Effective School Leadership and the Hidden World of Bullying
Ellie Goldberg, MEd., January 16, 2003
I highly recommend that you read "The Hidden World of Bullying" by
Rosalind Wiseman, in Principal Leadership Magazine, December 2002, Vol.
3, No. 4.
This article provides a good analysis of school cultures and how a principal's
leadership can create a safe or unsafe environment. Wiseman doesn't write about managing food allergies but she
discusses an important topic that is vital for the safety and educational
success of students with food allergies, Effective Leadership.
The principal's effective leadership is one of the most critical elements in
setting a standard of safety, cooperation and respect from all teachers, other
students, parents, auxiliary staff and everyone else in the school community.
The failure of school leadership is a common problem. It is not unique to
students with food allergies or other health conditions. Over the past few
years, increasing numbers of students with a variety of needs have challenged
the norm of most academic and social institutionalized systems. However,
getting the right words on paper in an IHP or an IEP or 504 plan will not
override the ineffectiveness of a school principal (or the school nurse) that
creates or ignores an unsafe school culture.
In this discussion of bullying and school leadership, author Rosalind Wiseman
points out what many parents of children with food allergies know too well:
principals do not provide this leadership, the school becomes an unsafe
environment in which the people in the school who have power and privilege can
do what they want without consequence to those in less-fortunate
"... It doesn't matter whether we're talking about students' social
hierarchies, racism, sexism, or any "ism," this is the way people
assert their power -- which really translates into discrimination and bigotry."
Over the past few years, most schools have a mission statement and core values
that celebrates diversity or inclusion. The school may even have a code of
conduct in its manual or on its website that explicitly condemns disrespect or
"But most students ...believe there are two honor codes: the one that is
in the school manual and the one that the students actually believe are the
real rules of the school." This is the hidden code that makes many
students feel unsafe and unwelcome.
If the student or a parent or even a teacher appeals for help to ineffective
school officials, he may be dismissed or made to feel disloyal or unreasonable.
School officials may treat him as a complainer or troublemaker or even a liar.
He frequently may feel more exposed to victimization or subjected to
humiliation or harassment for "making waves" or "not being a
In "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (1989),"
scholar Peggy McIntosh explains the intimidating power of the status quo.
"...People perceive the status quo as morally neutral, normative, and
average, and also ideal..." Thus, both [school officials and parents] see
"discrimination" only in individual acts of meanness, not in
invisible systems of rules and attitudes that create conditions that stack the
deck against someone."
One parent of food allergic children told me, "It is easy for officials to
silence parents with suggestions that their children are a burden on the school
or that meeting their child's needs somehow detracts from the school's
obligations to "normal" children. For me, placing parents in the
false position of choosing between community interests and their primary
obligation to their own children creates a chilling atmosphere of
Many school officials still do not understand safety to be a disability
discrimination issue. And, even the US DOE Office for Civil Rights misses this
element of many complaints. They simply ignore parents who report a failure of
school leadership, or that a school official creates or ignores a child's
physical or emotional insecurity and is operating a school culture that allows
or ignores repeated safety problems.
However, many civil rights cases have established that failing to address
concerns for personal safety and the need to exercise special precautions is
discrimination because it makes education resources effectively less
accessible. It can be an insidious form of abuse. This is the type of
discrimination Section 504 was written to address -- not the isolated or
individual act of cruelty or thoughtlessness but institutional policies,
practices and attitudes.
Ineffective school leadership is an obstacle that is extremely difficult to
overcome. I hope "The Hidden World" helps clarify the role of
effective school leadership for parents who are wondering about whether a
school is a good match for their child.
Ellie Goldberg, MEd., healthy-kids.info, January 16, 2003
Also see: A Study of Bullying in the Middle School, Sandra Harris and Garth
National Association of Secondary School Principals NASSP Bulletin, Vol.
86, No. 633, 42-53 (2002)
c. 2002 National Association of Secondary School Principals
This study describes the bullying behaviors
reported by 198students in grade 8 in two middle schools in the
same southerncity. Of the students, 92% reported observing some
type of bullyingat their school at least "sometimes. "
Nearly one half of thestudents did not tell anyone when they were
bullied. Those whodid report bullying were most likely to tell a friend
or theirmother Less than 3% reported that they would tell a teacherFindings also indicate that students perceived nearly 60% ofteachers
and more than 70% of administrators as "not interested"in
reducing bullying on campuses.
The world endures solely by virtue of the breath of school children. (Talmud)