Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools




Human Interaction, SEL in Curriculum Key to Curbing Cyberbullying

Summary:  This article focuses on the importance of teaching SEL skills that can be used in the online world just as they are used face-to-face.  Mandy Manning, 2018 National Teacher of the Year, is very interested in the role that social-emotional learning (SEL) plays in the ways students engage, whether they’re physically in front of each other or connecting online. It’s an area Manning calls digital civility.

Source:  Lauren Barack, Education DIVE, October 16, 2019



Study Ties Pre-K Bullying to Childhood Depression

Summary:  This article reports on a research study of 198 2- and 3-year-old Canadian students, who were primarily white and middle-class, that finds preschool children who both bully and are themselves bullied are most likely to show signs of childhood depression, which can appear as early as age 3 and increases the risk of depression in later childhood and adolescence, according to the Hechinger Report.

Source:  Amelia Harper, Education DIVE, February 6, 2019



Schools Require Additional Strategies to Prevent and Respond to Cyberbullying

Summary: While many schools focus on incidents of physical bullying and intimidation, cyberbullying is continuing to grow in frequency. This article covers several forms of cyberbullying and suggests some strategies schools can use to address it.

Source:Amelia Harper, Education DIVE, October 10, 2018

Categories: Anti-Bullying, Emotional Intelligence (EQ), SEL Basics, School Safety, School Culture and Climate



How Are School Districts Legally Responsible for Bullying?

Summary: This article summarizes schools’ legal responsibility to address bullying. Though the laws vary from state to state, certain key components remain constant, including the fact that these incidents must be investigated and properly reported.

Source:Amelia Harper, Education DIVE, October 2, 2018

Categories: Anti-Bullying, Educational Equity, Codes of Conduct, Student Behavior



Survey: One-third of Students Report Being Bullied

Summary: “A third of students reported that they experienced bullying during the 2017-18 school year — up from a fourth in previous school years, according to survey results released today by YouthTruth Student Survey, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization.”

Source:Linda Jacobson, Education DIVE, September 24, 2018

Categories: Anti-Bullying, Relationships, School Culture and Climate, SEL Basics, Student Behavior



5 Creative Ways to Teach Kids to Be Upstanders

by Christa Tinari, M.A.

Imagine this: You’re a sixth grader entering your classroom, and you see two popular students laughing as they walk away from another student’s chair that has a note taped to it. The note says, “You’re gross! Eww!” Your heart pounds. You feel angry and anxious. You want to do something, but don’t want to be the next target of such harassment. You have a few choices: confront the students who left the note, report the incident to the teacher, try to remove the note before the targeted student sees it, or deliberately sit next to the targeted student to show support. What do you do?

Students face dilemmas like this on a daily basis. Can we better prepare them to be upstanders in such tricky challenges? Yes, we can. Read on.

Who Is an Upstander?
The Oxford Dictionary defines upstander as “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.” We may think of an upstander as an extraordinary person who has a lot of self-confidence and courage. However, all students can learn to be upstanders by developing skills that can be applied in situations like the one just described.

What are upstander skills? In practice, they are the techniques and responses used by people in order to (a) interrupt bullying behaviors or (b) support the target of bullying behaviors. Examples include assertively telling a bullying student to stop, using persuasion or distraction, reporting the incident to an authority, inviting the target to sit or walk with you, offering empathy, listening without judgment, and saying positive things (in person or online) about the target. A previous blog post by Michele Borba describes additional ways kids can become “Bully BUSTERs.” What’s clear is that there are many ways to be an upstander that don’t include directly confronting a person who is bullying.

So why don’t kids always stand up? The reasons kids don’t act as upstanders are simple: They’re not sure it’s their business to intervene or reach out, they want to avoid being the next target, or they simply don’t know what to do.

What Can We Do?
We need to get real about how students become proficient at upstander skills. We can’t simply introduce and teach the concept once during Bullying Prevention Month and expect it to stick! An assembly with an upstander theme can inspire kids, but more is needed to see real change. Upstander skills take social awareness, empathy, courage, and practice, practice, practice. In short, we need to teach upstander skills across all grade levels and provide opportunities for kids to practice the skills throughout the school year.

