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Anti-bullying workshops teach vital social skills

BRIDGETOWN, Nova Scotia – Sister Gloria School Principal Janice Franklin held an assembly for her 150-plus kindergarten through 12th grade students in the fall of 2005 and her students’ behavior was so horrendous that she was afraid to hold another. But that was before Susan Buchanan turned up last January with her Anti-Bullying and Social Education Skills curriculum.

“I saw a 75 percent decrease in teasing, hitting, and bullying within the first week,” said Franklin, whose school is in a rural area in Alberta, Canada. “And most of our teachers now follow the program, so the children have maintained the social skills they learned during their workshops.”

Buchanan, who is of Cree descent, does not work only with students. She believes that bullying is the result of children not being taught the social skills they need. Hers is a “whole community approach,” which she has implemented in every province and territory in Canada, working exclusively with First Nations.

“When I first started teaching,” Buchanan said, “I saw the kids were missing so many of the basics – how to listen, how to ask questions, how to stand in line.” So that’s what she taught them first, and that is what she teaches in the first few minutes of her workshops.

“The first skill I teach is good listening, respectful listening. I teach the social skill immediately, so they know what I expect. And the benefits are just amazing. When I taught in my own classroom, my principal came into my classroom in the spring and said, ‘They can’t all be reading.’ But they were. Because they had learned the social skills, we got through the curriculum easily; then we could do other cool activities.”

Buchanan explained that when she started out, she thought there was a connection between bullying and poor social skills. She herself had been bullied badly in school, so she knew firsthand not only the social consequences of bullying, but also the academic implications. “I suffered academically,” she said simply.

The connection she had intuited turned out to be even stronger than she had thought. “I now teach a concept of zero tolerance in regard to bullying,” she said. But she also said that what is called bullying is often something else.

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“I don’t know that a second-grader has a malicious intent to harm someone,” she said. “But I do see that she doesn’t know how to make friends, how to express her emotions, how to play with other kids.”

Buchanan has developed a list of 72 social skills that children can be taught, and which parents and other adults can be taught to teach and use in everyday life – an important concept for her. “I use these ideas every day of my own life – my how-to skills, my problem-solving skills,” she said. “This work has really made me think differently about what is important. The social skills are lessons for life. I believe that teachers should teach these skills and should give them equal weight with more traditional elements of the curriculum. If the children know how to behave, they can just fly through the curriculum.” She also stressed that hers is a nonviolent approach to stopping bullying. It is about teaching positive behaviors, not about punishing unacceptable behaviors.

In her work, she visits each community for one to two weeks, depending on its size, with a different workshop for each grade level and additional lesson plans for other groups – parents, relatives, school faculty and support staff, so that everyone is involved in giving the children the skills they need in order to succeed at school, at home and, eventually, in higher education settings and the workplace. She works with all of the children in the community during the days and with the adults during evening sessions.

Her work is extremely helpful to parents. “I have found that a lot of parents have given up their parenting power. They let the children make decisions, and they think they are being good parents by letting the children do what they want. Even if they don’t like what the child is doing, they often don’t know what to do to stop unhealthy behavior.” She cited video games as one example. “Playing with violence is not healthy for a child, and it has to be parents who say no,” she said.

Buchanan’s business name is Clarior Consulting. “Clarior,” she explained, means “clarity” or “brightness,” and the name points to her mission: “To create and deliver products and services that improve skills, communication and cooperation leading to successful outlooks.” Her husband, Mark, handles the business matters, while Susan gives the workshops. Their two teenage children also help out. They were the ones who developed the true-to-life “what-if” bullying situations for the series of 80 flashcards that give parents and teachers starting points for discussions with children.

So far, Buchanan has taken her originality, expertise and program to First Nation communities all over Canada. She is now eager to begin working with American Indian communities in the United States.

The book, “Getting Started on Stopping Bullying” – as well as the “what if” bullying flashcards, posters detailing the social skills taught in the program and descriptions of the services offered by Buchanan – are available at www.clariorconsulting.com.