The Archdiocese of St Louis is pioneering a new initiative that focuses on cultivation the interior qualities of virtue within a person as a way to end bullying behavior. Virtue- Based Restorative Discipline challenges adults to act with kindness and justice toward children before expecting children to be kinder to one another. Intentional kindness acts, increased prayer, and living virtue are concrete outcomes in the pilot schools currently being trained to implement VBRD. There are two distinct outcomes:
1. Disruptive and harmful behaviors are decreasing
2. The practice of Catholic faith both at home and at school is increasing.
Bullying is an adult problem because children live in a world we have created. Their behavior mirrors the level of conflict skills adults model for them. We hold the solution when we commit ourselves to truly living the gospel message. Colossians 3:12-15 “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another, as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.
Just imagine the difference we could make if we could prayerfully and intentionally put even one of these virtues into practice in the world around us. Seeing through the lens of virtue can change
the way we respond to everything around us. Including the people we wish would act with kindness!
Is a child with Asperger syndrome considered a bully or, rather a child in need of social coaching? If a child struggles emotionally due to a temporary circumstance- such as a death, divorce, or illness at home- and lashes out at others, is that bullying? If a teacher fails to promote an emotionally safe classroom- where everyone is treated with dignity- and children are not safeguarded, who is responsible for the mean-spirited interactions that result?
Rather than having rules to stop bullying, what if we had guiding principles for integrating virtue into our everyday lives? These principles could be beneficial, particularly in addressing conflict and harm caused by bullying behaviors.
Most bullying prevention programs address the way
we can expect children to treat others in school (social context). These schools teach character education, expecting such things as “Respect” and “Responsibility” So a typical rule in such a system might be “We will respect one another” or “We will have a bully-free zone.” If social context dictates the rules for behavior at school, or the expected behavior in other public settings, then each location will have its own set of expectations.
Improving school climate can happen in three simple steps. First, any adult can begin by choosing a virtue to cultivate by praying for discernment. The true change in climate must begin with the adults in the school. Second, learn about the virtue, track your progress, and write down what happens as you practice it. This will help you see the fruit of your efforts as you develop new patterns of behavior that become holy habits. Finally, tell the story of how your
practice of virtue affects others. This is a way to evangelize, because virtue is good, and all good things come from God. Telling the good news of God’s work will inspire others. Once you have done this, you can begin to inspire your students to do the same.
When we cultivate virtue, we are imitating Christ and reaching out to others to end the pain of bullying and other harmful disruptions to learning in our schools. The cost benefit of maintaining enrollment because your school is rich in kindness is immeasurable, and will ensure there will be good Catholic education for the next generation.