Here are five ways you can teach upstander skills throughout the year:

 1.  Ripped from the headlines: Use current events and historical examples.Whistleblowers, nonviolent protesters, those who offer refuge to the persecuted, politicians who create laws that protect human rights. Upstanders can save a life, improve a community, and change history forever. An upstander’s actions often involve risk and are often unpopular. In Create a Culture of Kindness, coauthor Naomi Drew and I crafted upstander lessons that used the real-life stories of young people like Dee Andrews, Whitney Kropp, Malala Yousafzai, Travis Price, and David Shepherd to demonstrate the courage, creativity, and empathy that is needed to put upstander skills into action. Compelling stories (that are appropriate for various age levels) can be drawn from the fields of science, social studies, health, and even sports. For example, high school students can examine the controversial actions of Colin Kaepernick. Students can consider the following questions: Who were the targeted individuals? Would I have taken the same action? Why or why not? What risks were involved in taking action, and what were the consequences? How has considering this story expanded my understanding of what it means to be an upstander? BONUS!Download “Why I Would Be an Upstander,” a free printable worksheet from Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle School.

2.  Role-play scenarios (skill practice).Some students see role plays as a time to break out their silly accents, outrageous behavior, and acting chops. It’s more productive to think of role playing as “skill practice.” Before the role play, teach your students a few new upstander skills and write down the skills on index cards. Also write down developmentally appropriate scenarios you have prepared ahead of time. It’s useful for scenarios to have some gray area, with no clear right or wrong solution. Students get into small groups and read each scenario. They discuss which upstander skill they’d most likely use in each. Then they act it out.  Afterward, consider handing a new skill card to the small group and asking them to apply it to their scenario. The other students can guess which skill the role-playing group is demonstrating. Follow up the role plays with a discussion exploring the upstander choices students can make when they are faced with a tricky situation. Keep in mind that every student, and every situation, is unique. Rather than telling students what to do, equip them with a moral reasoning process they can use to determine what action might be best.

3.  Explore using the arts.The arts can play a powerful role in deepening student engagement with subject matter. Dramatization can bring content to life in a vivid and exciting way. Crafting a sculpture, writing a poem, composing a song, or painting a mural all invite students into a deeper, more personal contemplation of the subject matter. And experiencing art others have created fosters perspective-taking and expands one’s sense of empathy. For example, consider Mark Wills’s version of the song “Don’t Laugh at Me.” Creative expression can and should be a powerful part of your students’ exploration of what it means to be an upstander.

4.  Use peer-to-peer teaching.Younger students are excited and receptive when older students visit their classrooms. With the assistance of educators or counselors, even elementary students are capable of creating simple lesson plans to share with their younger peers. They can read storybooks that feature solutions to teasing, exclusion, and bullying; teach younger students about historical upstanders they’ve researched; and do skits with puppets that demonstrate upstander skills. Peer-to-peer connections like this increase positive relationships between students across grade levels and contribute to a kindness-is-cool mentality in the student body. As the saying goes, we learn what we teach, so in addition to benefiting younger students, this activity will increase older students’ knowledge and skills.

5.  Connect it to home and the community.Students can interview their caregivers or community members using the following questions:

Who is an upstander you admire? Why do you admire that person?

  • Tell me about a time when you stood up for or supported someone else? What influenced your decision to stand up for that person?
  • Tell me about a time when someone stood up for you. How did it impact you?

The responses gathered from the interviews can be shared as quotes during morning announcements or in articles for the school paper or newsletter. Students can also produce video interviews that can be featured on a school or local TV station. Whatever you do, get conversations going about what it means to be an upstander both at home and out in your community!

I hope you’ll use these ideas throughout the year to reduce bullying and provide your students with the skills they need to be effective upstanders in tricky situations.

Christa M. Tinari, M.A., is a bullying prevention, social-emotional learning, and school climate specialist. She speaks at educational conferences and provides training and consulting to schools across the country. Visit to learn more about her work



The Inclusion Storytelling Project Takes a Cue from Students on Kindness

By Anna Griffin, 826 Digital Manager

Last fall, 826 National invited students across the country to share their stories on bullying as part of the Inclusion Storytelling Project. One student at 826 Boston, Jekaya, recalled a time she witnessed bullying on a bus, sharing that “I wanted to say something [to the bullies], but in my head I was confused.”

