Name Calling

In partnership with Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing, GLSEN created No Name-Calling Week (NNCW) in 2004 to support educators’ attempts to address issues of bullying, name-calling and bias in their schools. I was recently reading that some schools recognize “No Name Calling Week” in the month of January. There are so many thoughts as schools embark on this week-long journey and with very high expectations:


  1. The idea of introducing lessons focusing on issues of bullying for one week is reasonable.

  2. When we say there will be no name calling all week, we are setting our students up for failure.

  3. And if we are going to focus on “No Name Calling,” for one week, what are we saying about the rest of the year? 

  4. Lastly, we are ignoring the real issues here. Let me explain:


Longitudinal studies have shown that increased social and emotional competence is related to reductions in a variety of problem behaviors including aggression, delinquency, substance use, and dropout (Durlak et al., 2011; Sklad et al., 2012; Na onal Research Council, 2012; ACT, 2014). And  social emotional learning is the most successful when it is embedded into the day-to-day curriculum and connected with other school activities (Greenberg et al., 2003).


I am currently doing fieldwork in a 4th grade classroom implementing Positive Discipline in the Classroom. The 4th grade class, including myself sat in a circle and each student stated what “bugs” them at school. Most of the students indicated that it bugged them when they were called names and pushed around by other classmates. Those students might as well have said that they don’t feel worthy and they don’t belong. The other handful of students stated they were bugged because they didn’t feel like their teacher listened to them or blamed them for problems. These students do not only feel like they don’t belong amongst their classmates but also with their teacher. This is not an unusual situation for late elementary and middle schoolers. Most students, just don’t have the opportunity in class to talk about it. And why not?


We are taught behavior modification programs, not taking time for problem solving in the classroom and teachers need to focus on the curriculum which does not include taking time to discuss name calling, pushing and hitting. Students at school just want to fit in, but what they don’t understand is that fitting in is the OPPOSITE of belonging. Fitting in is trying to be someone they are not. So how do educators allow the space to belong. Is it taking the students outside of the classroom to be in a social skill group or meet with the counselor? A student feels a sense of belonging in community with one another within the classroom, this should be the start of the belonging and problem solving process amongst students. Students need a safe place, to feel listened to, they need to feel worthy, they need to know they do belong and they do not need to be anyone different to try to fit in. This process needs to start in the classroom before other interventions are implemented. 


Name calling will always be a problem, but we can’t ignore the problem or try to force it away. Next time, within the classroom try to use “bugs” and “wishes.” Have a classroom meeting, or set up a solution table for students to solve their own problems together. For example, have a “bug” and a “wand.” Have the students sit in a circle and ask them, what “bugs” you at school and what do you “wish" would happen.


When two students are having a disagreement, ask them if they would like to go to the solution table to talk about their “bugs” and “wishes” or would they like to both step away from each other to have some time to cool off first?

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Look Em In the Eyes: Feeling Heard

During a fourth-grade classroom meeting, one of the boys shared his problem of other students talking during reading centers. He wanted help and ideas for solving this problem during our classroom meeting. After going through a list of options brainstormed by his classmates, he chose the solution of moving his seat to a different part of the room from his fellow students. I then asked the teacher if she felt comfortable with the solution. His teacher did not give an answer and responded with "I don't know" indicating no follow up with him. He then stopped talking, did not want to participate and was almost in tears. I went up to him after class and told him that "I know you don't feel heard and listened to and I'm sorry about that." I then told him that I was meeting with his teacher that evening and we would talk more about the solution he chose. I then thanked him for having the courage to participate. After the school day, his teacher had time to think about her student’s request. The teacher, the student and the class came up with a respectful solution for everyone!


Having students come up with their own solutions is essential in learning life skills. University of Rochester psychologist Ed Deci, found that teachers who aim to control students’ behavior—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others. This, in turn, means they have a harder time learning self-control, an essential skill for long-term success. 


Research also shows that there is a strong link between the amount of eye contact people receive and their degree of participation in group communication, like a classroom meeting or group activity.  During an activity I facilitated with the class on eye contact, this same boy did not want to participate. Here is an example of the activity:


Eye contact activity


 Materials: Cut out on small pieces of square paper 2 1s, 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, 6s, 7s, 8s, 9s, 10s etc. Enough numbers for each student.



