Linda Rhone receives grant from Kansas Health Foundation for bullying behavior project

Newman professor wins Kansas Health Foundation grant to lessen bullying behavior

Anyone who has gone to school has witnessed, perpetrated or been the victim of it. It can be blatant, such as one student hitting or threatening harm to another, or subtle, such as a teacher manipulating a student to change his or her behavior. In some respects, it has become so common in the classroom that people hardly notice it when it occurs.

Yet the matter in question, bullying, has far-reaching consequences for many students, and can make the difference between a positive view of education that leads to success in school and in life, and a negative experience that leads to low self-esteem, underachievement and lifelong problems that affect not only the individual, but society as a whole.

Linda Rhone, Ed.D.

Linda Rhone, Ed.D.

Linda Rhone, Ed.D. wants to change that – and with the help of a $25,000 Recognition Grant from the Kansas Health Foundation, she is taking an important step in that direction.

Rhone, an assistant professor of education at Newman University, has formed a team comprised of educators from Newman and administrators and 5th-grade teachers from the Wichita Public Schools called the Wichita Teacher Inquiry Group (WTIG), A Newman University and U.S.D. 259 Collaborative. Beginning in January, WTIG launched a 16-month-long program entitled the “Lessening Bullying through Cultural Competence and Transformative Teaching and Learning Project.” Rhone said the project is designed to build teachers’ cultural awareness and skills to help ensure they are not perpetuating bullying behavior, but working to lessen it.

“It is widely known that well over 50 percent of our public school teachers are white and middle class,” Rhone said. “Yet our classrooms are full of students who are non-white and poor. If teachers do not understand the impact of race, ethnicity, and poverty on learning, and transform their teaching behaviors beyond surface changes such as celebrations of food and clothing, this could cause them to push children who are different racially, ethnically, socioeconomically, linguistically and otherwise to ‘fit’ into the kind of narrow definitions that have long defined intelligence in our schools. This is not just another anti-bullying program. It is specifically designed to look closely at how we as teachers can ensure that we are not perpetuating bullying through our teaching and learning practices.”

‘Social justice’

Rhone and others on the WTIG team will work with six 5th-grade teachers from different elementary schools in the Wichita district for one full academic year. The group will use readings and other activities and resources to examine school structures, ideological beliefs and teaching practices that could perpetuate bullying. Rhone said she chose 5th graders for the project because evidence shows bullying is most extensive in middle school.

Teacher participants will receive graduate workshop credit, a stipend for their yearlong commitment, books, articles, and subscriptions to professional journals that will be used through the course of the project, as well as classroom coaching from Rhone and other Newman faculty. “Every person involved in this project will examine his or her teaching behaviors, including me,” Rhone said. “This work is not about the other as much as it is about us all.”

The WTIG team includes Rhone, Newman School of Education Director Steven E Dunn, Ed.D., Newman Professor of Education Don Hufford, Ph.D., Executive Director of the U.S.D. 259 Office of Equity Kim Johnson Burkhalter, and U.S.D. 259 Parent Coordinator Jackie Lugrand. Also on the team are Joseph Dunn, a social studies teacher at Marshall Middle School who will facilitate a session with teacher participants, and Administrative Assistants Karen Whitmore and Joyce Rhone Scott.

Beginning in April and running throughout the program, the WTIG team, participating Wichita teachers, and teachers and other interested parties across the nation can track the inquiry group’s progress and communicate with each other through a Web site and blog, at http://wtig.newmanu.edu.

The project is rooted in the work of the late Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, who developed teaching techniques during the 1970s designed to help illiterate adults acquire the critical thinking skills they needed to connect and cope with their social, historical, and political environment. Freire found that teachers who validated the cultural backgrounds and present realities of their students were able to have authentic relationships with them, leading to better learning outcomes. Freire also advocated what he termed transformative teaching and learning, which seeks to engage learners, provide meaningful experiences beyond textbooks and the classroom, and empower students to act on the injustices in their lives.

The WTIG group will use works written by Freire, as well as educators Antonia Darder, bell hooks, and Hufford, in the course. Freire’s work Pedagogy of the Oppressed will also be read by Newman faculty. Hufford will then lead a discussion on the book for faculty members and the Committee for Transforming Teaching and Learning at Newman.

Rhone said the project will use real-life examples of social justice to help students develop the skills to address bullying in their lives through nonviolent and productive measures. She added that combining the concepts of social justice, cultural competence and transformative teaching and learning can help teachers create classroom environments that model an appropriate use of power, inclusion, mutual respect and critical thinking – all of which lessen bullying behavior.

