Reframing Bullying Prevention to Build Stronger School Communities


James Dillon

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    “The truth knocks on your door and you say, ‘Go away I am looking for the truth,’ and it goes away.”

    —Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

    Five years ago, I retired as an elementary school principal. Since that time I have read and written a lot, and I am fortunate to still spend some time in schools, allowing me the great opportunity to be among students and dedicated educators.

    Every time I visit a school, I recall what my first supervisor many years ago told me: “Never forget that the people who know the most are the people who are the closest to the students.” That single piece of advice guided my professional career before retirement and it continues to guide me today.

    As a result, when I present to educators or write something for them to read, I do not pretend to know more than they do, because I don't. I engage with them because I have something that I didn't have for thirty-five years—more time to read, think, and reflect.

    What I discovered from all my reading wasn't surprising; it didn't tell me anything I didn't already know from my experience with students and educators. Yet, what it did was to help me get the right words to understand what I had learned. So, when I stand in front of a group of educators I confess that since I don't have the daily experience of being in school with students, I know less than they do. I add, however, that because of the time I now have, I can offer them some ideas that just might help them reflect on and understand what they already know from their experiences. I ask them to take advantage of me, or to use me in a good sense, knowing that I can share some ideas or research that they probably would have eventually discovered, if only they had the time. I extend that same invitation to anyone who reads this book.

    I share these thoughts, not out of any great humility, but because I am disturbed by the trend in education policy and practice to tell the people who know the most—the ones who work every day with students—that somehow they don't know enough. To convey to them that they have been doing things the wrong way and they need to do what other people, the experts, have determined is correct. Educators in schools who are closest to the students are now told to let others do the thinking for them. Unfortunately, too many educators believe that message and have accepted the idea that doing their job requires them to follow a program, a protocol, or a script that will make certain that they get it right. Consequently, time must be devoted to doing what others tell them to do, which leaves little or no time to do their own thinking.

    Time constraints have always been and will always be a problem for any educator, but I am also disturbed by another current trend. This development was summed up by one school administrator who honestly admitted that because of all the mandates and regulations and the little time allocated for implementation, it was harder and harder to be kind to students and teachers. Today, not only do educators have no time to think on their own, now they have no time or freedom to do what their heart tells them to do.

    These disturbing trends remind me of that quote about truth knocking on your door. After almost forty years of reflecting on that quote, I can step back and reflect on what is happening in schools and state what “truth” would say if you stood long enough at the door to listen to it. It would tell you that the truth is indeed inside and you were right to look for it, but the problem was that you were wearing the wrong glasses, somebody else's glasses, glasses that prevented you from finding your own truth. It would tell you that you can really only find the truth, when you look for it with your own eyes because it is in your own heart and mind.

    Regardless of these trends and the mandates to change or else, I am convinced now more than ever that the truth for how we need to educate our students is already right inside the hearts and minds of the people who work and live in the schools: the students and the educators who serve them.

    The truth in our minds is what we find when we think, reflect, share, and listen to ourselves and to our colleagues. The truth in our hearts is what we find when we act toward others with empathy, compassion, and kindness. I have written this book to help educators find their own truth about what it means to educate students.

    This book is practical because it is not a program, protocol, or a set of procedures to follow to change or fix a school. It is a guide for thinking, reflecting, and sharing with others. It is practical because I believe that meaningful and lasting change requires people to change people. It is practical because it supports the type of change that happens when people's hearts and minds connect, the type of change that affirms people and brings them closer together.

    What I offer in this book is what I discovered when I looked into my mind and my heart using forty years’ experience in education as my database. It is filled with stories that helped me make sense out of what I have seen, heard, and felt in schools. It is meant to help you use your own eyes and to use your own database of experiences to help you make sense out of the truth in your own heart and mind.

    I hope it encourages you to explore your stories and those of your colleagues, but even more importantly to create new ones that your school community can write and tell every day. I hope and believe that your school community can create new stories filled with good times together and filled with enough time to think and to share and to be kind.


    I am extremely grateful to Corwin for publishing two of my books; it is a special honor and a privilege to be given the opportunity to share my words and ideas with readers. I greatly appreciate the help and support that I received from the staff at Corwin in the process of bringing this book to life. Corwin consistently demonstrates a high degree of respect for its authors and their voices.

    I especially want to thank my editor, Jessica Allan, who continues to offer support and encouragement, not just for my writing, but for all the work I do.

    I am fortunate to still have frequent opportunities to work in schools on a regular basis. I continue to grow and learn from each interaction I have with students and with educators. I thank all of the principals, teachers, and students who have welcomed me into their schools.

    I offer a very special thank you to my friend, colleague, and vice president of Measurement Incorporated (MI), Tom Kelsh. His unwavering support and encouragement has allowed me to continue to learn and grow as an educator and to be able to translate my work into two published books.

    My other colleagues in the Albany office of Measurement Incorporated have created an ideal environment for professional dialogue and collaboration. I owe a great deal to all of them for welcoming me, listening to me, and sharing with me.

    I am part of team at MI that provides professional development for the Regional Special Education and Technical Assistance Centers of New York State. Many of the key concepts offered in this book grew out of the work I have done as part of this team, so special thanks go to Kelly Valmore, Diana Straut, Vince Tarsio, and Tina Tierney for being such great teammates and colleagues. Each one of you does tremendous work and each of you is a model for openness and professionalism.

    Sometimes developing a book proposal is almost as difficult as writing the book itself. Carla Corina, a colleague at MI, took the time to read my many draft proposals and offered insightful feedback, which helped me clarify and sharpen the ideas in my proposal.

    Casey Bardin is currently a school administrator at Shaker High School, who previously worked as a physical education teacher in the school where I was a principal. Casey has always been a “sponge” for new and exciting ideas in the field of education, psychology, and leadership, to name just a few subjects. Our conversations have been a tremendous help to me in developing many of the concepts I share in this book. His leadership and professionalism is great source of hope and optimism to remind me what is possible in schools.

    My friend and colleague, Corrine Falope, continues to be an inspiration for me. Her deep love of learning and commitment to education continues to grow well after her retirement as an active teacher. She has shown me how a true educator never “retires,” but just grows wiser.

    My work and friendship with Nancy Andress continues to guide everything I do professionally. Her support and belief in me has always given me the confidence to feel as if I have something to offer others beyond my own professional circle. Everyone should be so blessed to have this type of colleague and friend in their lives.

    A key theme is this book is community. Some communities are so strong that they are more like families, however, not all families are always strong communities. I was fortunate to marry into a family that is also an extremely strong and nurturing community. I know firsthand the influence that someone of faith, generosity of spirit, and an optimistic outlook can have on generations of people. That person is my mother-in-law, Antoinette Lombardo, who raised 10 children (number four became my wife), twenty-five grandchildren, and four great grandchildren. I thank her for showing me the power of faith, hope, and love and how it can transform the lives of so many for the better. She is ninety years old and still going strong!

    My four grown children, Ernie, Tim, Brian and Hannah are also my good friends. Their unconditional support and encouragement are always there for me in everything that I do. They manage to find the time and patience to listen to me talk (sometimes too much) about what I have written about or just read.

    Finally, nothing I do or achieve is possible without the constant love and support of my wife, Louisa. She has the biggest and most giving heart of anyone I have ever known. Every day she teaches me what it means to value, care for, and love the people in your life.

    About the Author

    James Dillon has been an educator for more than 35 years, including 20 years as a school administrator. While he was the principal of Lynnwood Elementary in New York, he developed the Peaceful School Bus Program that was designed to prevent and reduce bullying; he subsequently wrote The Peaceful School Bus in 2008, as a guide for implementing the program.

    Jim was named Principal of the Year in 2007 by the Greater Capital District Principal Center. He received recognition for administrative leadership in character education. In 2010, Lynnwood Elementary was recognized by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) in New York State with the school designation of Educating the Whole Child for the 21st century. Jim was an invited participant and presenter at the first National Summit on Bullying Prevention sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education in 2010 and is a certified Olweus Bullying Prevention Program trainer.

    Jim is currently an educational consultant for Measurement Incorporated and presents at many local, state, and national conferences. Measurement Incorporated is a company that provides assessment and evaluation services, professional development, and technical assistance to a number of different educational organizations. His presentations and workshops are conducted on a variety of educational topics, including instruction, classroom management, leadership, supervision, and bullying prevention. He consults with schools, districts, coaches, teachers, and administrators.

    He has four grown children, Ernie, Tim, Brian, and Hannah. He and his wife, Louisa, a school social worker live in Niskayuna, New York.

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