Dec 1, 2008 — When teaching children about the impact of bullying, Rona Novick has found that role playing using cartoon characters helps make the lessons less threatening. It’s a strategy that the associate professor at Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration employs with the teachers she trains to deal with bullying as well.
Novick recently held a series of workshops to train teachers and administrators from six Jewish day schools in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Florida to use the techniques she has created as part of her Bully Reduction/Anti-Violence Education and Social Leadership Development program (commonly known as BRAVE).
The two-day instructor training institute was sponsored by Azrieli’s Institute for University-School Partnership to give educators appropriate tools for dealing with bullying, a phenomena that exists in both secular and day school environments, especially among middle-school age children. This training introduces BRAVE to school communities willing to work with researchers and mentors over a period of years in order to change the culture and social climate of their institutions.
One of the training models consists of a mock civil trial using cartoon-character bullies and bystanders accused of directly or indirectly supporting the bullies. It was a way for Novick to model the approach to her audience, beginning with the definition of bullying from the vantage point of a sixth-grader.
“The students are engaged,” Novick, who has tested the program in five middle schools across the country, said. “It is not threatening because you use fictional characters.”
The educators were divided into bullies and bystanders, attorneys and jury members, and given 15 minutes to prepare for their roles, based on the definition of bullying as purposely causing an individual emotional, physical and social distress.
Since this was a day-school adaptation, Novick told her educators to stay within halachic parameters (“no swearing” she said as participants took their “oaths”). In assigning damages to the guilty parties, Novick, who acted as the judge for the workshop, offered suggestions such as doing community service like “empathy training” at the students’ school.
The educators at the BRAVE institute are expected to train their colleagues in the program. Novick will be visiting the participants’ schools in December to address parents and collect data.
“This fits in very well with the mock trials I do with the kids,” said John Stevens, a former attorney and judge who now teaches general studies at Yeshivat Rambam in Baltimore. “It gets the kids interested and thinking.”