A Place Without Bullies/A Place Without Victims

by Bonnie Sauer


Given the prevalence of stories of bullying in today's news, we thought that it might be informative for both our parents and others outside of Sunrise to read about our approach to both bullies and victims. After some reflection and discussions with teachers, a simple fact became very clear: Our goal at Sunrise is to create an emotionally safe place in which bullying behavior cannot put down roots. Our deeply held philosophy supports and shapes an educational environment in which every child is encouraged to express his feelings and meet her own personal needs while listening to and respecting the rights and needs of other classmates.   Through the Montessori philosophy and the daily diligence of our teaching staff, we have a school that, in general, is without bullies and without victims.

Bullies cannot be bred in a place that encourages conflict resolution, a place where everyone has value, and a place where each child has a voice. Growing up with no bullies and no victims begins in the Sunrise toddler and preschool programs.   Lessons, support, and reinforcement are consistent throughout the elementary years. In every class there is a place to go when conflicts arise and concrete ways to solve those conflicts in an immediate and positive manner. To create the emotionally safe culture that is the bedrock of Sunrise; rude, disrespectful, and hurtful language and behavior are never ignored.   The teachers work with both the instigator and the recipient of the negative behavior, helping each to find a better way to work out anger, bruised egos, and wounded feelings. Children learn that "put downs" have a negative, hurtful strength and learn ways to make amends, turning "put downs" into compliments.

By giving children at two years of age positive ways to deal with simple interpersonal interactions, the Toddler teachers lay the groundwork for strong self-esteem mixed with social empathy. There is a great deal of teacher support, giving the children necessary words to express feelings. Toddlers are encouraged to look into the faces of children who have been hurt and begin to read the looks of sadness, fear and pain. They learn how to say "No thank you, not right now" when they don't want another child to play with their work while also learning how to share when it is appropriate.   Learning to take turns and wait for turns are important social lessons.

With consistent help from the teachers and a set of simple rules of respect and thoughtfulness, preschool and kindergarten children begin to identify their feelings and listen to those of their classmates. In the Willow room, a Peace Rose is used to solve conflict with a happy, satisfying resolution for everyone involved. A Rose, as a sign of peace, is passed back and forth between the "opposing sides" as they each have a fair turn to describe their feelings while the other child listens. A Peace Table is used for the same purpose in Mulberry.   Starting at the preschool level, teachers talk about the difference between tattling and telling the truth. Tattling (used by both victims and bullies) is done to get someone else in trouble. Telling the truth is done (by strong, secure children) so that everyone feels safe. Older kindergartners learn their responsibility to the younger children as they become helpers and role models.   Through classroom lessons and units of study, preschool and kindergarten children gain a broader view as they begin to learn and appreciate the similarities and differences among people from all cultures.

In the Lower Elementary, students learn about "emotional literacy", how words and tone of voice affect the feelings and attitudes of those listening. Modeled on The Compassionate Classroom, students learn the difference between "giraffe" and "jackal" language. A giraffe, who can see far and has a big heart, uses language that is gentle and respectful, always taking into account the other person's feelings. A jackal, low to the ground and predatory, uses language that is harsh and loud, with no care about the listener and his feelings. A stuffed giraffe, kept in the Peace Corner, is a reminder of how each person in the classroom should speak with others.

A Truth and Safety box is centrally located in the lower elementary classroom. When students feel unsafe due to the behavior or language of another and unable to work it out themselves, they write a note and place it in the box. A teacher then has a private conversation with the child and together they work on a solution.

In both elementary programs, there are many jobs that the students do to care for the classroom and each other. Each class has a peacemaker, a student who mediates conflicts that arise among classmates. In both classrooms there is a beautiful, quiet peace corner for the students to use when they need to calm down, deal with emotions and work through conflict. A peace wheel, showing an array of feelings, is used by the students when they are experiencing conflict. The following is the process used by elementary peace makers when helping classmates solve interpersonal issues:



The peacemaker will:

•Ask the children if they are ready to solve their problem.

•Bring the Feelings Wheel and gems to a quiet place.

•Ask if everyone is willing to:

listen carefully

wait for each person to finish.

speak respectfully to each other

be honest

•Invite both people to express their feelings

•Invite them to take turns naming their feelings and describing when they felt it, remembering to use I messages, respectfully and honestly.

•Invite them to ask each other questions in a respectful way.

•Ask them if they have a better understanding of each other and what went wrong.

•Ask them to describe what they could have done differently and what they will do differently in the future.

•Congratulate them on resolving their differences peacefully!


