A Texas Fight Against Bullying At School—And Online

The Toll of Bullying

Texas House Bill 1942 begins with these few words: “An Act relating to bullying in public schools.”

Then-governor Rick Perry signed HB 1942 into law in June of 2011—less than a year after the suicide of a 13-year-old boy. According to news reports, Asher Brown’s parents say he had been the target of intense bullying.

Like most states, Texas sets out the definition of “bullying” in legislation. These definitions help guide school officials in the battle against bullying—officials like John Poynter.

John is an assistant principal at Garland High School just outside of Dallas.

“Bullying leaves a trail of psychological trauma,” John says.

“It leads to a decline in academic performance,” he says, “victims shut down—and their grades are affected, their relationships suffer, they start to withdraw.”

John says bullying can have a detrimental impact on a child’s important, formative years.

He says: “The experience from middle school to high school is critical for a child’s growth into early adulthood.”

“They’re building emotional skills that set them up well for later in life,” he says.

Bullying, John says, “leads to a significant, negative spiral.”

The Evolution of Bullying

John has been involved in education and learning for 25 years.

“Bullying looks so different now than it did, say, ten years ago,” he says.

“Because of the advent of social media,” he says, “online bullying has escalated dramatically over ‘traditional’ bullying.”

He says online harassment means bullying is no longer just a local phenomenon.

“Kids can bully others who are thousands of miles away,” he says, “and then everybody sees it.”

Tracking Bullying

In 2011—the same year Texas passed HB 1942—John spearheaded the integration of a new software tool across the Garland Independent School District to help in the fight against bullying.

Pearson’s Review360 helps teachers, in John’s words, “track behaviors and proactively address negative behaviors such as bullying, in order to effectively reduce their occurrence.”

Schools in the district record incidences of bullying and, over time, administrators can see correlations that help target anti-bullying efforts.

“It helps us see the trends,” John says.

Of what this software tool has helped Garland schools accomplish, he wrote in 2011: “Due to the process we have put in place, we are able to address bullying behavior and stop it before it becomes a problem.”

Keeping Up With Students and Their Fast-Paced Lives

This kind of analysis is also helpful, John says, because forms of bullying often outpace school rules, state legislation—even well-meaning parents trying to stay involved.

“So much bullying happens outside the school day,” John says. “So to what extent do school officials have a voice in how communities respond?”

“And state legislation can’t keep up,” he says.

John says the same is true for parents who have trouble staying on top of rapidly-developing social platforms.

“A lot of parents think the solution is to try to take away technology and access,” he says, “but that’s just not going to work with today’s student in today’s plugged-in society.”

“A lot of parents think the solution is to try to take away technology and access,” he says, “but that’s just not going to work with today’s student in today’s plugged-in society.”

The Importance of Relationships

“We want to empower our students to make good decisions,” John says.

“And the best way to do this,” he says, “is through relationships.”

“Students don’t care how smart you are,” he says, “they just want to know that someone cares about them.”

This is important, John says, because many acts of bullying never get reported.

“We’ve been encouraging kids for years to ‘Tell Someone,'” he says, “a teacher, a parent, another adult, a classmate—and that’s why relationships are so important.”

“No one has to suffer in silence,” he says. “Getting the information out is the first step to fighting bullying.”

Life-Long Learners and Life-Long Teachers

John coached high school football for many years.

“I always told my players and still tell my students,” he says, “‘You’re not part of my life for just a year.'”

He still keeps in regular contact with students he first taught in 1992-93.

“They can always talk to me, they can always come back, they can always ask me for advice,” he says. “I’m a godfather to some of their children.”

This kind of approach is fundamental for John’s effort to be a safe space for students—and a strong fighter against bullying.

“We’re always told to be life-long learners,” he says. “Well, that means there need to be life-long teachers, too.”

“I will always be there to help,” he says.