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November 2, 2012

The Power of Voice by Caroline Pignat

Written By: Caroline Pignat
X Bullying Prevention - The Importance of Using Your Voice

Bullying Prevention - The Importance of Using Your Voice

“The greatest challenge facing our time is not weapons of mass destruction or terrorism or ethnic cleansing. It is that we are raising a generation of passive bystanders.”
Dalai Lama

The Bullying Circle examines the roles played in a bullying situation: Target, Bully, Henchman, Defender, and a wide range of Bystanders. These Bystanders are potential supporters and defenders and everything in between, yet they do nothing. The Passive Bystanders literally “stand by” and watch bullying happen.

Helping Students Claim Their Voice to Prevent Bullying

When I was a kid in 7th Grade, I was one of those Passive Bystanders. I saw. I did nothing to stop or help and I’ve always regretted it. I wasn’t even the Target, yet that event scarred me.

Nothing’s changed in that Bullying Circle since our school days, really. What has changed, however, is the reach, duration, and intensity of bullying. Cyberbullying is Bullying 2.0. and it has gone viral.

As Don Tapscott writes in Grown Up Digital,today’s bully has hundreds of “friends” on Facebook. Millions of bystanders on Youtube. The circle is limitless. The passive bystanders, infinite. What a scary thought.

Today’s kids hang on the internet. They text and tumble and tweet with countless followers and friends — but ironically, being so widely connected comes at the expense of genuine connection. And without that genuine connection, it becomes much easier to treat someone as “other.”

According to Barbara Coloroso, author of The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander,(a must read for all parents and teachers), “Once a bully has contempt for a peer, he or she can do anything to the target and feel neither compassion for the target nor shame for what was done.”

We’ve all seen those hurtful Facebook groups, cutting posts, foul language and inappropriate pictures, we read the hateful things kids tweet about others — and we say them: “What the heck were you thinking?”And that’s just it. They’re not.

As Barbara Strauch puts it in her insightful book The Primal Teen, “The teenage brain may, in fact, be briefly insane. But scientists say, it is crazy by design. The teenage brain is in flux, maddening and muddled…. a work in progress.”

As well as being “crazy by design,” the tween and teen has grown up watching the mockery of people’s dreams and abilities on American Idol, the Star Wars Kid on Youtube, a football in the groin on Funniest Home Videos. The tendency to laugh at another’s pain, to mock, to belittle is a not only a reality but a form of entertainment in our culture.

Watch this fairly recent ad.  Seriously?

But powering down and moving to a cabin in the woods is not the solution — as nice as it sounds. What we need to foster is mindfulness, connection and empathy. We need to remind these kids to stop and think before they press send. To be aware of the power they have as bystanders both online and in person.

This PSA is vivid portrayal of those passive bystanders.

Bullying stops within TEN SECONDS when bystanders step up. So how do we get our students to care? How do we foster connection with the other? How do we nurture empathy?


Wow. Big surprise. The English Teacher and Author is pushing stories.

But think about it. Storytelling is the oldest form of education. It’s how humankind has always passed on what is most important. It’s what makes us cry at phone commercials and cheer in movies. Story draws us in. We remember. We care. Story is personal. Everyone has a story to tell. It’s the sum of who they are and all they’ve done. It’s their dreams and fears. Yet many kids and even adults play a role : ’the smart one’, ‘the lazy one’, ‘the athlete’, ‘the problem child.’ We limit ourselves and each other with these perceived roles. Be open to a broader story. Expect it. Choose it. Create it.

Story is powerful. It’s who we are. It’s why we do what we do. We write it with every choice we make. And if kids don’t know their authentic, story their authentic voice, they are often tempted to create one that seems more exciting — adventurous, rebellious, risky, dramatic. They will choose a story that offers them something, anything, because you can’t live without a story. Even if it is the wrong one.

I have the best job. I get to help kids find their voices through writing. What do I want to say? How do I feel? What are my fears and dreams? We reflect. We observe. We imagine. What about that character — what’s it like to walk in their shoes? And we realize that everyone has a story worth telling.

As teachers, I believe it’s our job to help our kids discover their story — whatever subject we teach. You’ve got 30 stories and no doubt some real characters in your classroom. How can you can help make those stories known and celebrated?

The more we more we listen the more we encourage their voice, empathy and compassion. We help them discover their story. And realize that it is a story worth sharing.

Finally, Story is liberating. 25 years later, I shared that bystander story when I wrote Egghead. I created Katie, a fictional character who did what I never could. She spoke up. The response from kids like Katie, Devan (henchman), Will (target) or Shane (bully) has been overwhelming. They can relate. They want to share their stories.

And isn’t that what it’s all about?



Public Service Announcements I found very effective in teaching netiquette and online safety to my grade 8 students:


About the Author

Caroline Pignat is teacher and Governor General’s Award winning author. Her first novel, (Red Deer Press, 2008) a popular novel study with grade 6-8 students, won the Red Maple Honour Book Award as voted by young readers. Told in alternating point of view, Egghead invites readers to consider another person’s story. What’s it like to be the target or the targets’s friend? What do you do when your friend is a bully? How long do you stand by? For more information or to download the free 40 page novel study guide visit


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