Daily and weekly class meetings in both lower and upper elementary provide a format to address feelings and conflicts while continuing to learn the art of compliments. At the beginning of each school year, the Upper Elementary teachers explain that the school community is like a family with many different ideas, interests, needs, and wants. It is important to find a way to be together in a peaceful and respectful manner. The teachers and students brainstorm and answer the question “What does a peaceful classroom look like?” From this discussion and over the next few days, classroom Rights and Responsibilities are created. A final draft is signed by all students and teachers and posted on the wall. When conflicts arise during the school year, the class refers to the posted Rights and Responsibilities. According to one of our upper elementary teachers, the process of creating Rights and Responsibilities seems to decrease the number of conflicts that flare up throughout the school year. The following are the Rights and Responsibilities for the 2010-2011 upper elementary class.


Rights and Responsibilities - Class of 2010-2011

We have the right to have pets.

We have the responsibility to keep them clean, healthy, and happy.

We have the right to a quiet classroom.

We have the responsibility to be respectful of our own and other’s needs.

We have the right to use the computers.

We have the responsibility to use them properly and be alert to problems.

We have the right to play equipment.

We have the responsibility to put it away carefully every time.

We have the right to use the materials that are right for us.

We have the responsibility to let everyone use them at their own pace and to use them respectfully.

We have the right to ask a teacher for help.

We have the responsibility to use our own brains and resources first; wait for the teacher to be available.

We have the right to use books.

We have the responsibility to handle them carefully, to bring them back and put them away correctly.

We have the right to have a snack.

We have the responsibility to take the appropriate amount, eat politely and clean up after ourselves.

We have the right to enjoy nature.

We have the responsibility to treat nature with respect.

We have the right to make mistakes.

We have the responsibility to be patient with ourselves, to learn from our mistakes and to do our best to fix them.

We have the right to say “no”.

We have the responsibility to say “no” to the right things, to say it respectfully and to keep an open heart.

We have the right to stand up for ourselves and others.

We have the responsibility to do this when it really matters and use peacemaking skills.

We have the right to take a break.

We have the responsibility to avoid lollygagging, choose a good time and come back to work energetically.

We have the right to have friends.

We have the responsibility to make sure the friendship goes both ways, to cooperate, be considerate of everyone, include others when you can and be open to new friends.

We have the right to have rights.

We have the responsibility to be responsible with them.

We have the right to have fun.

We have the responsibility to follow rules, and to stay in control.

We have the right to learn.

We have the responsibility to pay attention to lessons, to do our best, to choose a good work space and to ask questions.

I agree that these are my rights and responsibilities.

I will do my best to enjoy my rights and honor my responsibilities for the benefit of myself and my classmates.

You have read just a sampling of the simple and caring ways that our teachers create an emotionally safe educational environment for all of the children at Sunrise. There are many more examples of activities and conversations that are purposefully created or happen spontaneously day in and day out.   The intent is always to empower every Sunrise child with the self confidence, language and tools needed to stand up for himself while, at the same time, becoming empathetic to the needs of those around him. The Sunrise teachers are constantly vigilant in our mission to create a place without bullies and a place without victims.

Help! My Child Is the Bully!

by Maren Schmidt


Amanda, a preschool teacher in California, contacted me about a recent column about bullying. ''I do agree,'' she wrote, ''that bullying is a very serious issue, but the people that usually need more support are the mortified parents of the bully.''

Let's define what is bullying behavior. Bullying can be physical, verbal or excluding behaviors that include but are not limited to hitting, kicking, pushing, choking punching, threatening, teasing, starting rumors, hate speech and telling other children not to play with others, or not be their friend. Bullying is behavior whose intent is to inflict harm.

We also need to separate the child from the behavior. It helps us look at the situation differently if we say that the child is exhibiting bullying or aggressive behavior instead of saying that the child is a bully. A child's aggressive behavior at any age indicates that the child has lost a critical link of trust to an important adult in his or her life. This is what we must address.

The age of the child is an important factor to consider. Under the age of six, children may use aggressive behavior to get their needs met, but usually these children respond positively when they are shown alternatives to aggressive behavior. Parents of pre-schoolers with aggressive behavior need to be coached on how to teach and model cooperative social skills.

For the older child of elementary, middle and junior high school age, aggressive bullying behavior is much more serious, as the behavior indicates that the child has not yet learned basic social behavior and therefore needs to be re-taught basic rudimentary social skills. This is a challenge that many adults do not step up to, and the critical link of trust remains broken.

As adults, we need to create an environment for all children where they can work and play in dignity and safety. One way to do that is to have zero tolerance for the aggressive behaviors mentioned above. I refer to this as the Paul Newman Rule of Zero.

