Speak Your Truth with Rosalind Wiseman

By Anna Karkovska McGlew

During the keynote presentation at the AG Bell 2014 Convention in Orlando, Fla., June 26-30, 2014, Rosalind Wiseman, a best-selling author, sought-after speaker, and an internationally recognized expert on children, teens, parenting, bullying and social justice, will share her insights on how to speak one’s truth with authenticity, conviction and dignity, and applying this to interactions with family, friends, teachers and classmates in a variety of everyday life settings.

Wiseman's work aims to help parents, educators and young people successfully navigate the social challenges of young adulthood. Each year, she works with tens of thousands of students, educators, parents, counselors, coaches and administrators to create communities based on the belief that each person has a responsibility to treat themselves and others with dignity. In 2011, she was one of the principal speakers at the White House Summit on Bullying. Wiseman was most recently a featured contributor in the November 21, 2013, issue of TIME magazine. 

A Voice for Youth

Wiseman is most famously the author of Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World, which was the basis for the movie Mean Girls. “I felt like adults were not understanding the lives of their kids, that it was being trivialized and wasn’t taken seriously. I felt strongly that it was important for people to understand what the everyday teenager is going through,” said Wiseman of why she felt compelled to write the book.

She is also the author of the newly released Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World, which deals with the social realities that boys face every day. “I think boys are much trickier than girls,” says Wiseman who is the mother of two boys. “Girls have a language—a code—to talk about their lives; it is socially accepted for girls to share and analyze. Boys don’t have that. I wrote this book, in partnership with over 200 boys, to give boys and the people who care about them a language to talk about the things that are important to them.” 

Owning Up

After graduating from college with a degree in political science, and having just gotten her first degree black belt in Karate, Wiseman was asked to teach self-defense to a group of high school girls. Although she immediately loved the work, it also brought a lot of questions and self-reflection leading her to develop the Owning Up™ curriculum, which she still uses to this day, teaching it to educators all over the world. “I was asked to write a program that would teach children how to spell out social conflicts that they were experiencing. Not huge conflicts necessarily but everyday kinds of conflicts that kids were getting into that would often get much bigger if they were not addressed properly,” recalled Wiseman.

Owning Up™ is a structured program for teaching students to own up and take responsibility–as perpetrators, bystanders and targets–for unethical behavior. The curriculum is designed for adolescent groups in schools and a variety of other settings, aiming to create a climate of safety, respect and dignity, and can be taught separately to boys and girls or adapted to co-ed settings.

The program presents a unique and comprehensive approach to preventing youth violence by targeting the root causes of bullying and other forms of social cruelty. It exposes the cultural expectations that teach young people to humiliate and dehumanize others as the way to achieve power and respect, then challenges them to transform this dynamic. “The work that I do is about giving people a voice. It is based on understanding how people get to a place where they value people or devalue people who are different from them for whatever reason,” says Wiseman. 

Speak out with Dignity

Students learn to recognize that they have a responsibility to treat themselves and others with dignity and to speak out against social cruelty and injustice. “To be able to recognize when your voice is being taken away—silenced—or when someone else is being robbed of their voice, is the most powerful first step to living a dignified life. When we recognize that truth, we are able to speak out and advocate for ourselves or loved ones in a way that works,” noted Wiseman.

Wiseman informs her work by always coming back to a simple maxim: people have a right to their feelings, no one has the right to question that, and people should be able to express their truth—the way they feel—in an authentic, constructive, and, ultimately, positive way. Wiseman hinted at some of the topics that she plans to address at the 2014 AG Bell Convention this summer and which are detailed in her books: “I will talk about how to be able to take the bad feelings that you have in your stomach and put them to words for yourself. And to think about where and when is the best place to confront the person who is abusing their power against you based on your relationship with that person.”

The Owning Up™ curriculum uses the SEAL steps to solve problems or deal positively with conflicts. S is for Stop. Who is the conflict with and what is it about? When and where will you talk to the person? E is for Explain. How are you feeling, and what do you want to happen? A is for Affirm and Acknowledge. What rights do you and the other person have in the situation? Do you have a role in the conflict? L is for Lock. What do you want your relationship to be? Do you want to lock in the friendship, lock it out, or take a vacation? (You may need to decide this after you speak to the person.) 

Teachers, Educators and Parents

Wiseman’s work also addresses how teachers and educators can ensure that the children they teach and work with feel able to and can participate fully in their school environment. Wiseman's advice to teachers and educators: create an atmosphere where the child knows they can come to you and talk to you in a way that they feel safe. “Come on kids, knock it off” is no longer an acceptable strategy for educators to deal with conflict among students. "It sends a signal to the target that the teacher is not their advocate and it tells the perpetrator that they can get away with their demeaning behavior," she notes.

Wiseman cautions parents to try and understand that not every conflict their child experiences with his/her peers is bullying. Regardless of the presence or absence of a disability, she advises parents to understand that their child will experience conflicts with other children and that the parents’ role is to foster social competence and awareness skills that will help their child navigate successfully their school and other everyday environments outside of the home.

Wiseman acknowledges that parenting is hard. “It is nerve-racking enough to be a parent and send your kid out to school every day.” Further, children with disabilities are sometimes more vulnerable to unethical behavior by their peers, and parents need to teach their children to advocate for themselves with confidence. These are gradual conversations, says Wiseman, that take place over time and lead towards children developing positive and effective relationships with adults and their peers.

Her book Queen Bee Moms and Kingpin Dads: Dealing with the Parents, Teachers, Coaches, and Counselors Who Can Make—or Break—Your Child’s Future provides tips and strategies for parents to be effective and nurturing in an imperfect world.

In looking forward to the 2014 AG Bell Convention, Wiseman expressed her excitement about joining us as the keynote presenter.

“When I come into a new community, I talk about how people can advocate for themselves in a way that works—here is what makes it harder and easier for people to be able to respond effectively when somebody is abusing their power. Here are things that I’ve found to work and you tell me if it works for you. What I don't do is claim that I have the absolute truth. I am going to present a lot of information but I hope that we can have a real dialogue, so that what I present becomes meaningful and valuable to the people who are participating or listening to me. I look forward to meeting the AG Bell community in June!”

We hope you will join us for what promises to be a dynamic and exciting convention! Please let us know the topics that you would like Rosalind Wiseman to address in her keynote presentation. We look forward to hearing from you and seeing you in Orlando!