Behind the Numbers at Branford High

By Betsey Wright | September 1, 2005 | 0 comments

Three years ago, Scott, a student in my ninth-grade world history class at Branford High School, decided that it was time to share his story with his peers. He told them of the emotional, verbal, and physical abuse he suffered due to his weight and the allegations that he was gay. Scott had no friends and he hated school.

But the other students in my class did not mock him. They listened and were empathic. And it was only the second week of school.

How did we create such an open and trusting environment?

Schools can offer school-wide anti-bullying programs, but the classroom is the front line. From the first day of class, I tell my students that the classroom environment is in their hands, but that I demand respect and trust from everyone. The message is constant and endless. Students learn to appreciate their individual importance from day one. We apologize to each other. We share stories. We take risks. We laugh. We know each other’s pain. We know acceptance.

I needed a tool to assist my students in changing unacceptable behavior while still having fun and saving face, so I created the Decorum Book. Students are in charge of monitoring offensive remarks or behavior and recording it in this book. The offending student must apologize to the class and serve 20 or 40 seconds with me after school. Why a punishment of just seconds? It is much more positive to have a student sprint to my class, sit for 20 seconds, and then sprint to the bus rather than spend an angry and defensive half hour with me. They are judged by their peers and responsibly serve their time.

This environment is a safe place with high expectations. Trust in the classroom often turns young adolescents into advocates for change. Using my class as a springboard, Scott became involved with Branford’s Cultural Diversity Club and soon found himself on stage addressing the entire school during a student presentation on the effects of bullying. His message was profound and respected. Today he can look back at starring roles in many stage productions and a myriad of close friends. Earlier this school year, I watched with pride as Scott, now a senior, sang a solo in a musical performance for Branford’s whole student body. He received a standing ovation.

Tracker Pixel for Entry

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure


Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

blog comments powered by Disqus



Greater Good Events

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017
Clark Kerr Campus, UC-Berkeley
Sunday, June 25 - Friday, June 30, 2017 OR Sunday, July 16 - Friday, July 21, 2017

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017

The GGSC’s six-day Summer Institute equips education professionals with prosocial learning strategies, tools and processes that benefit both students and teachers.


Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!


Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.


Greater Good Resources


Book of the Week

Roots of Empathy By Mary Gordon Mary Gordon explains how best to nurture empathy and social emotional literacy in all children—and thereby reduce aggression, antisocial behavior, and bullying.

Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement