Bully Bonding

Fellow teachers, I realize my title might inspire the following…”Bond with bullies? That’s ridiculous! They need consequences, and put in their place!”

I don’t disagree. But please remember, harsh consequences don’t always work, can make bullies worse, and sometimes evoke retribution for unfortunate victims.

In August, I’ll begin my 31st year leading public high school students. I’ve waded through my share of bullies. Their actions and dispositions were often disgusting. They unleashed racism, homophobia, elitism, sexism, and often just mindless sadism. It’s hard to reach out and try to bond with these predators, but I’m asking you to put your ego and your righteous indignation in your back pockets, and when faced with similar scenarios, do just that! This subtle, simple, low-risk, very effective method of detouring, deflecting, sidetracking, and perhaps even changing a bully has great potential.

I’ll never claim to be an expert on stopping bullying, but over my career, I’ve savored successes. I’m not saying I’ve stopped it all together, we are talking about teenagers here, but I can assure you; preventing bullying is absolutely my priority. Unfortunately, opportunities to experiment with bully management present themselves frequently.

When I enlighten my students about classroom policies at the beginning of each semester, I always point out to them:

“Students are generally nice to me. I’m sure most of you will be the same. You’ll greet me, interact with me, and we’ll build a relationship. Sometimes, however, some of you aren’t so nice to each other!”

It’s sad some kids are cruel, but hey…it is what it is. I’ve found the best way to prevent or rectify bullying, is to be persistent, stealth, and forge a relationship WITH THE BULLY. You heard me right. Build rapport with the bully.

Persistence means you don’t let derogatory statements, gestures, or actions go. You always let the bully know their antics are not acceptable, and you may have to level consequences.

Being stealth means you’re cool and observant. Many bullies are darned subtle. Listen when you’re not looking. Watch out of the corners of your eyes. Notice body language. And please don’t forget the targets…the poor kids getting bullied. Notice their signals as well.

Forge a relationship with the bully. You may consider this idea distasteful, but this might be your best chance to help the poor kid that’s getting terrorized. I’m not saying FIX the bully, unless of course you do fix the bully, which would be a giant leap for mankind…I’m referring to bonding with the aggressor. Then, you have a chance to influence.

I’ve bonded with plenty of bullies over the years. Once those relationships were forged, the kid became far more compliant, far more eager to please, and far less of a jerk…at least in my presence. Here’s my standard operating procedure to create this bond:

  • I make every effort to interact with the bully.
  • I always greet the bully in the hall.
  • I frequently pull the bully aside inconspicuously for discussion and inquiry. Perhaps, I’ll award some praise. Or, I may point out a behavior that needs to change. I’ll always give the youngster ample opportunity to voice any grievances. Just maybe, they have some legitimate complaints.
  • I look for opportunities to praise the bully in front of peers.
  • I avoid backing the bully into a corner…or any fellow human for that matter.

Try these bullet points with present and future bullies. Hopefully, their targets will catch a break, and just maybe, you’ll make a new young friend!

My book “You’ve Gotta Connect” is all about how teachers can forge strong relationships with students. You can also listen to me dialogue about bonding with young people on numerous podcasts.

Please follow me on Twitter @jamessturtevant

I also love doing professional development. If you’re interested, here’s my email: pjsturtevant@gmail.com


2 thoughts on “Bully Bonding

  1. Its always great news to hear someone from hometown Ohio is making a real difference in the world.

    • Why thank you Dianna! Are you from these parts? So glad you took the time to comment!

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