Jekayaka is not alone. More often than not, students want to do what is right. But when the right thing means standing up to a bully, many freeze. At 826 National, the largest youth writing network in the country serving 65,000 students annually in 826 centers and online, we believe that writing is a powerful tool. Through writing, students ignite and channel their creativity, explore identity, and advocate for themselves and their community. We also believe in the power of student voices. But sometimes, students struggle to speak up when it matters most.

To that end, 826 National partnered with Cartoon Network’s Stop Bullying: Speak Up initiative and launched the Inclusion Storytelling Project with a simple idea: if students write about their experiences with bullying, it will help them summon the courage and words necessary to stand up for themselves and each other. It will help students to stop bullying before it starts.

Now is the time to listen to students and discuss how they can be a part of the solution. Bullying is on the rise, as one national student survey suggests, with one in three students reporting that they’ve experienced bullying. Incidents of bullying have increased during middle school in particular, and certain subgroups of students are being disproportionately affected at increasing rates.

The Inclusion Storytelling Project began with students engaging in discussions on the importance of kindness and empathy. They learned strategies to stand up to bullies and wrote stories featuring upstanding characters. They reflected on how bullying has affected them and those around them. At the project’s culmination, each 826 chapter published students’ stories, poems, and scripts, and a few student pieces, including Jekaya’s Story, were selected to be animated by Cartoon Network.

This year, 826 National and Cartoon Network have expanded the Inclusion Storytelling Project by launching free Social-Emotional Learning resources for educators on, which includes step-by-step lessons, writing prompts, and student writing examples encouraging kids across the country to share their individual stories about kindness, inclusion, and empathy.

Invite your students to join the national conversation on bullying prevention using best practices from the Inclusion Storytelling Project:

Share Your Story: Writing can be tough. For many students, sharing personal experiences about bullying is tougher. Break the ice by telling your students about a time when you were bullied, a time you were silent, or a time you spoke up. Whatever you share, keep the story real and get vulnerable. This will help build trust before asking students to do the same.

Shift Perspectives: Students build empathy when they expand their perspective and consider the experiences of others. Ask students to put the old adage of “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes” to work by having them write from the perspective of a character, a friend, or, as in one lesson on 826 Digital, a villain.  

Build Purpose: Too often, student writing stops with a final draft. A critical piece of the writing process is lost when student writing is not shared with a broader community. Build purpose for young writers by submitting their stories to the Inclusion Storytelling Project, or by creating other opportunities for students to tell their story with a wider audience: publish their stories in a class book, host a book reading and release party, or ask students to make videos or PSAs that extends their message beyond your class.

Create Solutions: Talk to your students about what it would take to make their school or community a kinder, more inclusive place. The Compliments Project, which began from a student’s suggestion to anonymously give compliments to classmates, is a great place to look for inspiration. Encourage students to turn their ideas into words into actions, and they will make a connection: when I share my voice, I create positive change.  

Nana-Wadieh, a student at 826NYC writes, “People have feelings that are as soft as feathers.” It’s time for us to take a cue from our students on kindness. Their voices show us that in a world that is brimming with stories of cruelty, there is a rising tide of hope. Think of the difference that could be made—in your school and across the country—if we hear their words.

Anna Griffin 
826 Digital Manager 
826 National (
44 Gough Street, Suite 206
San Francisco, CA 94103
T: (415) 864-2098




10 Ways to Sustain Your Bullying Prevention Month Efforts Through the School Year


by By Christa M. Tinari, coauthor of Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle School: 48 Character-Building Lessons to Foster Respect and Prevent Bullying

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a nationwide campaign intending to “unite communities around the world to educate and raise awareness of bullying prevention.” Schools across the nation mark this month with poster contests, assemblies, and pledge-signing ceremonies. These activities often involve the whole school community and bring attention to an important issue.

However, in order to implement effective bullying prevention, your efforts must extend beyond October. Here are ten actions you can take to sustain your bullying prevention efforts throughout the year.

