How can you use the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy as a lesson for your students?

If you are interested in talking about this tragedy in order to develop some sort of solution for the kids in your life....

Last Saturday morning one of my friends called to ask if I had heard about the tragedy is Newtown, Connecticut.  I told her I had heard of it but had decided not to watch the news or read the newspapers because I didn’t think I could handle the horrific details of that Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  My friend replied by saying, “Isn’t that the field you work in?” My response…“ I don’t work in teen violence.  I work with teens regarding bullying, cyberbullying, positive school climate and character education.  My friend said, “But isn’t this the same thing?  I mean, don’t you think this kid who was the killer was probably a victim of some sort? ”

Since that morning, I have been thinking about what she said. I do have experience with what kids go through when they feel like a victim.  It is my experience that both kids and adults use many different forms of destructive behavior to deal with their pain such as: suicide, cutting, alcohol abuse, drug abuse and even violence.  I do know plenty of people who were harassed, intimidated and bullied but it didn’t result in them committing mass murder of innocent people. But then again, I don’t have any experience with mental illness. 

Monday afternoon I was picking up Spencer, my third grader from school.  I bumped into one of the other moms and I asked if she knew if the principal or any of the teachers had spoken about the tragedy in Newton, Ct. to the students.  She said she didn’t know, and then she said, “Did you see a picture of the killer?  He looks like the typical nerd, the geek, the type kids make fun of.” 

I started to think about the shooter. 

Was 20 year old, Adam Lanza a victim of some sort?  What drove Adam to do this?  Had he experienced teasing, harassment or humiliation?  What about embarrassment or intimidation?  Had he been a victim of bullying or cyberbullying?  I would guess that he had some type of mental illness but what played into the anger, sadness and need for retaliation?

If you are interested in talking about this tragedy in order to develop some sort of solution for the kids in your life, I suggest you talk about it by using the 7 steps that are outlined in the Generation Text Online program.  In my opinion, your main focus should be on steps 1, 2 and 4.

The Generation Text Online 7 Steps

to understanding how to stop bullying/cyberbulllying, create a positive school climate and practice 21st century character education.

1.      What exact behaviors are considered bullying/cyberbullying?

2.      How does bullying really affect someone?

3.      Bystanders – Why don’t kids stand up?

4.      Bystanders – Explain WHY we have to stand up

5.      Bystanders – Exact actions of HOW you can stand up

There are 4 ways to stand up for a victim.

  • ·         As a single bystander
  • ·         As a Group of Bystanders
  • ·         Ask an adult for advice
  • ·         Report it anonymously

6.      Consequences

  • ·         Legal
  • ·         Personal
  • ·         School

7.      Accountability

Here are some discussion questions you may want to use with your students:

Step 1: What types of things happened to this boy?  What was done to him?  How often?  Were there specific people that bullied him or was it an idea or an institution that he felt bullied by? Step 2: How did those things affect him?  How did those things make him feel?  Step 4: (Typically we look at this step from the bully or bystander point of view.  We look at things that victims have done to deal with their pain.  The idea is to help the bully and the bystander understand that a victim might take extreme measures to deal with their pain, such as suicide or cutting) What did Adam do with those feelings?  How did it cause him to act out?

Would you guess that Adam Lanza was happy, confident and at peace?  Or do you think this kid was sad, self-conscious, hurt or in emotional pain? 

One of the most important set of principles that I use to guide my teachings is this:

•             We have no control of what anybody does, says or how they act. 

•             We can’t change anyone.

•             We can control our own behaviors, words and actions. 

If this kid had been your classmate, teammate or neighbor, what could you have done to be positive, supportive or just nice?  What action would you have been comfortable taking?  What types of words would you have used when speaking with him?  What type of interactions with him could you have focused on if you had known him?

Jill Brown

Generation Text Online


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