I can’t believe it. It’s been ten years since GLSEN's first No Name-Calling Week! It’s even longer – thirteen years! – since my friends and I came up with the idea of stopping name-calling in the middle school in our little town of Paintbrush Falls, New York. We were in the seventh grade when Addie (who is the most outspoken of the four of us) decided we should run for student council on a platform of ending name-calling and bullying. I came up with our slogan: “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will break our spirit.”
Our idea was modest: just one day a year of nobody calling anybody else a name.
This all happened in the book The Misfits. If you’ve read it, you may remember that I’m the one who tells the story, but it took all four of us – Addie, Skeezie, Joe, and me – to work together to bring about change. That’s how it is sometimes: One person can have an idea, but for the idea to translate into action, a whole community has to get behind it.
The first community to get behind our idea of stopping name-calling was the school community. Individual schools and teachers around the country took it upon themselves to teach The Misfits and find creative ways to get everyone talking about the issues we first raised in our “Forums.” (You’ll have to read the book to know what those are.) It was awesome. We couldn’t believe something that started in our little town was spreading all over the country.
And then something even more amazing happened!
This organization called GLSEN said, “Hey, we want to do something on a national level to bring attention to name-calling and remind people that kindness is much cooler than bullying.” That’s how another community came onboard, and with the creation of GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week in 2004, the community got really big.
Pretty soon, hundreds and then thousands of schools began to participate.
Sure, there were a few rough spots – like the time in 2005 when No Name-Calling Week, The Misfits, and GLSEN all came under attack for promoting the “gay agenda.” (My friend Joe, who is gay, says the “gay agenda” is to want the same rights as everybody else, including the right to be safe in school.) The good thing about that rough spot is that it brought a lot of attention to GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week and before you knew it, even more schools were taking part.
Name-calling and bullying haven’t gone away. And cyberbulling, which wasn’t even around when The Misfits was written, has become a real problem. But because of programs like No Name-Calling Week, communities are paying attention and more and more people think twice before they call someone a name.
And to think it all started with a group of four misfits in a little made-up town in upstate New York. Pretty cool.
A lot has changed in the past ten years, but my friends and I are still in the seventh grade. That’s fiction for you! The good news is that it’s now a better place to be.
James Howe, author of The Misfits, the book that inspired GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week, wrote the above piece in the voice of its main character, Bobby Goodspeed. He has since written three more books in the voices of Bobby's friends, Joe, Addie, and Skeezie: Totally Joe, Addie on the Inside, and Also Known as Elvis (April 2014). In 2006, James Howe was honored at the GLSEN Respect Awards.
Today's No Name-Calling Week message comes from Elisa Waters, Teacher and GSA Advisor at Jericho Middle School in NY.
Here’s the challenge: Make GLSEN’s No Name Calling Week the kick-off to systemic change in language within your school community. Yes, No Name Calling Week is about drawing attention to the damage of negative, derogatory, and hurtful language, but it is also an opportunity to challenge people to use language in a way the builds up each individual within a school community.
No Name Calling Week provides a platform for open dialogue about appreciating diversity- ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, socioeconomic status, political affiliation, and even regional dialect. Often, demeaning language stems from a lack of understanding and awareness about what makes people worth celebrating, and the impact of a slur related to a group to which you belong can last a lifetime.
Consider your own life. Transport yourself back to elementary school or middle school. Close your eyes and envision a time you were bullied, harassed, or teased. Think hard about what was said or done. Walk yourself through the moments you remember as you continue to reflect and use that as your platform for educating the faces that you greet on a daily basis. It is amazing what stays in our memory bank and if we really want to make the power of No Name Calling Week last a month, a year, a lifetime, we must begin by doing our best to assure that our students don’t share the same negative moments many of us as adults can still recall.
Look and listen to what is going on around your building and, depending upon the age of your students, ask them what they hear and see. Everyone in every identity group at school is subject to being stereotyped and having judgments made against them based upon these stereotypes.
In recognition and celebration of what No Name Calling Week is about and how it can have a lasting impact for you and your students, think about the minor and major moments that embrace the ideals of this nationwide movement.
Start with “upstanders” posters that encourage curiosity and conversation. For example, consider the statement: “Don’t make fun of my religion; ask me about it.” Invite students to share aspects of their layered identities and use their experiences as a springboard for greater dialogue.
Have students create posters about daily positive behavior using upbeat language – encourage people to do what is right instead of discouraging them from doing what is wrong. Consider something simple like, “What did I do today to make someone’s day better?” or “Did you say something nice to someone today?”
Embrace a monthly theme in your classroom or building and create events that support those themes such a community, respect, responsibility, etc.
No Name Calling Week should be about enjoying and celebrating the challenge of changing memories and making a lifelong difference for our lifelong learners.
“Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will break our spirit.”
Spoken by Bobby Goodspeed in James Howe’s The Misfits (the novel that inspired the creation of GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week ten years ago), these words become the tagline on advertisements for the “No-Name Party” in a student government election that takes place in the story’s middle school.
As a way of introducing themselves and their platform to the school, the members of this fledgling political party create what in turn inspired an important part of GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week, the Creative Expression Exhibit. Together the students in the story provide their school with a clever visual representation of the problem of name-calling using the put-downs heard in the school. Inspired by this, students across the nation have been staging similar displays in their own schools each January
Creating displays or performances of students’ artistic expressions is an effective No Name-Calling Week strategy that educators have used to draw attention to the problem of name-calling in their schools. In an effort to do the same thing on a larger scale, GLSEN each year provides an opportunity for students and whole schools to submit individual and group displays and performances to an exhibit designed to teach and to inspire action with a national audience.
This last year students at Larchmont Charter School created a truly inspiring and informative video of their school-wide No Name-Calling Week display. The school’s work was recognized nationally for its impact and shared with thousands on our website. We again invite all schools to submit images of their displays or individual student work to our Creative Expression Exhibit so that we can share these with others. We've made the process really easy this year. Click here to learn how your school can get involved.
We know that the arts can promote positive, powerful social change - even in a school setting. In many instances, the arts can help students express things for which they do not have or cannot find the words. We hope you will consider holding a creative expression exhibit in your school this year and submitting images to our national display.
While names can and do break students’ spirits as Bobby Goodspeed suggests, the arts can lift those same spirits up and support efforts to rid schools of name-calling and bullying once and for all.
Each and every year we marvel at the innovative and creative ways that educators recognize No Name-Calling Week in their schools. And like every good teacher out there, when we see something great, we add it to our repertoire! This is one of the ways that No Name-Calling Week has continued to grow and remain relevant for ten years.
GLSEN's No Name-Calling Week lessons (elementary, middle and high school) have remained a staple of every school’s celebration but we've noticed that schools use these in various combinations and paired with unique events designed to address specific needs or build upon related efforts or even tied to school-wide themes for the year.
So how do these educators do their planning? How do they decide which No Name-Calling Week activities and lessons to implement?
We’ve noticed that the most successful No Name-Calling Week plans are those that emerge when educators first give deep consideration to the culture of their school and identify aspects of the culture that they wish to change.
Taking our cue from these excellent educators, we’ve put together a tool designed to help everyone engage in a similar planning process. Planning No Name-Calling Week in Your School: A Guide is a resource that educators can turn to every year to help determine desired outcomes and set objectives.
The planning tool can help you identify needs and articulate the outcomes you're working towards. This is the best way to choose just the right No Name-Calling Week lessons and activities for your classroom or school. For example, if name-calling based on physical appearance is one of the problems you’ve observed and you’ve decided you want to help students to be able to identify actions they can take to move beyond appearance as a dominant force in their social lives, you can choose the Beauty is Skin Deep lesson. And if you’re school needs a visual reminder of the importance of no name-calling, you might choose to engage in the Gardens of Kindness lesson or have a Creative Expression Exhibit.
Thanks to educators across the country and our amazing national partners, No Name-Calling Week boasts a robust set of resources to help educators address just about any name-calling issue they might observe in their school. But don’t take our word for it - join in on the conversation we're having with over 18,000 No Name-Calling Week followers on facebook. Here educators just like you pose questions and get advice and inspiration from their colleagues across the country. Together we're making just the right plans so that all of our schools become the safe and respectful places students deserve.
If you’ve ever planned a No Name-Calling Week in your school, this is probably something you’ve been asked or heard someone say. We certainly have! And while our answer is always a resounding, “Yes!” we know this is still far from what students experience in an overwhelming number of our schools.
In 2012, GLSEN issued a groundbreaking research report, Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States. Sadly, the findings suggest that in many places students may actually experience most weeks as “name-calling week.” Consider this:
- Half of students (51%) and just less than half of teachers (45%) say that students at their school make comments such as “retard” or “spaz” sometimes, often or all the time
- Slightly less than half of elementary students (45%) report that they hear comments like “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” from other kids at school sometimes, often or all the time while nearly half of their teachers (49%) say they hear students in their school use the word “gay” in a negative way with a similar frequency.
GLSEN's 2005 study, From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America, A Survey of Students and Teachers suggests that students in secondary schools also experience name-calling and bullying at alarming rates.
Clearly, there is a need to set aside time for a program like No Name-Calling Week and the kind of learning that it affords students! And January is a perfect time for it. For some, January may be just the right time for a classroom or school-wide intervention to address problems. For others, No Name-Calling Week may be used as a complement to year-long, school-wide efforts addressing name-calling and/or helping students to learn pro-social behaviors such as kindness.
There are as many reasons and ways to approach planning No Name-Calling Week as there are schools. What’s your school’s reason for participating? What are you doing to become a No Name-Calling School this year so you can say, "It is in our school" the next time someone asks that "Shouldn't every week be No Name-Calling Week" question?
Educators often worry about “saying the right thing” when confronted with conversations that they might not feel entirely comfortable engaging in with their students. A teacher once described to me how these moments made her feel like she was walking on “squishy ground.” A student “coming out” is one such moment that may create a heightened level of anxiety for you as an educator. While each such conversation is unique, there are some simple pointers that may help the ground feel less “squishy” and will ultimately help the student feel more supported. Since it’s National Coming Out Day, we wanted to share these with you as well as encourage you to learn about these in greater detail on pages 14-15 of GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit.
When a student comes out to you and tells you they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) your initial response is important. The student has likely spent time in advance thinking about whether or not to tell you, when and how to tell you and it’s likely that they chose to tell you because they see you or already know you as a supportive ally - so congratulations and thank you for being that person in the first place! So, here are some things to remember when a student comes out to you…
Offer support but don’t assume a student needs any help.
Be a role model of acceptance.
Appreciate the student’s courage.
Listen, listen, listen.
Assure and respect confidentiality.
Remember that the student has not changed.
Challenge traditional norms.
Be prepared to give a referral
Of course, it’s equally important to avoid saying things like: “I knew it,” “Are you sure?” “You’re just confused,” "It’s a phase – it will pass,” “Shhh, don’t tell anyone,” or “You can’t be gay/lesbian – you’ve had relationships with members of the opposite sex.” These kinds of questions or statements are simply not appropriate and will not help the student feel supported. Instead, ask questions that demonstrate understanding, acceptance and compassion such as "have you been able to tell anyone else?" "Do you need help of any kind?" or "Do you feel supported by the adults in your life?" Again, the Safe Space Kit has other suggestions for these moments and for many other ways you can demonstrate that you are a supportive ally to your LGBT students.
Above all, remember that when a student has made the decision to come out to you, they've probably chosen to do so because they trust you. It is important to reassure them of that trust by engaging in this moment with respect, dignity and (as with all you do as a supportive ally), with affirmation.
Happy National Coming Out Day...or any coming out day!
With two month-long celebrations and Ally Week on the calendar, October holds such great possibility for making change in schools. Ironically, though, while thousands of schools across the country will focus their attention on recognizing Bullying Prevention Month with assemblies, special theme days and activities focused on addressing the issue of bullying in a broadly defined sense, fewer will recognize October as LGBT History Month – a strategic time of the school year to include positive representations of LGBT people, history or events in lessons and other school activities – and as a result, achieve outcomes that many strive for in their bullying prevention efforts.
Consider the following outcomes:
Fewer students reporting that they feel unsafe
Fewer students missing school
More students reporting a greater sense of being a part of their school community
Would your school community consider your Bullying Prevention Month efforts a success if you were to achieve these? We all would!
For LGBT students, these outcomes can be achieved by including positive representations of LGBT people, history, or events within the school curriculum. Unfortunately, even though GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey identifies these outcomes as being linked to LGBT-inclusive curriculum, only 16.8% of LGBT students reported having positive representations of LGBT people, history or events in classes.
