The movie Bully opens tomorrow in select theaters. You no doubt have seen many of the stories about the film as it has received widespread news coverage, in addition to on social media platforms like Twitter (#BullyMovie and @BullyMovie). I saw the movie last year at a prerelease screening at the U.S. Dept. of Ed. It’s a powerful film designed to show what being bullied is really like for some kids. Of course, I was very saddened by the terrible stories of the kids being bullied, but as a former teacher, I was more alarmed at the behavior of the authority figures in the film—behaviors familiar to any teacher or administrator. Director Lee Hirsh says that the question of how to respond appropriately to bullying is at the heart of the film.

How should teachers and administrators handle bullying? I was reminded of a courageous film sent to us a few years ago by Fox High School in Arnold, MO. The video is a powerful demonstration of how teachers can sometimes act like bullies without even realizing it instead of preventing bullying. Watch the film below and ask yourself if you are a bully or a teacher.

I contacted Fox High School to see what changes may have come about since they made this film. Assistant Principal Gina Buehner said that initially the school did a lot, and many have changed as a result of the process. She said, “Many on staff are very passionate about building empathic relationships in order to decrease bullying. We feel that by promoting acceptance of others and building compassion, our students will make personal connections and friendships that will ultimately help to decrease bullying situations.” Two administrators, two guidance counselors and several staff members play pivotal roles in making positive changes and actively promoting acceptance.

She offered bullying advice for schools who might want to go through this reflective process:

  • Start with getting the staff on board. This is why we created the staff video and made that our focus for the first year before we brought in the student group. It begins with the staff!
  • Students look to the staff (including custodians, kitchen staff, secretaries, etc) to lead by example and if staff is on board, students are more apt to want to get involved.
  • Many students commented that they enjoy interacting with staff outside of the classroom and enjoy the time to collaborate on ways to make positive changes.
  • Training is crucial, role play with staff, give them scenarios and situations that include role playing student situations so they can empathize with what some students go through daily.
  • Invite guest speakers.

Let’s hope that this movie becomes more than just a movie – that with all the PR given to the issue of bullying, we can make a difference and stop thinking of bullying as “just a rite of passage.”

Where Can You See Bully?
March 30: New York, Los Angeles
April 6:  Toronto
April 13: AtlantaBoston, Chicago, DenverDetroit, MiamiMinneapolis, Palm Springs, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, St. Louis, San Francisco, Washington DC.