“Teachers must teach students an appropriate use of power, and be willing to examine the use of power in the larger school context and in their classrooms,” she said. “Schools are hierarchal in nature. That structure constitutes a kind of bullying of children and teachers through the ranking and sorting regimes, which are unfair and discriminatory against certain groups of students. But we as educators can create different classroom and whole-school climates.”

‘Cultural circles’

Rhone has an extensive background in this field. A native of Wichita, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Wichita State University, a master’s degree from California State University-Los Angeles, and a doctorate from West Virginia University, where her dissertation, “School Bullying: A Freirean Perspective,” used Friere’s theory to examine bullying and ways to lessen it. She has worked as a teacher in Missouri, California, Wyoming, and West Virginia using Friere’s ideas, and has spent 18 years in higher education as a researcher and educator. She has published works on Freire in education journals, and book reviews for Multicultural Review, a leading journal in multicultural education and social justice. She has also conducted one extensive study on the impact of Freire’s work on select American educators, and led several anti-bullying workshops prior to joining the faculty at Newman in fall 2008. At Newman, she has led two anti-bulling workshops. She said the positive feedback from both workshops led her to apply for funding to work with a team in this yearlong inquiry.

Rhone said she joined with the Wichita Public Schools on the WTIG project because of her knowledge of and respect for Burkhalter, who played a key role in the development of a program launched in fall 2006 called “A Journey Toward Cultural Proficiency.” The program is designed to help Wichita Public School teachers increase awareness of cultural differences and learn skills that can be applied to their teaching styles to make all students in the increasingly diverse population feel comfortable, accepted and competent.

“The Wichita Public Schools is excited to have this opportunity to enter into a partnership with Newman University in the joint research project,” Burkhalter said. “This partnership will enhance the district’s work with cultural proficiency as teachers have the opportunity to delve deeper into the exploration of cultural proficiency and assess their personal cultural values and how they respond and react to students in their classroom.”

“I knew Kim had laid the groundwork for cultural proficiency, and I hope this project will add to that,” Rhone said. “We want to help people truly understand the perspectives of students from cultures that are different from their own.”

After selecting six teachers in March, teacher participants will begin studying program materials and take classes and workshops at Newman in April. Following a four-day workshop in the summer, the program will begin in classrooms in September 2010 and run until March 2011. During this time Rhone will visit classrooms for observation and coaching, and participating teachers will take part in monthly “Cultural Circles,” which explore topics related to the program such as the importance of teachers creating a “spirit of community” in the classroom, and how teachers can incorporate cultural relevance and social action in their own lessons while still achieving required school system standards.

The inquiry group will include parents in an effort to help them examine their parenting styles and consider using styles consistent with teaching children an appropriate use of power, respect for authority, and development of their own voice and critical thinking. Rhone said she will seek parents who represent the various ethnic and racial groups of children who are educated in the district to assist with this cultural circle.

“Most of us can remember that sick feeling of having to face a bully or of engaging in bullying because we were too afraid to stand up to the bullies,” said Steve Dunn, who has extensive experience working with parents in schools and will lead the parents cultural circle. “Today, many adults readily share how much they hated middle school or high school, and the main reason is typically that they were bullied. That is why increasing cultural proficiency can help. It seems obvious that when school life is positive and the learning environment is supportive and students feel cared about, that students’ academic performance will improve as a result.”

At the end of the inquiry group in April 2011, participating teachers will make a presentation of their yearlong experience for both the Newman University and Wichita Public Schools learning communities. Teachers will present the results of WTIG’s research and its implications for schools and teachers, and air a video they created showing how they used social justice concepts, cultural competence and transformative learning practices in their classrooms. Some teacher participants will also present the project at the Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed National Conference, a conference rooted in the work of Freire and Augusto Boal, in June 2011.

“We are in hopes that this project will bring Newman and U.S.D. 259 together as partners in developing culturally competent and transformative teachers who are prepared to help all children reach their full potential,” Rhone said. “In the end, the assessments drawn from this project are expected to help teachers, students, parents, and all others associated with this work to become healthy physically, mentally, and socially.”

“This project will help us all better understand how Freire – as an educator, philosopher, and activist for social justice – provides a model for rethinking why we teach, and how we should connect a liberating process to our pedagogy,” Hufford added.

For more information contact Rhone at 316-942-4291, ext. 2193.

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