LGBT History Month is the perfect time to make a special effort to include LGBT content in lessons and activities. This year, why not incorporate both month-long celebrations into your school’s programming? To help, GLSEN has developed resources like the popular Unheard Voices – Stories of LGBT History as well as other lessons and a Guide to Developing LGBT-Inclusive Classroom Resources that can help with the LGBT History aspect of October, while tools like Ready, Set, Respect! and the Safe Space Kit can complement your Bullying Prevention Month activities.
Working together, the recognition of these two months can make a real difference in your school! Happy October!
"There is no LGBT material allowed in the library. There were two books in there last year and the school board had them banned and removed."
Like so many others, this student's statement (from GLSEN's 2011 National School Climate Survey) speaks to the paucity of LGBT-positive resources that students find in school classrooms and libraries across the country. September 22-28 is Banned Books Week, an annual event organized by the American Library Association that celebrates the freedom to read. For GLSEN, this includes the freedom to access LGBT-relevant texts in schools. In recognition of this this week, we asked GLSEN's friend and Young Adult author Tim Federle to share his experiences and thoughts on the subject of banned books. We hope you enjoy Tim's blog post, "When the Book That's Banned is Your Own."
When I was a kid, I turned to books like Bridge to Terabithia and James and the Giant Peach and A Wrinkle in Time to keep me company and keep me sane. These novels featured contemplative kids who didn’t quite fit in—just like me. They shared another distinction, too: each spent time as a banned book.
A couple decades out of middle school, I wrote my own novel for young readers. Told from the perspective of a boy auditioning for a Broadway show, I wanted Better Nate Than Ever to inspire kids to dream big, and to laugh while doing so. And though Nate isn’t a “gay” book—how can a book be attracted to another book?—it does feature a subplot about a teenager who’s starting to notice other boys, and beginning to wonder why.
A refrain kept popping up after Better Nate Than Ever was released this year: librarians who had loved the book, and invited me to visit their students, were suddenly backing out for fear of parental backlash. My own middle school even canceled a long-in-the-works trip, a week before my visit. And I recently read a blog post by a concerned parent who gave Better Nate Than Ever an “Extreme Caution” rating because “homosexuality is presented as normal and natural in this book.”
You bet it is.
All kinds of people deserve all kinds of stories. When you support books that feature diverse kids, you’re telling those kids that you support them, too—that they are, more than anything, okay. The opposite is true when you shut those kinds of books down.
I still think about that canceled trip home. There had to have been at least one kid at my old school who, like me, wondered if there was anyone else like him on earth. Maybe he would have even picked up my book, and read so for himself.
For guidance on creating LGBT-Inclusive Lessons, See GLSEN's Guide to Developing LGBT-Inclusive Classroom Resources
When I was a teacher I used to spend hours prior to the first day of school working to create a visually appealing classroom for my students with spectacularly colorful bulletin boards, displays of former students’ work, inspirational quotes and of course - my classroom expectations. I held the belief that my students would learn something from simply walking into my classroom and I wanted my students to learn in a safe, comfortable and attractive learning environment. As the back to school season approached, I am certain that teachers once again participated in this late summer ritual holding the same belief.
Educators know that classroom environment matters and that their students benefit and learn about many things from the displays they choose to put up in their rooms and in the hallways of their school. GLSEN recognizes this too and for the last three years we have worked to provide educators everywhere with a tool to use in their classroom or office that is designed to help students learn something simple – that that classroom or office is a space in which all students will be safe to be who they are, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
Educators who have put these stickers/posters up help students know where in school this will absolutely be the case. Because of supportive educators like you it’s working! LGBT students who can “spot" a sticker (or poster) are more likely to be able to identify many supportive staff in their schools.
This year we’re asking students everywhere to help us “spot the sticker” in schools by sharing an image of the sticker. We want to include educators in this activity too.
To learn how to participate in this campaign, go to glsen.org/spotthesticker.
If you don't have a sticker or poster or want to learn more about its meaning, you can learn more and even download the sticker for free.
All of us at GLSEN wish you and your students a safe and successful school year and thank you for the important role you play in the lives of young people.