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Have you ever felt misunderstood?

Maybe even a little like the world is picking on you, just to see what you’ll do.  I think this happens a lot in schools and we just catalog it as the lessons of childhood.  Recently, though, this has been getting a lot more attention in the media and even from the White House.  It’s being labeled as bullying and it’s becoming an epidemic if you believe everything that you read and hear.

I’m not about to say that bullying doesn’t happen, that we shouldn’t teach our kids about the topic or even justify it as something that all kids go through.  Certainly, we’ve all experienced bullying in life and there is a part of me that say we need to teach kids that it’s out there and how to handle it productively.  But this post isn’t really about the kids.  It’s about the adults and how we model the “normalcy” of this behavior.

I’m a big believer that kids do as they see.

They speak as they hear.  And so, the trouble with bullying and the reason that so many people just shrug it off is because we understand that it is stemming from our own personal beliefs, words and actions.  Either the kids are seeing it from us, or we’re allowing them to be exposed to it in the form of TV, movies, songs, or social media.  It’s a vicious cycle – we grow up with a set of beliefs and behaviors and pass them to our own children.  And as teachers and educational leaders, it’s almost worse when it comes from us.  How hypocritical of us to teach a lesson on bullying to our students and then go into the staff lounge and then complain about one of our colleagues behind their backs!

The reason I’ve been giving this so much thought is because of our recent artist-in-residence.  If you followed my series last week on how to make that experience successful, you’ll remember that we just had a fantastic artist come in to do a short residency on world cultures with our students.  What’s fascinating about Tim Gregory, to me, is that he spends part of each year living with people in Kenya.  And not in the city, but in the rural areas where there is no plumbing, electricity or clean water.  He has gone back there every year for 13 years.  And why?

Because the people are joyful.

There is no nitpicking or name-calling.  No one judges their neighbor.  They are all working toward the same goals, they all love each other’s children, they all take on the burden together of either prospering or suffering.  And they have accepted Tim as one of their own.  It doesn’t matter that he has a different skin color, or accent or skill set.  They accept him for the person he is without reservation.  How extraordinary!

Even more fascinating is that these people, who have nothing in terms of “stuff”, take time each day to celebrate art – to have fun with creating pottery or instruments.  To sing with the joy of life.  And then they take that joy and cultivate it in their work and in their learning.  Through the community of art they understand the beauty of differences.

Perhaps, instead of highlighting bullying and tolerance and teaching its elements, we should take the small group in Kenya as a model.  Perhaps, we should highlight the arts and all of the elements that they contain to teach compassion and humanity and collective understanding of each other.  We are the models.  Let’s talk less and do more.