I love the power of books.
Of the many, many blessings I’ve had in my career, one is being able to work with (and even sing with!) Peter Yarrow of the iconic 1960s musical folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary. He and Dr. Charlotte Frank, former Senior Vice President of Research and Development at McGraw-Hill Education, founded the non-profit Operation Respect in 1999. Operation Respect is, in their words, “a non-profit education and advocacy organization dedicated to creating respectful, safe and compassionate schools.” The philosophy of the foundation is that social-emotional skills can and should be taught to students and that schools are the perfect place to begin to create a more peaceful world.
At the centerpiece of the Operation Respect curriculum is the book/song/CD Don’t Laugh At Me by Steve Seskin and Allen Shamblin (Tricycle Press, 2002). The book-song seeks to promote empathy by depicting common bullying behaviors and their effects. The book-song’s intent is to foster conversations and to build bridges between students. The words, images, and music are strongly evocative, and I have yet to get through a lesson with dry eyes. It has become a personal favorite.
The Operation Respect website offers a comprehensive curriculum aligned with CCSS. ELA-Literacy standards, with Don’t Laugh At Me classroom lesson plans, an array of professional development options, recent research about bullying, and additional music, videos, spoken video messages, and book suggestions. Lessons for the curriculum were first published in 2000 and then were revised/updated in 2016 based upon the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program by the group Educators for Social Responsibility. The goal: to deliberately, and with intention, teach social, ethical, and emotional skills to students who may not have these tools Themes include expressing feelings, building community, resolving conflict, and accepting diversity.
Here are some ideas about activity options to accompany a lesson utilizing the book:
- Read aloud the book Don’t Laugh At Me by Steve Seskin and Allen Shamblin.
- Ask students to share anonymously on 3×5 cards an instance when they have felt bullied. Read aloud the scenarios, and discuss possible ways of handling each situation as a group. Jot each suggestion on a SMART board or whiteboard. Identify similarities between instances, and group behaviors into different categories.
- Divide students into groups. Give each group 1 situation from the book or from student examples to role play, and enact possible ways to handle that situation. Discuss each enactment.
- Play the guitar and teach students the song. Display the lyrics on a SMART board, and point to the words (or have a volunteer point) as you play the song on the guitar OR use the print book and point to the words and turn the pages as you play a video simultaneously. For the younger set, the visuals reinforce their understanding of the text-graphic relationship. (I’ve opened the book and turned the pages while the video plays, and was able to watch/visually track students’ eyes moving from the print book to the video and back.) If possible, publicly perform the song for other classes or during an all-school assembly.
- Have students create additional lyric for the song; perform the new lyrics for their peers OR have students create their own anti-bullying songs.
- Create a Don’t Laugh At Me publicity campaign. Have students create their own posters to be displayed in the classroom or in the school with the slogan “Don’t Laugh at Me” or other slogans created by students.
- Ask Peter Yarrow to visit your school to share the story and sing the song! (I did this, and it was wonderful.)
- View the YouTube Channel Operation Respect
- View Operation Respect’s supporting materials section, which includes other recommended books, videos, addresses, and music resources.
Additional Video Resources:
- Book lyrics and video
- Peter Paul and Mary performance
- Country song – Mark Wills
- Mark Willis lyrics display
- Mark Willis version with book pages
- Mark Willis version with images from schools