Creating a No-Bully Zone
Although the 2011-2012 school year is coming to an end, this is a great time to start planning an anti-bullying unit for the start of the 2012-2013 school year. Here is an activity to guide you and your students through the process of designing your own anti-bullying contract.
Within a garden live many individual plants. Each of these plants alone can be beautiful and unique, but as a whole, alongside all the other plants, they are so much more. Taking care of one of these plants gives you a piece of something bigger. You are contributing to bringing beauty to the earth. Your choices determine whether this living thing will continue to thrive, or die. Allowing pests to take over one plant will consequently affect the others around it. Now, look at your students. Each individual student is beautiful and unique. When you have a classroom full of these dream-seeking individuals it can be an awesome thing. The choices your students make will help determine whether they thrive in school and in life, or just get by. When there are students who choose to bully it affects those around them and impedes their ability to thrive. We are not all that different from our garden. Perhaps these similarities are what draw us in and encourage us to care for the individual plants as we hope others will care for us. We have an opportunity to teach our students to be part of something beautiful, not just in the classroom, but in everyday life by choosing to lift up those around us. Together we can be so much more than when we work as individuals.
Bullying exists in a variety of forms. It is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior that is repeated, often inflicted by someone who senses authority over another (stopbullying.gov). Bullies may feel powerful for a number of reasons including physical strength and the ability to verbally manipulate. Bullying is relevant to individuals of all age, gender, and geographic location. Many times, people who are viewed as “different” are singled out and become at-risk for being bullied. This is a difficult fact since we are all inherently unique and should be encouraged to express our differences creatively. However, when bullying is a looming threat on those who step out of the mold, we are less likely to blossom into the individuals we are meant to become. What is to be done about this age-old problem of bullying? One potential strategy lies just outdoors in your school’s garden. By involving everyone in the gardening efforts, including teachers, students, parents, and the community, your garden becomes a safe haven protecting everyone from the threat of being bullied.
Dogwood Elementary School
Tanna Nicely, assistant principal at Dogwood Elementary in Tennessee, is a supporter of her school’s garden and has contributed to the efforts of making it an anti-bullying resource. The Dogwood Elementary School garden consists of vegetables and fruit trees. Thirteen raised beds are adopted each year by teachers and maintained by students in the respective classes. This garden program has been in place for four years and involves students and staff school wide. Each year Dogwood holds a school gardening workshop attended by 25 staff members who visit the garden for training sponsored by Tennessee Ag in the Classroom. During this workshop teachers learn how to integrate gardening into their existing curriculum along with basic gardening information.
Gardening to Prevent Bullying
Involving students in a school garden can create unity and promote problem-solving and ownership. The garden requires students to be responsible; the plants’ survival depends on it, so they together to maintain the gardens. Each class selects a theme and the plants that will be grown in their garden. Students are proud of the work they have done and the growth throughout the season. They develop respect for each other as they share this common resource and work ethic.
To complement the efforts in the garden, at the beginning of the school year, Tanna does classroom visits where she discusses the topic of bullying. Students learn the definition of bullying and act out scenarios to determine what is and isn’t bullying. The fourth and fifth grade classes work with Tanna to develop a bullying promise which is signed by the teacher, students, and parents. In this “contract”, students promise to do everything they can to prevent bullying and to not bully others. Parents sign the form to promise they will support their child by encouraging him/her to respect others. Engaging parents in the school environment is a useful strategy for preventing bullying. Parents are often willing to serve as volunteers in the garden which increases their interactions with the school. Parental involvement increases the opportunities for conversations with youth and the likelihood of the parents being aware when bullying is occurring or when students are in danger of being bullied.
Tanna has seen improvements in the behavior of students who are involved with the garden program. Here is an example of how the garden program has impacted one of her fourth graders. “The other day we planted tomatoes. One student in particular wanted to take on every aspect of planting “his” tomato plant. The pride he exhibited was priceless. He has not had a behavior write up or contract violation since adopting his plant. The other kids in his class helped him water and pulled soil up around the plant without prompting from the teacher or myself. It was such an inspirational moment that was not planned or thought out. We plan to harvest the veggies and have a tasting party with this student’s tomatoes as part of it.”
It takes a Community
Gardening is one school activity that naturally lends itself to community involvement. Numerous school garden programs have volunteers from the community; some are even hosted at community garden locations. Inviting the community into anti-bullying efforts is a great match for further reinforcement of the ideals implemented at school. By educating community members about the issue of bullying and equipping them with strategies for prevention, there exist numerous opportunities for students to encounter the anti-bully message throughout their day beyond the school hours. Community advocates can even report back to school officials with insight into where they have witnessed a risk for bullying to help with future prevention campaigns.
Advice from an Administrator
At Dogwood Elementary School, Tanna acknowledges the competence of her staff by allowing them to make choices about the projects they would like to do and encouraging their support of students and families. The staff at Dogwood is committed to making the school and gardens a safe place for students to express themselves. The students who are fearful of being different can share their uniqueness through the garden. There is no one right way to garden which is a freeing concept in the school environment. At Dogwood Elementary, the garden serves as an outlet for many students to express their individuality while still belonging to a unified group.
If you have ideas on how school gardens can be used to prevent bullying, or if you’ve seen a reduction in bullying at your site as a result of gardening, share it with us at: http://www.facebook.com/KidsGardening.org.
About Tanna Nicely
Tanna Nicely is the assistant principal at Dogwood Elementary School, an adjunct professor at South College and a consultant for Tennessee Agriculture in the Classroom. She is currently celebrating her 21st year in education. Tanna has taught a variety of grade levels including K, 2, 4, and 6 and has won numerous awards including Tennessee Science Teacher of the Year, American Farm Bureau White-Reinhart Award, Tennessee Ag Teacher of the Year (two times), Excellence in Teaching Award Winner and Presidential Award of Excellence for Teaching Science.
She has worked both at the state and local level on a variety of curriculum teams ranging from Social Studies to Science; and in addition, has prepared and presented over 300 workshops for such agencies at The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and Association for School Curriculum and Development (ASCD). Tanna lives on a beef cattle farm outside Knoxville, Tennessee, and is working with her state to put together a gardening framework for educators. Tanna is married and has two beautiful children and serves on our Kids Gardening Teacher Advisory Board.