Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My reaction to the movie "Bully"

Recently, I went to see the movie “Bully" in Rhode Island.  The venue was nice.  The Avon is a throwback to an earlier time for movie viewing.  I went to the movie for two reasons:  first to be informed and second to see if I can learn anything new to help me with understanding bullying/harassment situations.  I learned a lot concerning how bullying behavior effects students.  It seemed that the students who were sharing felt more comfortable sharing in front of the camera than they did with their family and/or school.  I thought the best way to share my reaction was to provide thoughts for certain situations without giving away the movie.  I also believe that you should not go strictly by this review.  All interested parties should experience the human emotion that takes place throughout the movie.  Those human emotions that are observed on screen and those felt by the viewer. 

Random thoughts:
Administrators need to act on all actionable intelligence concerning bullying/harassment situations as they present.  The overwhelming feeling that the assistant principal in the film felt, and the relative inaction she exercised concerning bullying /harassment situations perplexed me.  She did not strike confidence in the families and students that she worked with that she would do anything in her power to proactively assist victims and their families.  This is not an acceptable response and families and students should demand more. 
Students need to look out for each other.  Bullying/harassment situations are always public because the aggressors need an audience to gain attention and approval from their social peer group.  When this is noticed, witnesses/bystanders/up standers need to take action.  They should try and remove the victim from the situation and then get help from a trusted adult.  In Cumberland Public Schools, this can be done anonymously through the Report and Incident Form:
Students need to know that they can safely access assistance while helping a student in need.  Our students live in a global society that encourage electronic communication and research is showing more and more that students feel more comfortable communicating in that manner.  Once it is reported, administrators need to act and secure families and students confidence that it will be dealt with accordingly and that all students are supported. 

Personalized school environments are key for students to feel accepted by a learning environment and to build trusted relationships with the key stakeholders of that school.  Students  need to know who those key people are for them, schools cannot dictate who to trust.  Students will identify pretty quickly who they can trusted, we need to recognize when that moment occurs and acknowledge our important role with that student.  This kind of trust also needs to extend to families. 

One claim in the movie was that “it’s a complicated issue to deal with”.  I do not find it complicated that we have expectations in society that our students will go to school and learn academic and social skills that are designed to prepare them for a complex and global society.  Students should not have to deal with the students trying to gain social and emotional power over them.  Victims will never be able to learn in this environment and nor should they have to.  I also believe that the alleged aggressor has a few social skills that need to be taught to help them navigate the social expectations of school and society.  We have adopted the social skills curriculum of 2nd Steps.  This is a research based curriculum that has been implemented in other areas of the country and has proven to be helpful.  In the end, it is not complicated to support students and families.  In most cases, they are looking for it.

Finally, our victims need closure to the situation.  I watched an interaction between a victim and the assistant principal.  The assistant principal asked the student if they had confidence in them that they would deal with the situation.  The student said “I don’t know, because I came to you for other things and you didn’t do anything”.  She challenged him by asking “how do you know?”  He said “because you didn’t tell me”.  She challenged him again by asking “did it stop?”  He said “yes”.  She came back with “see.”  I observed this exchange and realized that I have not been great at providing closure to a student because of the fear of breaking student confidentiality.  I have always thought that I couldn’t talk about how I intervened with the alleged aggressor.  After viewing this exchange, I am going to immediately change my procedure to provide that closure.  If a student had the confidence to come and see me, then I need to validate them with closure.  It’s not enough to attempt to put a student at ease by telling them “I will take care of it” or “I will handle it”. 
I believe that any student, family or school staff member should absolutely take this movie in to have a new perspective on the issue of bullying/harassment.  If you haven’t experienced a bullying/harassment situation, the movie helps you feel like a part of the families and help give you perspective.  I do not believe that watching this movie will change a school culture or behavior by itself, but may be a launching point for developing culture through social expectations and responses in a school setting.  I would recommend this movie to a middle/high school student with a family member.  There is one scene with unexpected language, but it should not hold anyone back from experiencing the movie.  I am more than available to anyone who would like to ask me questions about the movie or my reaction.  We need to keep the conversation going and act proactively in the best interest of students, even for the hidden curriculum, social skills.  


  1. Greetings Dr. Masterson... My son will be attending NCMS this fall, so I was searching high and low for information, when I stumbled upon your blog. I am very pleasantly surprised that an administrator from the school is using a tool such as this to communicate thoughts and ideas. This post for example is a wonderful insight into your thought process on the issue of bullying and it's brilliant. Please keep up the great work.



    1. Thank you for your thoughts. Please feel free to send me any ideas or thoughts for future blog posts. I want this to be informative for a range of stakeholders. We are looking forward to hosting your son at next months cookout. I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer.