I am extremely honored for the chance to interview bullying prevention expert and esteemed Young Adult author Kate Walton. Kate spent over a decade as a teacher. During her years educating, she developed some groundbreaking methods of helping curb the bullying epidemic in her schools. Later, she took what she knew and penned two powerful young adult novels.
Thank you, Kate, for agreeing to do this interview! We’re really looking forward to sharing your unique perspective on bullying as both an educator and an author. Can you tell us a little about your background as an educator?
I spent twelve glorious years as a public educator, two of them teaching second grade in Osteen, Florida, ten of them teaching middle school in Springfield, Pennsylvania. I loved every single minute I had as a teacher. I left the classroom and spent two years as an instructional coach, working with teachers on how to be highly effective in their teaching practice. During my time as a coach I co-authored a book on how to teach mathematics: Teaching Numeracy: 9 Critical Habits to Ignite Mathematical Thinking
As a teacher who spent the majority of her teaching career working with middle school students, did you notice that this age group tends to bully or be bullied more or less so than other age groups?
In my experience, middle school seemed to be about kids stretching their wings, trying to figure out who they really are. Testing the waters, so to speak. It was my favorite part of teaching that age group. However, self-discovery tends to be a bit messy. And this is most definitely the case in middle school. that’s why I seized every teachable moment that arose. I constantly re-directed, got discussions going, made my students stop and think about their behavior and how it was affecting those around them.
You developed some highly successful methods of stopping bullying. We would love to hear more about this. What were the basic tenets of those methods?
The only way change-for-the-better happens in schools, is if teachers step out of what’s expected and shake things up a little (or a lot). Maybe even ruffle a few feathers. As businessman and author, Max De Pree said, “We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” Same goes with bullying. Bullying in schools will never stop unless two crucial things happen:
- Bullies must be engaged in open, emotional, and purposeful conversations-what I call Explicit Conversations-with an adult in the building – discussing the real effect of their behaviors. The bully must be brought to a solid understanding of the pain they have caused. It was the only way the bullying stopped.
- Adults in the school should be 100% invested in stopping bullying in its tracks and subsequently trained on what that looks and sounds like. If you’re an educator and this isn’t the case in your building, don’t let it discourage you. YOU be the adult who is 100% invested in stopping bullying. YOU be the leader.
What can parents do at home to help reinforce your methods and prevent bullying?
Bullies come from all kinds of households and every kind of parent/caregiver. But one thing the bullies I’ve encountered had in common was: a lack of empathy. Bullies were not taught to put themselves into others’ shoes, hence the ease with which they tortured their fellow students. Quite simply, not teaching your child how to be empathetic and compassionate is a parenting failure. It is a parent’s job to teach their child to be a productive member of society, and that involves treating fellow human beings with dignity and respect.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t come naturally for many children. Parents must explicitly teach their children to think of others, to be kind and compassionate. Parents must seize the teachable moments. How? Have purposeful and crafted conversations. Acknowledge and discuss injustice, racism, hatred, jerk behavior. Show your child what compassion looks and sounds like every chance you get. Praise them when they give it a go.
The Bottom Line: If parents teach their children to think of other people-to think of how other people feel first-before acting or reacting, well, then, those children will forever be empowered to think on their feet. And most importantly to think with their heart and their head, which is the polar opposite of bully behavior.
Tell us a little about your two novels, Cracked and Empty. What inspired you to write them?
Anti-bullying was always the core principal of my teaching career. I never shied away from facing or addressing bullying – I believed it was my job, as the adult, to discuss and address bullying – every single time it reared its hideous head. My entire purpose was that I wanted kids to see each other for the human beings they were, not the labels or assumptions they attached to each other. CRACKED and EMPTY were natural writes for me because of my passion for the subject.
In your novel Cracked you receive accolades from reviewers for showing a different side of bullying. Bull, the “bully” character, turns out to not be quite the bad guy readers would expect going in. What inspired you to show this other dimension to children who bully?
During my time in the classroom I witnessed my share of bullying. Every bully had a back-story. A reason they acted like such a jerk. Sometimes the bullying was based on anger – just like Bull. Other times the bully was trying to be cool, trying to show off or make people laugh. I’d often hear the excuse that they were “just kidding.” But the thing is, bullying is not funny, and I made sure that point was driven home with every bully I worked with.
Empty on the other hand, received praise for being raw and brutally honest. For telling it how it is and showing readers that many bullied teens don’t get a “happy ending.” Why did you feel that was so important to express?
I wrote EMPTY so that my readers (teen readers especially) could get inside the head of a tortured person and feel her pain. I wanted readers to understand that “what you say and do to other people in your life holds power” – the power to lift someone from the depths of darkness, or rip them to shreds.
If teens and their parents could take one message away from your books, what would you like it to be?
Kindness matters. Take the time and make the effort to see the invisible people in your life – those who are silently suffering. Say hello. Look them in the eye when you speak to them. See them. Validate them. Be kind.
Do you have any future books in the works?
LIES WE TELL is my next book, releasing January 2015, again from Simon Pulse ~ Simon & Schuster.
Sixteen-year-old Hope Bailey is popular, likable, friendly, and kind. So, when a mean and insulting letter is shoved into her locker, Hope immediately thinks “joke.” Then a second letter shows up, even more threatening and horrible: I know what you did. I’m going to tell everyone. You deserve to die for what you’ve done. The letters keep coming and Hope is pushed to the very edge. Someone is lying. But who is it?
Like CRACKED and EMPTY, LIES WE TELL packs an emotional punch, but with a distinct mystery bent. It’s also based on a true story. Hope’s story is unlike anything I’ve ever written.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us today?
Just to say thank you very much for hosting me!!