.

(about 45 minutes)

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Middle/Intermediate School Cyberbullying Assembly

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on July 4, 2013

In this presentation middle-school students (grades 6-8) learn that cyberbullying is not acceptable under any circumstances, and that any type of bullying is a serious matter. It is also pointed out that cyberbullying is actually much easier to document and track than other forms of bullying and therefore is often more likely to lead to consequences. In addition, victims of cyberbullying (or those who witness cyberbullying) are encouraged to talk to an adult they trust. General issues of online safety and responsibility are also presented.

(about 45 minutes)

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Full-day Educator Workshop

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on July 2, 2013

This is our most popular workshop for educators. Schools can bring in either Dr. Patchin or Dr. Hinduja (depending on availability) to spend the day with teachers, counselors, and administrators. All aspects of cyberbullying, social networking, and sexting are covered; that is, each of the Educator Briefings previously described is covered in detail. Plenty of time is available throughout the day to discuss issues specific to your district. After participating in this comprehensive workshop, educators will be able to:

– Identify popular online environments among adolescents today and recognize various forms of cyberbullying;
– Understand the potential emotional, psychological, and behavioral consequences of cyberbullying;
– Identify how adolescents are using social networking websites and teach youth how to use social networking responsibly;
– Know how to respond to cyberbullying incidents and the extent to which school personnel can get involved in cases that involve electronic communication (on or off campus);
– Describe the current legal issues concerning cyberbullying;
– Know the necessary elements of a comprehensive school cyberbullying policy;
– Recognize warning signs and identify important strategies for preventing cyberbullying; and,
– Much, much more!

(6 classroom hours)

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Parent and Community Presentation

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on

Designed for parents and community partners, this presentation provides a broad overview of adolescent technological concerns, including cyberbullying, social networking, and sexting. The specific content of the presentation can be customized to the interests of the group. This is a perfect presentation for libraries, parent/teacher groups, churches, and other neighborhood groups.

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Adolescent Girls and their Online Experiences

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on

Adolescent girls tend to participate in more indirect, less visible forms of bullying, including psychological and emotional harassment (e.g., rumor spreading and other forms of relational aggression). Given the fact that the vast majority of cyberbullying behaviors involve these indirect forms of harassment, it makes sense that most research suggests that girls appear equally as likely to be active participants – as either targets or aggressors. This presentation discusses the ways, reasons, and contexts in which girls engage in online cruelty towards others based on quantitative and qualitative data collected from thousands of randomly-selected youth. Attention is also given to girls’ use of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other platforms – and how what they post and share may open themselves up to embarrassment, disgrace, defamation, and other forms of victimization. By way of many case studies and examples, as well as a focus on self-respect, dignity, integrity, and locus of control, attendees will learn how best to encourage adolescent girls to protect themselves, their reputation, and their content in cyberspace.

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Safe and Responsible Social Networking Presentation

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on

This presentation is designed for educators and other youth-serving professionals who want to help adolescents make wise choices when participating on Facebook and similar social networking sites. First, a foundation of the positives of online social networking is laid while also exploring the developmental, emotional, and psychological reasons why teens have gravitated towards extensive communication in these environments. Then discussed are a number of hard-hitting case studies that illuminate how youth have carelessly or unwittingly sabotaged their future and undermined their athletic participation, college admission, work opportunities, and social relationships through unwise postings and Internet use. Finally, guidance is provided as to how to work with this population to enhance positive and appropriate interaction online.

(45-60 minutes)

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Sexting Presentation

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on

Sexting is “the sending or receiving of sexually-explicit or sexually-suggestive images or video via a cell phone.” Most commonly, the term has been used to describe incidents where teenagers take nude or semi-nude (e.g., topless) pictures of themselves and distribute those pictures to others using their cell phones. The images are often initially sent to romantic partners or interests but find their way into the hands of others, which ultimately is what creates major problems. We provide examples and share stories about this trend, and discuss why youth participate in it from a emotional, psychological, and developmental perspective. We also then discuss the latest research findings and cover the legal and criminal issues that are implicated. Finally, we share in detailing what schools and families can do to prevent and respond to sexting incidents.

(45-60 minutes)

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Student Leader Program

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on

Designed for upper-class students in leadership roles, this interactive presentation empowers youth to take a stand against online cruelty and encourages key students to play a role in creating and maintaining a school culture that condemns bullying in all of its forms. It discusses in detail relevant issues of communication, integrity, and being a good role model.

(60 minutes)

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Elementary Student Cyberbullying Assembly

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on

This presentation introduces upper elementary-aged students, usually 3rd, 4th, or 5th graders, to issues associated with the responsible use of technology. It encourages them to be open with their parents about what they are doing online, and teaches them to be wise when posting information or interacting with others on the Internet.

(40-50 minutes)

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