Teaching Alternatives to Fighting and Tattling

Posted January 20, 2015 by Terry Wilhelm in Leaders’ Link

Just for APs: Tattling AlternativesI’ve discussed a variety of actions I took as a principal who worked without an assistant principal to change a culture of fighting at an elementary school. Another component of my long-term work on this problem was to implement response alternatives to provocations that could lead to fighting but also to tattling, which is a huge time-waster and distraction for staff. Tattling, which occurs from elementary to high school, can prevent staff from paying attention to more important issues and enables a potentially debilitating helplessness in students for solving problems on their own.

Reporting bullying is not tattling

I will stop here to make an important distinction: it is critical for students to feel safe reporting bullying. The tragedy of students who fear going to school, become depressed, and even commit suicide make it imperative for all school personnel to nip bullying in the bud. Many fine programs have sprung up in recent years to address bullying behavior, and every school needs to be sure that there is something in place to root it out.

That said, most tattling — and most fights — originate from small, non-bullying issues that escalate like the proverbial mountain made from a molehill. With the support of my ad-hoc School Climate Committee, I asked each teacher to hold a series of lessons on alternatives to tattling or fighting.

Teaching students to solve problems on their own: tattling alternatives

A very experienced teacher friend of mine had developed a list that gave students a list of responses they could give when someone bothered them or angered them before running to a teacher for help. Her list included:

  • Do something else
  • Say “I’m Sorry”
  • Tell them to stop
  • Walk away
  • Ignore
  • Do it over

Since so many fights originated on the basketball court, the last one became a lifesaver.

Each week, I asked the teachers to teach a new response and have students roleplay it with each other. Mid-week, I would visit classrooms and ask for a couple of volunteers in each one to roleplay a specific situation that I gave them. Students, even the worst offenders, couldn’t wait to volunteer. Whenever I was on the yard during breaks, I would quiz students about what alternatives they had learned for dealing with problems with peers outside the classroom.

After the teachers gave each lesson to the students, I informed the campus yard supervisors. They were to ask tattlers what they had tried already and remind them of their alternatives. As they supervised the basketball court, “Do It Over” was a key behavior I expected them to insist on.

Tattle-thwarting behavior skills for high schools

At the secondary level, it may seem too elementary to approach teachers to teach behavior skills like these as directly instructed lessons. If that is the case, I suggest targeting problematic groups where lots of referrals are generated or many fights occur. Ninth-grade homeroom teachers, special education teachers, and alternative education teachers could teach and have students practice these kinds of behavior lessons, modifying the language appropriately for older students.

The involvement and follow-up of an administrative leader is key to reinforcing these efforts, initially at the classroom level, and then campus-wide. All key supervisors should know the new expectations for student responses so that everyone is on board to remind students of their alternatives.

At my school, these simple alternative responses for students to use began to have a quickly noticeable effect on both tattling and fight instigation. Students simply had not known what to do in problem situations, but they were ready to learn.

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