Recognize that bullying impacts your schoolSometimes I work with a school administrator who says, “We don’t have a bullying problem here. The kids are basically nice to one another.” Yet according to the National Center for Education Statistics, research shows that approximately 20 percent of students are victimized by bullying. That means that if your school has 500 students, 100 of them have likely been targeted at some point during their schooling. That’s 100 too many.

Ask the students. The best way to find out what kinds of bullying behaviors are happening at school is to ask your students. In order to get clear data on their experiences, administer an anonymous school climate survey. Additionally, you can facilitate focus groups of students to hear their concerns and suggestions. Focus groups should be facilitated by someone who can maintain the confidentiality of the students, such as a school counselor. I also recommend surveying your staff and parents, if possible. It’s interesting and often surprising to see how perceptions of school climate differ among staff, students, and parents. A school climate survey that has been scientifically validated for middle school students is available from PeacePraxis upon request. A compendium of other instruments is available on the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments web page.

Create a plan and take action. Once you have gathered clear data through surveys and focus groups, report the findings to your staff, students, and parents. Use the data to start a conversation on what must be addressed so all students feel safe and connected to school. Then assemble a team of staff and students to set measurable annual goals for improvement. For example, if students report that name-calling is a common issue, brainstorm ideas to reduce it and create a plan to put those ideas in action. Including students in this process ensures that you’ll come up with realistic solutions. This team should also focus on ways to increase safety and positive interactions between all members of the school community. The most effective bullying prevention efforts focus on building a positive school climate rather than simply addressing individual incidents of bullying.

Train your staff. Your staff needs to be equipped with current, research-based information on bullying prevention and intervention tactics. Be sure your staff training includes a review of your school’s bullying policies and reporting procedures. Staff will also need to know legal requirements that pertain to bullying prevention at school; these requirements are often updated by state law. Educators must also be equipped with concrete steps they can take to prevent bullying and to intervene when needed. The best training includes information on current trends in social media and cyberbullying. Provide opportunities for your staff to attend local and national trainings and conferences to learn about new research and resources that can help your school.

Engage in anti-bias work. Students who are in a perceived minority group may be at an increased risk of being bullied. Students who bully will often use bias-based remarks and actions to increase the social power they have over their target and the harm they inflict. Some studies suggest that bias-based harassment has a more detrimental impact on students’ emotional and mental health than general harassment. Additionally, when educators act on their own unconscious biases, they can harm students, as evidenced in research around disproportionate minority representation in suspensions and expulsions. Educators must therefore be prepared to identify and respond to bias-based bullying, as well as be aware of their own biases. Your staff must know how to create classroom environments that welcome students of any race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability, and so on. To ensure that your staff are learning the skills they need to support and educate all students, include anti-bias work as a required part of your bullying prevention efforts. For additional tips on addressing bias-based bullying, see this blog post on creating a culture of respect.

Teach students how to be upstanders. Many students who are not directly targets of bullying are bystanders to bullying behaviors. Although bystanders often want to intervene in a bullying situation, they often do not know what to do. We must go beyond telling our students to “walk away” or to “tell the child who is bullying to stop.” We must teach bystanders how to discourage bullying behaviors among their peers, intervene in safe ways, and support students who are targeted. These upstander strategies can be taught to students through stand-alone lessons or integrated into your social studies, language arts, or health curricula. Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle School includes several lessons on upstander skills. Here is another upstander skills activity for fourth- through twelfth-grade students. Providing opportunities for older students to teach upstander skills to younger students can be particularly effective. Upstander education will help your students develop social-emotional skills that will empower them to create a school culture of empathy, kindness, courage, and respect

Develop a clear system for reporting and investigating bullying. Do your staff, students, and parents know what to do when they become aware of bullying? Do they know how to get help and how to report situations of concern? Provide anonymous ways to report bullying, and be sure to communicate a point person to contact. Include the bullying prevention policy and reporting and investigating procedures on your website and in materials sent home for review. It is incredibly important to take action on reports of bullying and to clearly communicate your findings and the actions taken to address the situation. Finally, be sure to educate yourself and to follow your district’s and state’s requirements on reporting, investigating, and addressing bullying. To access the laws in your state, visit If you’re seeking to improve your policies, ask your state board of education or school board association for examples of a model policy. Policies should include clear definitions, legal requirements, a reporting procedure, and suggestions for prevention and intervention strategies.