  1. Who likes to talk with their friends?

  2. Who would like to talk with a friend or maybe someone new now?

  1. Pick a number and keep your number- You will have a partner.

  2. It might be someone you don’t usually talk to. If it is, please have the courage to open-up and talk to someone different today

  3. If you are number…. Stand here

  4. Talk to your partner about your weekend, a recent movie you have seen

  5. Talk to your partner (time 1 minute)


  1. Talk with your same partner and DO NOT look at each other (time 1 minute)


  1. Talk with your same partner and don’t break eye contact, look at them the entire time (time 1 min.)


Taking it to the Next Level

  1. Did anyone feel uncomfortable looking at your partner the entire time? Why?

  2. How did you feel to have someone’s attention focused completely on you? Why?

  3. Ok, admit it. Who broke eye contact when you weren’t supposed to? Did it change anything?

  4. Is eye contact important in relationships? Why or why not?

  5. What feelings did you experience in this game? Why?

  6. It has been said that the eyes are a window into the soul. What do you think this means?


Our eyes reveal a lot about us. Look a person in the eyes and you can learn a lot about them. As you seek to build meaningful relationships with others, take some time to look into their eyes. Try to see the world through their eyes. When you do, you will get a little more insight about them and into the place for you in this world. So take a little time to spend some focused time with someone this week in eye to eye communication. By your attention let them know you care!


Before our activity started, the same boy who did not feel heard the week before and was not happy with the partner that he was randomly paired up with. Him and the other students were also given the expectation that the students were going to keep their partner and they were not to change partners. I asked the students to be open and have the courage to talk to someone other than a good friend. And that they might learn something new about them or about themselves. This boy did not engage with his partner until the last few minutes. During this time, I also reminded his partner (who was a girl) that she was very engaging and personable and that if anyone could be able to help her partner feel comfortable it would be her. So, when I asked the class after the activity "what it felt like to have all the attention on them from their partner," This boy stood up, smiled, and said "it felt good to have my partner listen to me and pay attention to me!" His partner smiled back! And my heart melted. Baby steps can come along way : ). It does feel good to have someone stop what they are doing, look you in the eyes, talk to you and or just listen. 

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Can We all Just Chill Out

I implemented Positive Discipline in the Classroom with second graders. It was a blessing to be in the classroom with an experienced teacher who has had many different types of students, classes, and understands quickly the principles of Positive Discipline because she is already utilizing some of the tools naturally in the classroom! What an honor! During the school year one of her students often screamed when other students called her names. The teacher and I even role played the scenario of the last time it happened which went a little like this: A student called the young lady “stupid,” the student screamed, “AHHHH!!!!!!!!” and the teacher asked her “What could you say rather than screaming?” Good, but was this student feeling significant or did she feel like she belonged? This teacher decided to have a student-parent-teacher conference to talk more about the situation in the classroom and how the teacher could support this student. In a perfect world this sounded like a great solution, except one thing, the parent had to cancel! Argh, back to the drawing board.


In the classroom, I had introduced how our brains function from our brain-stem and mid-brain during times of intense stress. We then discussed how we cannot solve the situation in these moments and wrote a list of ways we could calm ourselves down:


  1. Music

  2. Taking deep breaths

  3. Going to a place to calm down

  4. Walking away

  5. Yoga moves


We listened to music while taking deep breaths, visualizing places we may want to go or places we would like to go back to. We felt calm. Then we talked about where we could go to calm down and if they could go anywhere in the world to be calm, where would it be? The second graders chose a local water park, Kalahari! That would not me my first choice to be calm, but then again I’m not in second grade : ).  This was going to be the classes’ chill out space. It is important to note that this space is sacred. It is not a place to tell students to go to, but rather give choices, “would you like to go to Kalahari or take deep breaths?”


Here are some suggestions to offer students for their own chill out space:

  1. Playdoh

  2. Sensory glitter bottle

  3. Chewy Jewelry (if needed)

  4. Blankets

  5. Music

  6. Bubble wrap

  7. Hand fidgets

  8. Children books emotional literacy

  9. Pictures of feelings

  10. A couple toys of their choice


When introducing the Chill-out Space you may want to say:

  1. I am going to show you what is going to be in Kalahari.

  2. Now that we have some really fun things in Kalahari we should probably talk about Guidelines

    1. What if students want to stay in the break space all the time because there are fun things or they want to get out of doing work? What should we do?

    2. A person should feel better and then they can rejoin the group, right? You can leave early if you want but how long should be the longest amount of time in Kalahari?

    3. Should you be told to go there, like a punishment or should you be able to go there freely when you need to?


So where is your own chill out space? After listening to a screaming student, maybe try walking back to your desk, is there something there: a picture, an essential oil, maybe a visual reminder to help calm down? If your students aren’t hurting each other, allow yourself to put on your own oxygen mask and take care of yourself first, so you may show up for your students as best as you possibly can in a moment of pure frustration! 

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Students Pushing Back?

Here is a game I did with 4th grade students. In the classroom there was name calling, pushing, and talking over one another. When I told a couple of the students who participating in name calling and pushing that I needed their help and how we could respectfully solve this problem? They answered that I should yell at these students and talk back to them. I told them that I was not willing to treat them disrespectfully because I cared about them and I would not want others to treat me that way. So, I decided we would do a little activity:


  1. Need student won’t get embarrassed easily?

  2. Hand Pushing Game

  3.  “Stand Up and I’ll show you a game.”

    1. Face Me

    2. Place your toes about 6 to 10 inches away

    3. ‘In this game we push forward against each other’s hands to try to make the other person lose balance and move. Whoever moves one or both of her feet loses the game We can’t hold on to each other’s hands and we can only make contact.

  1. Do you think the winner was the person who pushed the hardest?

  2. It is easy to lose or even knock yourself down by being rough, tough, or aggressive.

  3. When you avoid a power struggle, when you don’t yell, or fight or call names. When you are not too aggressive, this my dears is when you win.

  4. When you are balanced, when you are grounded, when you keep your cool!

  5. Think of time when adult had power over you?

  1. What does that look and feel like?

  2. What would it feel like in classroom with shared power & respect for everyone?

  3. In this classroom we work together. No one has power over another.

  4. Work together to find solutions that we are all comfortable with.

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Alfred Adler 101

Alfred Adler was a member of Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Society in 1902. Adler was an active member of Freud’s group for several years. In 1911, Adler started his own school of thought which he called Individual Psychology based on his own beliefs of human nature, motivation, and behavior. Adler focused on equality and cooperation. He believed all individuals were driven “to belong” to the human community and to have a place and contribute to society (significance). Adler suffered from rickets as a child and nearly died of pneumonia at age 5. He strived to overcome his adversities and was very competitive with his older brother “Sigmund.”


Sound too familiar? Alfred Adler demonstrated this competitiveness with Sigmund Freud in his later years as Adler questioned Freud’s theories. Alder was an ophthalmologist, general physician and later a psychiatrist. He worked with circus people in which he better understood the insights of overcompensation and unusual strengths and weaknesses. His confidence and competitive attitude carried over to his relationship with Sigmund Freud.


Alfred believed strongly against “penis envy” and believed in Gemeinschaftsgefuhl or social interest. Having a horizontal relationship, mutual respect and equal rights were important to Adler. Alder believed men and women had the same physiological and psychological needs. Adler’s wife was even a politically active and independent woman. He also believed in the rights of children. That children want to feel equal and that children should not be pampered or neglected.


He believed that people should strive to belong and to contribute in meaningful ways in our families, at work, and in our communities. Adler believed in movement, movement can be viewed as a symbol rather than concrete in a physical sense of motion.  He didn’t talk about change necessarily but more of growth. How can we grow in ourselves and in relationships with one another? It is important to have an internal compass to guide our movement rather than focusing on the outcome. He believed that behavior was goal oriented and that each of us wants to create a goal for coming into our full beingness or fullness and completion that pulls us forward into growth. Alfred Adler understood how the unique individual strives toward goals of belonging, significance, security and success based on privately held beliefs.


We should be asking ourselves regularly if we are being helpful or hurtful? We need to be socially interested and put our personal interest aside and focus on the common good to cooperate to be in our fullness.


"What do you first do when you learn to swim? You make mistakes, do you not? And what happens? You make other mistakes, and when you have made all the mistakes you possibly can without drowning - and some of them many times over - what do you find? That you can swim? Well - life is just the same as learning to swim! Do not be afraid of making mistakes, for there is no other way of learning how to live!"

Alfred Adler

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Boys and Learning

Have you ever had a class of mostly boys or mostly girls? And are the dynamics of the class different when you have a class of predominately one sex? As we know boys and girls learn differently but this is insignificant in comparison to that of the “variation within each sex” (Alloway, 2002).  Know as you are reading this article that when you target your boy learners, especially your at-risk boy learners, as a teacher you will be reaching out to all of your students’ needs, including girls.


Inquiry Based Learning

Inquiry based learning can be very effective when targeted for at-risk boys and when they are able to focus on the strategies and have “buy in” to school lessons, the outcomes can be successful. Inquiry based learning leads to motivated students, critical thinking skills, deeper understanding of subjects, physical, emotional and cognitive growth, ability to teach each other, and individual learning needs of students. (Donaldson, 1996). Inquiry based learning not only focuses on what we know but also how we come to know it. It involves team work, digging deeper into topics, high interest, development of skills and questioning, and student focused learning.


