5: Counsel

This is the fifth post in a series about my son’s recent experience with bullying at school.

Last week, we went to see the school counselor.

We sat in his office and told him about how in addition to the kids who have bullied Sam for years, Sam has been harassed by an all new crop of kids recently. We said that our four years of requests for preventive anti-bullying curriculum—and offers of resources—have gone unheeded. We said the “radical kindness” the admissions director talked about on our school tour that was supposedly intrinsic to the school’s values is not radical at all; it’s retrograde.

We told him that we realize we now have three choices: leave the school, stay and tell Sam that’s he’s got to put up with it, or to stay and change the school.

And you know what our counselor said? He said it’s time to rally the troops. That we need to form an advisory counsel of parents to work with the school. That there is power in numbers. That this parent group can help look into best practices and find out what other schools are doing that’s really working to combat bullying. That he believes it’s essential that the school do this work.

Clearly, he said, the school needs something new, because whatever else has been tried is stagnant. Not just a program, he said, but something deeply and pervasively rooted in every aspect of the curriculum. He told us it’s time to find our allies among parents and on the faculty and staff, and to make something happen together.

He offered to let a group of parents meet in his office, and he offered to facilitate the meeting. We talked about letting the administration know, so we’re not doing anything behind their backs.

And then he added: “If this doesn’t resolve by next year, get the hell out.”

When a friend told us to start talking to other parents, I’d pictured some clandestine meeting of a few friends in our living room, to secretly organize some…I don’t even know what. Instead, the school counselor advised us to organize other parents, on a big scale, and to make our work public. And he said he’d host us.

A whole new world just opened up.




  1. Sachi Wilson says

    I’ve been following along for a while, and I must say I am very pleased that the counselor knows that more must be done. I hope the rest of the school follows!

  2. ElfPuddle says

    I’m very happy that your counselor has a good head on his shoulder. What wonderful news!

  3. Diana Wilson says

    You are correct in assuming that a program or curriculum alone will not fix things. My husband did his dissertation on bullying (which means I got to read a lot of stuff as I suffered for years along with his process) and I can say that it has to be a huge, wholesale school effort and a fundamental shift in thinking and approach by the entire faculty and staff. I know a lot of schools like to bring in speakers and then they say, “See, we’ve got this thing licked”. Um, not so much. Sounds like you’ve got a great starting point. I’m so happy to hear this. You go, rockstar Mom!

    • shoffman says

      Diana, I know you’re right. And we’re hoping, hoping, hoping that our efforts will move the school to take on a comprehensive program that really goes deeply into all levels of the curriculum and has buy-in from all the teachers. If you have any resources to share, please let me know!

  4. heidipie says

    About effing time, Sarah! We’re addressing equity of access by all sorts of populations at our public school (I’m PTA President), and I couldn’t imagine having to do all this work without at least one semi-supportive person within the school administration. But if you just get one, the momentum builds faster than you can even imagine. You go, girl!

  5. says

    This part of the story brings a new hope! Love how your counsellor is looking to get involved himself rather than just suggesting ways you can get going. Looking forward to the ongoing developments. Kia kaha!

  6. Christopher says

    I’ve been following this and am so glad that you are feeling a sense of hope. That, combined with well-deserved anger, will hopefully keep you from burning out completely. I am struck, however, that the work of organizing parents and forming an “advisory panel” is still ‘your work’ and relies on total volunteer time and effort from parents (parents of young children). My wish for you is that this effort will lead to a financial commitment on the part of the school administration. Researching what other schools are doing, looking at best practices, and moving beyond workshops from “experts,” will take a level of leadership that, as you know, is a full-time job. The fact that you are thrilled that the counselor has offered to ‘host’ parent meetings illustrates just how little we expect of our schools and communities. At the same time, I recognize just how much work you have had to do to get to this point. I hope these meetings become a force that truly rocks the boat. Because clearly that is what needs to happen.

    • shoffman says

      Christopher, TELL me about it. This is so not my job. Nor is talking to the parents of kids who bully my kid in school. But, in the absence of effective school leadership on these issues, it becomes our job. You’re right–my expectations are so low. Here’s to raising the bar!

  7. WA says

    What a rewarding outcome of parent organization and counselor response — all catalyzed by your determination, commitment, and strength. Congratulations!

  8. Jen says

    I just wanted to say how incredible you are, Sarah, that despite all of the negativity, you are forging ahead on behalf of Sam. You are an inspiration to us all, you know.

    • shoffman says

      Her website looks awesome–I’m going to really take a look at what she has to offer. Thank you.

  9. Marty says

    Good for you! As your work begins, you might want to read about the organization Roots of Empathy (www.rootsofempathy.org). They’ve been working across Canada, in New Zealand and Ireland, and in the Seattle area in the US to teach empathy and compassion to kids at a basic level. This has had amazing results in terms of reducing bullying and violence among the kids in the program by addressing a source of the behavior, instead of just the behavior.

    Best of luck!

    • shoffman says

      I have been reading about Roots of Empathy. What’s most fascinating to me about it is that they’ve measured their success, and the changes they create in a school population are remarkable.

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