Education

Tease and desist

Innovative Alberta anti-bullying program spreads around the world

It may seem like a bizarre leap of faith to leave behind a career in speech
pathology to manage an international anti-bullying program, but for Marilyn
Langevin, it was a move she had to make. “I was working with children
who stutter,” says Langevin, clinical director of the Institute for
Stuttering Treatment and Research at the University of Alberta, “and
there was one particular moment where I discovered that a little boy was
being teased quite badly—we could almost say mercilessly. We’d
been experiencing situations like this for some time, and finally I just
decided that we had to do something.” That will to do something quickly
turned into five years of work and a six-unit program called Teasing and
Bullying: Unacceptable Behaviour, or “TAB” to the children and
teachers who use it. Aimed at children in grades four to six, TAB was
originally developed for use in Alberta public schools, but has since spread
to British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and the United States, thanks in
no small part to the support of the Elks and Royal Purple Fund for Children,
which provided money to purchase the program and donate it to several schools
across the country. “I think it is really important to emphasize that
this project has been a good example of people in the community coming
together to make a difference,” explains Langevin. “We’ve
got speech pathologists, teachers, schools, children, parents and the
community all working together on this.” TAB was initially conceived as
a project to educate children about stuttering, but Langevin and her
colleagues quickly realized that wasn’t going to be enough. “I
began to do my research,” she says, “and realized that if we were
going to be effective, we really needed to work with all of the children who
are involved in teasing and bullying, and at the same time educate children
and teachers about stuttering, and that’s exactly what I did. So I
married the two goals and developed a very practical educational program that
targets awareness about bullying as well as practical strategies for dealing
with bullying.” The program deals with everything from “feelings,
and telling to get help” (Unit 2) to “building positive
relationships and mountains of self-esteem” (Unit 4). The sixth and
final unit deals with stuttering and other differences. “The unit on
stuttering can also be used as a model to talk about other
differences,” explains Langevin. “My dream initially was to have
several optional units and to work with people who work with children with
autism, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and so on, so that the teacher
or the school psychologist would have materials directly related to a
particular difference so they could educate other children about it.”
TAB also includes an educational video about stuttering and several other
elementary school-friendly features, including posters, in-class exercises
and assignments to do at home with parents. Instructional posters include the
“Five-Finger I Can Speak Up Strategy,” where children are taught
how to confront bullies using direct statements like “Marissa, I
don’t like it when you call me names. Please stop.” One
fill-in-the-blank exercise allows children to choose a scenario such as
soccer, the computer room or gym class, where they can pick specific ways to
show respect for others. Finally, take-home exercises allow children to speak
to their parents about bullying, something that can be an otherwise sensitive
topic. “If bullying is happening,” Langevin says, “we want
it to be a natural thing for the child to come and just talk about it, rather
than it being an emotionally loaded thing that’s scary or shameful for
them to do. So that gets at the core idea of them having an ongoing, open
discussion about sensitive issues, which is hard for many of us, much less
children.” When Langevin began her research for TAB back in 1991, she
discovered very little had been developed to help children cope with
bullying. In the last few years, however, there has been an exponential
growth of research in the field, which may explain the huge success the TAB
program encountered when it was field-tested in 1996, introduced into Alberta
public schools in 2000 and spread throughout North America in the years
afterward. “When I was first doing this,” Langevin says, “I
think I was just so focused on the mission to get some good materials
together that I had no idea it would be as important as it is today. Writing
is a painful process. There were days when I was up until four in the morning
working on this, and sometimes those days would end in tears. So I’m
absolutely thrilled at TAB’s success.” Langevin and her
colleagues have received plenty of positive feedback for their work on TAB
from teachers, parents and children. “In the field testing, every child
gave me their feedback on their experience being involved in this
program,” Langevin says. “I had responses like ‘It helped
me to share my feelings,’ because it provides an opportunity for them
to be open. Some of the children said, ‘It helped me to stop
bullying.’ And this was a really poignant one: ‘I’m glad
adults are doing something about it.’” Ultimately, Langevin
believes it will take a shift in societal attitudes for bullying to become a
thing of the past. “Society condones bullying behaviours, which
certainly perpetuates it,” she explained. “We see it all around
us. We see it in sports, we see it in politics, we see it in workplaces, and
it’s going to take a number of years to really change attitudes….
I’d said to myself in the end that if this helps even one child,
it’s been worth it. But it’s been helping a lot—and really,
who could ask for more in their career?” V

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