What Boys need to be Successful Learners

  1. High areas of interest

  2. To know why activities and assignments need to be complete- what is the deeper meaning and the outcome?

  3. Why the information is important and how they can apply it

  4. Movement

  5. A strong relationship with their teacher

  6. Conflicts before solutions

  7. Support in learning pragmatic language

  8. How to organize (folders, calendar, etc)


If a teacher is not implementing or providing some of these needs, then boys will struggle because their learning styles are different and when they are different and the learning strategies are not implemented boys will “shut down” and will not be successful.


Different Learning Strategies

If different learning strategies are put in place (mastery, understanding, self-expressive, interpersonal, and all four) then a teacher can observe which strategies certain children are successful at, need extra help with, or tend to gravitate towards. This will allow the teacher to choose certain strategies for those at-risk boys. Learning styles are significant and students do not process information the same way. They store it, organize it, and retrieve it in different ways. So, no single teaching style can fulfill a student’s need. (


Incorporating Flow Learning

Developing lessons can be fun and teaching these lessons can be rewarding when all the elements of “Flow Learning” are incorporated.

Elements of Flow Learning

  1. Achievable goals

  2. Concentration

  3. Clear goals

  4. Immediate feedback

  5. Deep, but effortless involvement

  6. Control over actions

  7. High self-esteem


Ultimately, the key to motivate boys is in getting to know those students to learn in a strategic manner that is also fun! Implementing these strategies can be extremely time consuming, hence the “strategic” part, but also worthwhile and after the first and second year, the lessons are there.


The formation of a boy's masculine identity is a factor in why boys struggle and underachieve in the classroom. Informality building relationships with boys and allowing them to connect and open up with their classmates and their teacher is vital. 


Humor and Fun

Humor and Fun can be very useful in regards to giving your students, especially boys feedback and reinforcement. Humor and fun help to strengthen relationships between teachers and boys. The willingness to laugh and have fun while learning says a great deal to boys, It can communicate an acceptance and appreciation of boys and ‘boy-ness” that they perceive as a very positive message from their teachers.” It works, and what a great reminder that it is ok to have fun and sometimes boys will accomplish what is asked of them, when they are able to have fun and be a little silly.


Boys in Urban Schools

In the article, “Saving Black Boys” by Tracy Robinson-English from Ebony Magazine, there were many inspiring strategies shared from some urban schools, such as dressing for success, community meetings, and all boy schools. The biggest take away from this article was the motto “We Believe!” If boys say it over and over, they will believe in themselves and others will believe in them too. I love this motto.


The Need to Belong

For boys to build a positive male identity, they need a positive male role model in their lives. They need positive reinforcement and feedback from adults, specifically teachers. Boys need to feel the sense of belonging and to also feel as though their interests and feelings are important and they are listened to by others, especially their teachers. Standing by the door, and saying “hi” to students as they walk in and or leave the classroom will build connections. For those at-risk boys, looking them in their eyes or having some sort of code word or sign to let them know you are watching them for understanding may be helpful. Also, listening and understanding their learning styles will help build a positive relationship.


Non-Shaming Learning Environment

When building a non-shaming learning environment, boys could be asked to share their opinions and insights. They could be assigned roles and tasks within the classrooms. The environment needs to be inviting for them. It is based on the relationships with the teacher and student. Students need to feel and be respected and have shared principles.


Connecting the Dots

When putting together a lesson, boys need to know how it connects to the real world and how it will affect them in real life. This will motivate them to put forth effort.  Also, boys may need help with organizational skills. For example, they may need help knowing how to take and organize notes, where to keep their homework so they don’t lose it, and how to use a daily planner. This will help them organize themselves at home and in the future.


Make an Enjoyable Setting

Students could be asked what, within reasonable limits would make them feel more comfortable in the classroom. Also, frequent feedback could be given to students to encourage them. Sensory based activities, offering challenging and complex situations, connecting new knowledge to old, and being able to reflect on what they learned are all ways to transform a classroom using active learning principles.


Allowing boys to feel a sense of control by giving them choices of either what or how to learn will motivate them, challenging them based on skill level would help, it is important for them to know the goals and how they are going to achieve them, and that they can be social and interact with their peers to solve problems. When the above is achieved, not only boys will show pride in taking care of and completing their work, all of your students will achieve this. 

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Morgan Metcalf

Columbus, OH

​​Tel: 614.507.0921

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