By Kevin Guenthner
Kevin Guenthner (pronounced Getner) is a teacher, selected by TEACH FOR AMERICA, who educates students with autism. His class is at Coyote Ridge School in Glendale, Arizona.
In Kevin’s own words
After happening upon the Storybook Tea Kit Company website, I became inspired by the information I found there on bullying – particularly how it was related back to Alice in Wonderland. The 4 Bees of Bullying inspired me to think of my own Bees as a way for other teachers to address this rampant problem in all our schools. More importantly, it was the catalyst for an eight-day Bullying Prevention teaching unit I created – with the generous help of Storybook Tea Kit Company founder, Joann Siegel.
We can all make a difference in the lives of students who feel afraid, ashamed or excluded at the hands of others. We simply need to remember to:
In Chapter 7 of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Mad Tea-Party opens with bullying. As Alice approaches the party, all the guests shout “No Room! No Room!” As a teacher, I see children excluding others in multitudes of ways. I also see physical touching and teasing, similar to what Dormouse was subjected to by the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. Because these behaviors are often milder and less vicious than others, we tend to marginalize them and lose sight that they are, in fact, forms of bullying. We do all our students a great service when we’re more conscious of these behaviors – and the hurtful effects they can have.
Sometime ideas and inspiration come from the most unlikely places. My epiphany came by rereading Chapter 7 of Alice. This is where my idea for an eight-day Bullying Prevention teaching unit was born. My goal was to bring to life Joann Siegel’s four Bees of Bullying (the Bully, the Bullied, the Bystander, the Buddy); and the three types of bullying (physical, verbal, and emotional intimidation) she outlines on this website.
Where might you find your own sources of inspiration? How might you use this teaching unit (see more below) or something similar in your own classroom?
All the inspiration and good intentions in the world have little value if they aren’t backed by actions. Along with creating the teaching unit, I wanted it to culminate in a truly special event – a Wonderland-inspired tea-party. I reached out to Storybook’s Joann Siegel. Together, we talked about:
- Her vision for what a Pawfect Tea-Party looked like
- How to throw a party for 60+ individuals
- What we might need in terms of time, effort and supplies
We were on our way to a “pawfect” event of our own.
Of course, it’s important to remember that not all our efforts need to be so elaborate. What small actions can you take today that will help curtail bullying tomorrow?
We wanted students to learn, to invest, and to be inspired by the lessons learned. This took months of preparation. We began by discussing the importance of bridging the gap between students in the general education classroom and students in the special education classroom. I selected a general education 4th grade class to participate in the unit and Tea-Party. We started to build peer relationships by setting up a “Buddy to Buddy Lunch” program in which students from my self-contained autism classroom and students from the general education 4th grade class shared lunch together every Monday afternoon.
I spent time each day working with my students to increase their social skills, to ask follow up questions to their lunch buddies, and to initiate compliments and conversations when they felt it was appropriate to do so.
From August to early October we continued to build these peer relationships and then we began teaching the unit, which took place both in the general education classroom and the special education classroom. We selected October 22, 2014 (Unity Day) as the day of the Alice’s Pawfect Tea-Party and invited students, families, staff members, and District Representatives. Joann Siegel also flew in for the magical Tea-Party.
How did it go? You can see for yourself right here:
You don’t need months to prepare a similar event. But it’s important to remember that single, random efforts can only be so effective in bullying prevention. It takes continual awareness – and a long-term commitment – to change behaviors. But the effort is very much worth it.
Our Tea-Party exceeded expectations
Not only did the tea-party inform and inspire, but we all had incredible fun. And its long-term effects are still being felt.
A new student gets a warm welcome
Last Tuesday, I told the class a new student was arriving the next day. They asked me questions about him and two students immediately shouted, “I want to be his buddy!” Another said, “Guys, we have to be his buddy because he is new and he needs buddies. We can’t be bullies even if he looks funny or is not nice.” I didn’t have to say a word.
He came in that next morning and they welcomed him with open arms. Many of them introduced themselves without any prompting. I heard a few “How are you?” greetings. Another student immediately complimented him on his shirt and shoes. For the new student, a self-professed “kid who hates change,” it was a warm and promising start. He gave Coyote Ridge a 4/5 star rating on his first day and even said he made some new friends. Just last year, my class’s reaction to new students was to shy away and converse only when prompted. They didn’t understand the importance of acceptance and inclusion. They certainly do now! This is character education and social skills put into ACTION and the kids have helped to create a positive culture. What a beautiful thing to see. And to help foster.
A student with special needs identifies bullying behavior on his own
I had lunch with a student and asked him how things were going in his Gen Ed class. (He spends a little less than half the day with this class). He said “Things are a little okay but not really.” He told me how the kids don’t behave well and how some aren’t nice to him. He said these kids were bullies and there were no buddies in the class.
I asked him if he talked to his teacher and he said, “Yeah, but she just told me to ignore the kids. She don’t do nothing! She’s being a bystander because she lets the kids be mean and doesn’t stop them.” I was amazed that he made this connection on his own. I asked him what we should do about it and he said that I should talk to his teacher. I suggested the three of us sit down together and discuss what was happening. He thought that was a perfect idea. We have all since met and had a very productive conversation where the student got a lot off his chest. The teacher agreed to talk to her students and apologized for not always being a buddy in the classroom.
I hope to see some change in that class and the level of comfort he feels there.
For anyone interested in the SMART Board presentation I created, or in downloading the Bullying Prevention Unit, see below.
1. Click to Download the SMART Notebook Exchange Software
Choose the version that corresponds to your MAC or PC operating system.