Stopping Chattanooga's bullies will take culture change, not just resignations, expert says

Stopping Chattanooga's bullies will take culture change, not just resignations, expert says

February 1st, 2016 by David Cobb in Local Regional News

Protectors founder Paul Coughlin, right, hugs Melody Hutson after seeing her again on the first day of the Courageous Community Conference at Silverdale Baptist Church on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Coughlin first met Hutson, now a homeschooled 10th grader, after she stood up against a bully on the playground when she was a 5th grader at SBA.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Anti-bullying speaker kicks off conference

+4
more photos

Courageous Community Conference

Today: Paul Coughlin will speak to area youth pastors about bullying and the role of the youth pastor in the Silverdale Student Ministry Building.

Tuesday, 8:30-10 a.m.: Paul Coughlin will speak to area school counselors about bullying and the role of the counselor in the Silverdale Student Ministry Building

Wednesday, 8:30-10 a.m.: Paul Coughlin will speak to school principals and administrators about bullying and the role of school leadership in the Silverdale Student Ministry Building.

Source: Silverdale Baptist Academy

 

 

A pound of flesh doesn't go very far in stopping bullying, Paul Coughlin said Sunday night.

The nationally known bullying expert, visiting Chattanooga to speak with local educators about bullying, said only a cultural shift, not just resignations, will ultimately change a culture of bullying.

In a two-hour presentation in the sanctuary of Silverdale Baptist Church followed by a question-and-answer session, Coughlin covered misconceptions about bullying and solutions. He spoke to a packed crowd in a community grappling with the alleged December rape of an Ooltewah High School freshman basketball player by teammates. The audience included Hamilton County Board of Education members Steve Highlander and Donna Horn.

"You had in your community, in my opinion, an act of great evil," he said.

But Coughlin said reducing bullying within schools will take more than weeding out administrators who may have ignored warning signs and dropped the ball after one graphic incident.

"Calls for resignations, resignations themselves," Coughlin said, "they're common in situations like the one you just dealt with. But I am here to tell you that they will not diminish bullying. I hope that together we can deploy your anger and indignation towards something truly prudent. And that is to diminish bullying."

Instead, Coughlin said the solution lies in turning bystanders into "stand alongside-ers."

"Your child is far more likely to join the bully than to help the target," Coughlin said, citing studies that show just 13 of 100 students will intervene in instances of bullying. "We're here to help you change that."

Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw was also present for the first night of the Courageous Community Conference. Coughlin is scheduled to speak to youth pastors today, school counselors Tuesday and to principals and administrators Wednesday.

Silverdale Baptist Academy has hosted Coughlin before, and he cited a former student who was present Sunday as an example of courage.

On an earlier visit, Coughlin heard the story of Melody Hutson, 15, who stood up to another girl who was bullying smaller children on the playground.

The crowd gave Hutson a standing ovation when Coughlin introduced her.

"If it hits home with others, my story can be shared with as many people as it needs to be," she said afterwards.

The Ooltewah incident does not mean schools here are unique or necessarily more prone to bullies, Coughlin said. Bullying goes on everywhere. Last year, the suicides of two students in Polk County were blamed for alleged bullying.

Reverberations of the Ooltewah incident have been felt widely, though. Just last week, the Cleveland, Tenn., school board voted to adopt STOPit, an app that allows students to anonymously contact school administrators to report bullying.

It's a service that Coughlin, who is president of the anti-bullying group Protectors in addition to his role as a high school coach and father of three, advocates for. He has developed a curriculum for schools that addresses the development of courage in preventing bullying.

Numerous actions can reduce bullying, Coughlin said.

"Sometime all they have to do is put their arm around the kid that is being bullied," Coughlin said. "And then it's reporting to authorities what they saw and heard. That's not tattling."

"Don't call it anti-bullying," he added. "Call it courage. Because that's what's needed. That's what we need to happen."

He'd like to see school bus drivers don uniforms to see if it would cut down on bus bullying.

"Studies show that we innately respect people in uniforms," he said.

He added he believed the Ooltewah incident could have been prevented if older students had spoken against it.

"But it takes courage to say no," Coughlin said.

"Kids will do heroic things if we give them heroic things to do, but we parents have to expect them to do it. And they need to be prepared ahead of time. That's where the curriculum comes in and schools can help in that way."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.