Back in the early 80's Newman recommended that the nuclear arms treaty be negotiated so that all powers would have no bombs. It's difficult to monitor whether someone has 10 or 10,000 bombs, Newman reasoned, but maintaining zero is easy to monitor and to correct. With children's behavior, a little push, a little hit or a little teasing can get out of hand. With zero tolerance we can more easily monitor and change aggressive behavior.

If the children in our homes and schools know that aggressive bullying behavior is not acceptable even at the smallest level, we empower all of us to take action and not remain silent or look the other way. Children need to know they can ask others for assistance and have the responsibility to stop behavior whose intention is to inflict physical, mental or emotional harm to others.

Unfortunately, having an attitude and policy of zero tolerance doesn't mean that aggressive actions won't occur. Amazingly, though, if the message is loud and clear that aggressive behavior is not acceptable, half of our work is done.

One well-known study on bullying, Craig and Pepler's playground observation research, found that one incident of bullying occurred every seven minutes. Adult intervention occurred in 4% of the incidents, and peer intervention occurred 11% of the time.

Children with aggressive behavior learn that their behavior works 85% of the time. You might say we give children with aggressive behavior a B-plus in deportment when we look the other way. To change this we need to:

  • Teach all of our children that aggressive bullying behavior is not acceptable.
  • Show our children how to treat all people with respect and kindness regardless of differences.
  • Help children learn to stop any show of aggression immediately and learn non-violent ways to react and act.
  • Give lessons on appropriate behavior.
  • Give children experiences where they feel more powerful by choosing how they will behave and treat others.
  • Help children learn to trust others by being trustworthy ourselves.
  • Help children form strong relationships with helping adults.

Children under the age of six are in a sensitive period for developing social skills. Aggressive behavior needs to be addressed with specific lessons from how to ask someone to play with you to how to ask nicely for your toys.

For the older child who has passed this critical period of learning social skills, changing aggressive behavior may require that parents get outside help to assist in helping their child learn skills to interact effectively with others.

A child's aggressive behavior is a cry for help. Make sure your child gets the help he or she needs.




Bullying, Part 2

In this newsletter we would like to share some parts of our staff “Sunrise Essentials” with you. The “Sunrise Essentials” is a document that outlines our team philosophy here at Sunrise and acts as a guide and reference for our staff members, so that the Sunrise interpretation of the Montessori philosophy is consistent throughout the whole school.

We have recently been reflecting on “bullying” in our culture and in the last newsletter we posted 2 essays on the subject. Here at Sunrise, because of the guidance given to us by Maria Montessori and our consistent use of peaceful problem solving techniques under the umbrella of positive discipline, we never let any sort of “teasing”, picking on”, or “manipulating” behavior get to a “bullying “ level.

Let’s start with the Sunrise Mission Statement:

Sunrise Montessori nurtures each child’s unique potential while encouraging appreciation for other people, cultures and the environment.  High academic standards are balanced with fine arts, music, physical activity, foreign language, and spiritual growth.

Sunrise teachers across the classrooms “nurture” and take great personal care of each and every child at our school. The teachers endeavor to get to know the culture within each family and to help bridge the difference between school and home in an open and understanding way. Sunrise teachers promote an atmosphere of tolerance and listening, so that all opinions and points of view are respected and heard. Sunrise teachers are in constant communication with each other and with the administration. Any unreasonable behavior is discussed and fully researched to ensure the safety of all concerned.

As outlined in the “Sunrise Essentials”, our response to unreasonable behavior or language is similar across classrooms and our view of teamwork with teachers and parents is consistent with the profound philosophies of Maria Montessori.


All Sunrise programs are interconnected

Purpose: Learning at Sunrise has great depth because it is on a spiraling continuum from Toddlers through Upper Elementary. Each early experience sets the stage for the experiences and learning in future years. When a child moves from one program to another, he feels confident and supported by the consistency in philosophy, approach and language.


  • Expectations of behavior remain the same, deepening with the maturity of the child
  • The type of language used among teachers and children is consistent but may mature with the child’s increased understanding and communication skills
  • There is a Sunrise vocabulary used throughout the school, employing the language of Gifts and Challenges and avoiding positive or negative judgmental phrases such as “Good job” or “You’re the best



Purpose: to create an efficient, supportive environment, maximizing every opportunity for the benefit of the children



/       \

Parent   Teacher

The parent/teacher team works collaboratively from the foundation of the triangle to foster the full and successful development of the child at the pinnacle of the triangle.

  • Important questions for the parent/teacher team to always consider:

-       How do the parents see the child?

-       How do the teachers see the child?

-       Are the child’s basic needs met?

-       Does the environment fit the child?

-       How does the child impact the classroom environment?

-       What are the goals both at home and at school?