See something, say something: teaching students to be an upstander

Tamara Irving
What does it mean to be an upstander? An upstander is a person who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied.

It is important that we encourage our students to be upstanders, not bystanders. But how can we accomplish this? We can accomplish this by giving them scenarios or interceding when we see actions where they can speak up. When an upstander sees or hears about someone being bullied, they speak up. When an upstander sees someone cheating on a test, they tell a trusted adult. Being an upstander is not being a tattletale but instead it is being a hero.

 We can incorporate stories about students standing up for what is right and doing their best to help support and protect someone who is being hurt into our lessons. We can find curricula about young people who have had to stand up for others and ask our students what they would have done in those same situations. A bystander is someone who witnesses bullying, but does nothing to try and stop it. While this doesn’t mean a bystander is bad, there are ways to help even when you are scared to intervene. 

In my school we have incorporated the program, See Something, Say Something. When we first started this endeavor, there was a lot of anonymous information being reported by our students. Almost too much but we were glad that students were standing and reporting what they felt was wrong. Over the course of the school year, the information lessened but what we gathered was very valuable in helping to dissolve many situations where students were being bullied. This was helpful because students were able to notify trusted adults of potent situations without losing their confidence and being bullied themselves for being an upstander. 

Here are four ways we can teach students how to be upstanders: 

  1. Help our students to understand what it means to be an upstander.
  2. Teach students about social awareness so that they develop the capacities to feel and demonstrate empathy and compassion for others
  3. Developing a class upstander agreement with your students with the knowledge they have learned
  4. Use literature and topics where students can examine things from different perspectives 

The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander by Barbara Coloroso is a book about the experiences of conflict resolution and reconciliation through three different lenses. 

When teachers know what to look for in a bully, someone being bullied, and someone who is generally a bystander, they are able to help the discipline and support the healing in their school environment. 

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