Involve parents and the community. Educate your parents about your school’s bullying policies and procedures. Communicate with parents proactively about everything you are doing to prevent bullying at school. Let them know exactly how they can partner with you in your efforts. Reach out to community leaders, such as the mayor, as well as local businesses and social service agencies like the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club. They may want to join your efforts or plan something together that will make an even bigger impact on the community. Be sure to spread the word to get some good press for your school and community’s collaborative efforts!

Plan for the future. Bullying prevention efforts take time, resources, and energy! Implement a sustainability plan to ensure that bullying prevention will continue to get the attention it deserves. Ideally, your bullying prevention efforts should be included in the school district’s annual budget as a regular line item. Human resources are just as important. Is there a staff person whose job description includes the coordination of bullying prevention efforts? If that person retires, are others ready to continue the work? Finally, plan to evaluate your bullying prevention outcomes to demonstrate the impact of your actions. Pre- and post-school climate surveys and other indicators (such as the number of reported incidents of bullying) can be useful in measuring change. Anecdotal evidence, including real stories about positive change, can also make a compelling case for continuing your efforts.

Celebrate and appreciate! Be sure to acknowledge the contributions of everyone—students, staff, parents, community members—who is involved in your ongoing bullying prevention efforts. Those involved are passionate about the cause and work hard (often unpaid) to ensure that your school climate is safe and welcoming to all. People are less likely to burn out when their work is appreciated. Host a thank-you breakfast, dinner, or bowling party. Gift them with small pins or another visible acknowledgment. Write a thank-you letter and submit it to the local paper. Send handwritten cards to each individual. Whatever you do, be sure to celebrate the team effort and acknowledge your collective accomplishments!

Apply these ten steps and you will surely sustain your bullying prevention efforts long after National Bullying Prevention Month has come and gone.

Christa M. Tinari, M.A., is a bullying prevention, social-emotional learning, and school climate specialist. She speaks at educational conferences and provides training and consulting to schools across the country. Visit to learn more about her work.


Author Christa Tinari

Access the original article published by Free Spirit Press HERE!



Simple Tips for a Kinder Middle School Culture

By Naomi Drew, M.A., and Christa M. Tinari, M.A

(Originally posted on the Free Spirit Publishing blog, posted March 13, 2017)

Kids thrive in an atmosphere of kindness. They blossom, do better in school, and feel safer when surrounded by kindness.

That said, middle schoolers can be sarcastic and just plain mean to one another. This was corroborated by a national survey we conducted with over 1,000 middle school students: 81 percent said they heard kids saying mean things to one another every single day. An eighth-grade teacher we interviewed concurred. “My kids are constantly putting each other down.” The raw truth is that gossiping, exclusion, and unkindness can be as much a part of the middle school culture as puberty and mood swings.

So what can we do?

Lots! The first thing is to remember that any investment of time you make to create a kinder, more accepting culture in your school will yield rewards far greater than just having students treat one another better. According to the America Institutes for Research,  “Positive school climate is tied to high or improving attendance rates, test scores, promotion rates, and graduation rates.” And who doesn’t want that?

The truth is we actually can teach kids to be kinder. Maurice Elias, director of the Social-Emotional Learning Lab at Rutgers University, eloquently reminds us: “Kindness can be taught, and it is a defining aspect of civilized human life. It belongs in every home, school, neighborhood, and society.”

To this we say, “Yes!” And to help you get started, or move ahead even further in fostering kindness, here are three concrete things you can do right now:

  1. Model, teach, and expect acceptance, empathy, and kindness.
    Modeling and expecting kindness is critical. Kids watch us for clues as to how to behave. Even though middle schoolers are pretty peer-obsessed, our actions and attitudes hold more weight with them than we realize. Modeling kindness is key. Equally important is expecting kindness from your kids. Never let cruel behavior go unchecked. Each time we do, we normalize meanness.  A great example of promoting acceptance, kindness, and empathy is the true story of Coach Biff Poggi of Gillman High School in Baltimore, Maryland. Poggi prized kindness and empathy over all else. The character expectations he set for his football team far exceeded his expectations for prowess on the field. Poggi’s hard and fast rule was “Empathy and kindness for all.” See if you can be as steadfast as Coach Poggi in your commitment to empathy, kindness, and acceptance among your students.
  1. Help your kids see cliques and social groups through a lens of kindness.
    Peer acceptance is more important than ever in middle school. Tightly knit groups form quickly at this stage, and some kids relish the social power of being in the “in-crowd.” Others struggle to fit in, and being excluded chips away at their self-esteem. Kindness can fall by the wayside when kids become more focused on popularity than on respecting their peers.  Social groups based on common interests can provide kids with a sense of safety, purpose, and belonging. Cliques, on the other hand, can also provide these—but at a cost. Cliques are exclusive, and kids in them often discourage members from expressing individuality. They create unhealthy peer pressure for kids to fit in. More powerful members of cliques tend to mistreat less powerful members, who often put up with bad behavior just to stay in the group. Even more problematic is the use of collective power to ignore, tease, or bully others. Ultimately, cliques chip away at the possibility of a culture of kindness.  Your kids might not be aware of the advantage of forming inclusive social groups based on common interests rather than cliques. Understanding the negative impacts of cliques will also help your kids make better choices about which group to align with. Take a look at the following activity. Discuss it with your kids and help them see the benefits of opting for social groups and avoiding cliques.

Activity: Exploring Social Groups and Cliques. 

Think of a social group you belong to. This group must include one person in addition to yourself. It could be a group of friends you spend time with socially, friends from your sports team, kids in band or chess club, and so forth. Once you have thought of a social group, read the characteristics below. Circle the characteristics that describe your social group.

People in my group:

  1. Share similar interests
  2. Place a high value on popularity
  3. Support one another
  4. Are kind to people within the group and outside of it
  5. Are encouraged to act the same as other members of the group
  6. Exclude other students
  7. May feel pressured to do certain things to fit in with the group
  8. Are given the freedom to be themselves
  9. Make fun of, or look down on, students not in the group
  10. Are members of several groups

Discussion Questions

  • Which of the above characteristics seem positive to you?
  • Which could have a negative impact on students in the group?
  • Which could have a negative impact on students who are not part of the group?

Think About It
If your group includes more negative characteristics than positive ones, it might be a clique. A clique is a social group of students who may exclude, tease, or bully other students.

Choose Kindness Over Cliques
What are some actions you can take to ensure that you and your social group are kind, inclusive, and respectful of other students in your social group and students not in your social group?

  1. Teach kindness—literally.
    You can plant seeds of kindness in your classroom every time you talk about its importance and model it through your behaviors and attitudes. Help your students understand the basic human need all people have for being treated with acceptance, respect, and empathy—the fundamentals of kindness.  Here’s something else to remember: Just as kindness spreads, so can cruelty and callousness.  A Harvard Study of 10,000 middle school and high school students reported that 80 percent of students were more concerned about their own success and happiness than they were about others’. The report states something all of us have seen: “When caring takes a back seat, youth are at risk for being cruel, disrespectful, and dishonest.”  On the other hand, when enough kids treat each other with kindness and respect, others are likely to follow. This happens because of “mirror neurons” in the brain that prompt people to unconsciously mimic others’ behaviors. According to neuroscience researchers Souvra Acharya and Smarth Shukla, mirror neurons are activated when we observe the actions of the people around us. This helps explain why kids learn through imitation. We have to fill our classrooms and hallways with enough empathy, kindness, and respect to motivate every student toward kindness and away from cruelty.

One final thought: When you wonder how you can fit one more thing into your day, please remember that your efforts will touch your students’ lives in fundamental ways. Remember, too, that in this changing world, any infusion of kindness is both necessary and valuable.

Naomi Drew and Christa Tinari are coauthors of Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle School: 48 Character-Building Lessons to Foster Respect and Prevent Bullying.





Teachers Can Impact Bullying More Than They Realize

Summary:  This article reports on programs that can help stop bullying and the role that SEL can play in creating safe spaces for students. The role that teachers can play in stopping bullying is also outlined in this article.

Source:  Amelia Harper, Education DIVE, October 24, 2017

Categories:  Anti-bullying, Positive Relationships, Classroom Practices, SEL Basics