Anna Nolin on Being Proactive
Anna Nolin is the principal at Wilson Middle School in Natick, Massachusetts. She is also an adjunct professor at Framingham State College.
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"Well, I think schools often focus on, you know, what can we tell the bully about the bullying behavior, and what can we tell the victim about their behavior, and certainly the work we’ve done with Facing History defines roles and defines other children’s roles within the bully/victim paradigm. But my feeling is that we inoculate students better against these kinds of viral conflicts when we work as a community to stop the small stuff. So, one of the things that we do at our school is we have a behavior rubric that addresses not these large situations that need some sorting out, but that deal with some of the smaller injustices and – and mean behavior and-- almost like the broken windows theory-- you fix the small things and it prevents a lot of the bigger issues from happening.
But another peice that we do is we define what friendship looks like, and this is the part that I often find our community members, parents and the larger community have difficulty with, because they have visions of friendship that aren’t necessarily healthy ones or real ones, and so defining what friendship looks like, defining that friendships have cycles, that sometimes people need breaks from each other, and how to productively engage in that kind of friendship nurturing, relationships are a lot of work; friendship are relationships. No one would ever say in a marriage, you know, 'oh, it should just be—whatever issue it is should just be fixed instantaneously', but for friendships that kind of time and energy is not a given.
So we actually have classes in our school which discuss friendships and what kinds of issues can erupt around friendships. We need to do more with the community in order to engage them in that process, but all along the way, obviously, community means communication, and so we’re constantly calling families with our use of the behavior rubric. We publish, you know, what we identify as acceptable and not acceptable behaviors and we try to be in contact with every family no matter how large or small the issue is. We also try to provide great opportunities for kids to build themselves up and to not be as clique-y as it sounds in the Ostracism Case, that our school is large enough that you can kind of cross into different groups and there’s enough interest-making activities that students can be part of the Math Team and then cross over and be part of the Hockey Team or whatever it is that they’re interested in, so trying to inoculate them from that perspective as well. So that’s some of the proactive pieces."